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For many welders, becoming a Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) through the American Welding Society is a professional aspiration. Attaining a CWI credential can be the next step in a successful welding career, and attests to the skills and abilities of an individual in the areas of welding processes, procedures, qualifications, and testing. As you can imagine, many enthusiastic welders often look to take the exam as soon as they meet the minimum work experience requirements, and often reach out to us for some tips. In fact, of the many inquiries that we receive at AWS Learning, how to prepare for the CWI exam is among the most common. And while professional enthusiasm is certainly an important element of becoming a successful welding inspector, it is important that the following bit of information is fully understood before we begin.
The CWI exam is a thorough and challenging exam. It is one that can prove to be a demanding undertaking for even the most seasoned professionals and experienced test-takers. Establishing this fact early on is necessary for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s important to be aware of the difficulty of the exam in order to properly prepare for it. Just like any issue you may encounter on the job site, it’s crucial to accurately gauge its scope and complexity in order to determine the best approach and dedicate adequate time and resources for its solution. Secondly, it’s important to know that the CWI exam is challenging because it needs to be. CWIs make assessments and decisions that can affect countless lives. Therefore, they must possess a wide range of skills, knowledge, and abilities in order to be effective and make responsible judgements. Because of this, the exam covers a wide range of technical topics, processes, and principles.
Now that we’ve got an idea about how challenging the test can be, let’s begin by taking a look at the exam itself.
The Basics of the CWI Exam – A Breakdown
The CWI exam is split into three parts: a fundamentals portion, a practical application portion, and a code application portion. These sections are labeled Part A, B, and C, respectively, and you are given two hours to complete each of these sections. Each section is scored separately, and a score of 72% or higher is required for each section in order to pass the exam and earn a CWI credential. Failing the exam doesn’t always mean you have to take the whole thing again. If you finish with a cumulative score of 72% or higher, but failed to reach 72% on any one particular section, you only need to retake that particular section of the test again in order to pass. Maximizing the amount of correct answers you get in one particular section can boost your cumulative score to 72% or higher, and prove to be the difference in determining how many parts you’ll have to re-take, if it comes to that. However, if we’re being honest, no one wants to take the exam, as a whole or in part, more than once. So let’s briefly go over each section and a few things that can give you a leg up in terms of preparation.
Part A of the exam covers welding fundamentals. This part has a minimum of 150 questions and a time limit of 120 minutes. Theoretically, that means you have less than a minute you can dedicate to each question. You should do your best to quickly answer each question, skipping any that you may be unsure of, and returning to them if time allows. Keep in mind that as far as grading goes, an unanswered question counts as an incorrect answer. As such, it’s best to answer every question on the CWI exam, even if it’s an educated guess.
Part B is the practical application, or hands-on, portion of the CWI exam. It’s a 120-minute test that covers a range of topics in the areas of welding examination, procedure and welding qualifications, nondestructive testing, and visual inspection. This part of the exam has a minimum of 46 questions, which is considerably less than 150, but don’t let your guard down. For Part B, you’ll be provided with a sample book of specifications, plastic replicas of welds, and visual inspection tools, including dial calipers, micrometers, rulers, V-WAC and fillet weld gauges, and flashlights.
Part C is the code application portion of the exam. This 120-minute open-book test measures your ability to locate, understand, and utilize information in a codebook. Even though this particular part of the exam allows you to use your codebook, it’s far from a cakewalk. AWS live seminars offer training to navigate the D1.1 Structural Steel and API 1104 codes, but you have the option to take the exam to other standards as well. These include D1.2, D1.5, D15.1, D17.1, and ASME B31.1 & B31.3. Depending on the codebook, the exam will have anywhere from 45 to 60 questions. If you are uncertain about which code to test to, do not let the size of the book sway you. According to John Gayler, Senior Associate Executive Director, “If you’re not familiar with any of the codes, it would be best to choose one based on what field you foresee yourself working in the future, and which code would be the most useful. The idea that any one code is easier than another based simply on size is a myth.”
What Am I Expected To Know?
The CWI exam is created by industry experts, and documented in two standards: AWS B5.1 Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors and AWS QC1 Standard for AWS Certification of Welding Inspectors. To truly get a solid understanding of what you’ll need to know in order to tackle the CWI exam, you must thoroughly familiarize yourself with these two documents. Get them. Read them. Know them. Taking the exam without reviewing these documents is like playing a game without knowing the rules.
- AWS B5.1 Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors
Section 5 of the B5.1 document details the basic requirements to take the exam. Table 1 lists the capabilities required of a CWI in the areas of procedure qualification, standards, knowledge and skills, performance qualification, inspection, safety, and more. Section 7 of the standard reveals the basic structure of the exam. It shows which topics are covered in parts A, B, and C of the exam, and what percentage of questions will focus on each topic. For example, in Part C (Code Application) approximately 10% of the questions deal with Material and Design, 30% deal with Fabrication, 25% deal with Inspection, and 10% deal with Qualification. These percentage figures do not add up to 100% because each one represents a minimum, and any one of these topics can potentially be featured a bit more prominently than what is specified in the standard. Annex A of the B5.1 standard provides another piece of useful information. The preamble says that the information contained therein is not officially part of the specification, and is simply there for informational purposes, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Quite the opposite! Annex A provides a list of reference