Friday, October 7, 2011

A few tips for those who are ready to take the CBA Practical Exam... I promise there is nothing to be nervous about!

With more and more balloon professionals working towards their CBA accreditation, I thought that it might be a good time to write a blog about how you can prepare for the big day!

Taking the practical exam is the final step in earning your CBA and this can only be accomplished after completing the 3 online tests, "QBN Balloon Basics", "QBN Balloon Deliveries" and "QBN Balloon Decor" and passing!

Now you are eligible to take the CBA Practical Exam and I want to share some tips with you that I hope will help you on the day!
You wont be doing this!

Firstly, I do not want you to think of this as an EXAM, the minute we use that word most of us go into complete panic mode and remember our schooldays of sitting hour after hour with a piece of paper in front of us desperately trying to recall all the information that we had learned over the past XX years! I can guarantee no desks, just a work table to work on and no written exam, you will just be asked to answer a few questions, no 'trick' questions, no 'curved balls', just things that you learned when you watched the DVD's!

We are a creative 'bunch' of happy people, working with balloons is our passion therefore I would rather you consider this as a your very best balloon job (which of course they all are) and the opportunity to shine and to confirm that you are the person who completed the online tests and that you understood the curriculum!

Let me start by talking about the practical side of the assessment process... I much prefer the word assessment :)

I would like to say at this point, that taking the CBA practical is not a competition! I believe that many people think that they have to create something that has never been seen before, in terms of idea's and techniques, I can assure you that this is not the case. Designs that score well are those that demonstrate a good knowledge of the principles and elements of design... all the 'stuff' that you just learned in the QBN program and not how you have invented the next great technique... there is plenty of time for that later when you enter competitions!

1. You are required to design and make one SOCIAL EXPRESSION bouquet.
What is meant by Social Expression? As usual I 'Googled' it!  I was pleasantly surprised with the result, it really defines what it means! Here are a few examples...

A friend has just had a baby. What do you say?
·        Congratulations!

Your  friend  is ill. What do you say?
·        I hope you feel better soon.
·        I hope you get better soon.
It’s a friend’s birthday. What do you say?
·        Happy Birthday!
·        Many happy returns!

So this is easy, you need to create a balloon bouquet that expresses a message... and there are many messages that you could choose from,  just simply open your Qualatex catalogue and you have a wealth of beautiful balloons with messages that you can use within your bouquet.

Here's an example using a design that I created:

Firstly, this design is called "Bottle Buddy Bouquet", it gives me the opportunity to make a bouquet that also acts as a gift! The bottle could be the recipients favourite 'tipple', but make sure you are within licencing  laws if the bottle contains alcohol, you could always use a non-alcoholic drink, which could be fun too...
Bottle Buddy designed by Sue Bowler CBA

What 'social expression' does this bouquet convey?
  • 'Happy 50th Birthday' - reflected through use of the Silver & Black Birthday Elegant Sparkles & Swirls and the 50-A-Round 11" Qualatex Balloons
  • Let's Party! - The wonderful 8-Point Star Shape topper -Let's Party Sparkle & Swirls, 28" Microfoil balloon.
  • With love - the 4" Gold Microfoil Heart, held by my Bottle Buddie that could be personalised with the recipients name!
This design says it all, it has a clear message, it's fun and perfect for a delivery!

Remember when you create your design... think California Law!

2. You are required to design and make one TABLE CENTREPIECE of your own design.
Centrepiece designs by Sue Bowler cba

What is a table centrepiece? It is simply an arrangement placed at the centre of a round or rectangular table where no part of the display blocks view lines. These are usually defined with the base element of a centrepiece not exceeding 14"  and a good clear visual gap before the use of any aerial balloons, usually a distance of 24" or more from the table top. Once again your design should demonstrate your understanding of principles and elements of design. Here are a few tips when you are creating your designs:
  • Have a strong focal point in the arrangement and draw the eye through the focal point by repeating balloons and other design material in a clear line or lines.
  • Make sure your design is visually balanced and mechanically sound.
  • Choose one of the colour harmonies for your arrangement and stick to it in all of your materials.
Your centrepiece design can be an air-filled design, using a central pole to give you the required distance between your base and top elements! Or it can be a base design connected with a complimentary helium filled arrangement. Remember when you create your design... think California Law!

3. Make a Duplicate Balloon Bouquet, working from a photograph, both the photo and materials are provided for this. I recommend that you practice 'specialty' skills & techniques such as creating 'Gumballs', Double Bubbles, correctly inflating GEO Donut's and GEO Blossom balloons! A new element to the assessment is that you are required to correctly inflate Qualatex Bubbles and Deco Bubbles, if these balloons are new to you I recommend that you watch the video clip on It is important that you have the ability to re-create accurately designs from a photograph, this is especially important for referrals and relay business's.

4. Make a Duplicate 'Balloon Flower', working from a photograph, both the photo and materials are provided for this. Instructions for the Balloon Flower can be found at 'Instruction Sheets' on or in the QBN Balloon Delivery & Bouquets' Kit. Just make exactly what you see, nothing extra, keep it neat and tidy!

5. Construct a 5' (length) of air-filled, 5-Balloon Cluster Spiral Garland, using 11" balloons, these do not need to be inflated to 11", between 9"-10" is perfectly OK, but you must ensure that all your balloons are the same size... use a template! The spiral pattern must be correct and the column should be constructed well and should not fall apart on a firm shake! You will be provided with the balloons and Dacron line for this.

6. KNOW YOUR KNOTS! You will be asked to demonstrate how to tie a temporary knot and a permanent knot as per the QBN curriculum!
Temporary knot

7. Answer 6.... only 6 questions from the curriculum, and either demonstrate a mock balloon delivery sales phone call or make a mock balloon delivery presentation during your assigned 15 minute panel interview.
OK, I would be lying if I said that this was easy... it's not difficult, but this is where most peoples nerves kick in!
 However, the panel will never allow nerves to stand in your way and they will try and make sure that you are relaxed as possible, if your mind goes blank, then you'll be asked another question or you can re-visit the question later and in most cases you'll be relaxed enough by then to remember.

Balloon Images Magazine Oct/Nov/Dec 2011

  • Make sure you know the principles and elements of design... as additional reading check out the great series of articles in IMAGES  magazines starting with April/May/June 2011 this issue covers Balance & Line, July/Aug/Sept 2011 covers Scale & Texture and Oct/Nov/Dec 2011 covers Colour and Proportion.

  • These articles are invaluable as they will really help you to fully understand the importance of these within your every day work.
Balloon Images Magazine Apr/May/Jun 2011
  • Make sure you understand the business side of your business, once again, in addition to the resources supplied with the QBN program look at the great articles featured in IMAGES magazine such as Protect Your Business Trade Secrets April/May/June 2011.

    With the mock delivery or telephone call... give it your all! Why not, everyone on the panel will have been through the exact same process, remember all the points to making a good delivery or talking a phone call order...  sing Happy Birthday or if you do not feel confident enough to sing, how about reciting a simple Birthday poem like some did in their delivery presentation, which was great! If you are asked to do a mock telephone call you can ask to turn your chair round, this may help you so that your not looking at the person you are suppose to be talking to on the telephone!

    There is a Guide to Taking the Certified Balloon Artists (CBA) Practical Exam, that you can download from, this is full of other  very valuable information that I have not included in this blog and the actual CBA Practical Exam Score Sheet, so you can see how many points you are scored for each of the sections of the exam... a very helpful tool! 
    Design Basics Book

    Finally, review the DVD's, resources and your completed online tests, remember this process is simply to confirm your knowledge of the QBN curriculum!

    For me, becoming a CBA is not just about remembering what you have learned on the day, it is about using the knowledge and skills that you have learned each and every day within your business. I know that when I passed and became a CBA 16 years ago, it was a little like passing my driving test! I was certaininly not a perfect driver but I had the knowledge to be and from that day on I REALLY learned how to drive well... so once I became a CBA I started to look at my business in a totally new way, the designs that I created and still create today are all based round understanding the principles and elements of design, which colours I use together and how I can make my design look visually pleasing... and most importantly how to run my business... understanding how to price my work, and the list goes on and on! 
    I hope for those of you who are planning to take the final steps towards becoming a CBA that you have found this information useful... Good luck and I look forward to reading your name as a new CBA in Images magazine soon!


    If you want to find out when and where the next CBA exam will take place you can visit or contact your nearest Pioneer Office, there are often opportunities to take your exam at  Qualatex Events such as the one being held in Oxfordshire next month and the World Balloon Convention in Dallas next March!


    Unknown said...

    Hello Sue,

    I am scheduled to take the CBA exam at the upcoming WBC. I am a little confused on the balloon flower instructions. Are the instructions located under the "Everyday Designs and Techniques" portion on the Instruction Sheets page on the Qualatex website?

    Thanks for everything,

    Unknown said...

    Greeting Sue,

    I enjoyed reading your blog which is filled with a lot of information, could you please inform me where i may purchase the online DVD's for training for the CBA.

    Thank you

    Unknown said...

    Hi Sue,

    wowowow, my CBA exam is 5 days later which will also be my birthday, I consider this article as one of the best birthday presents ever! Thank you so much!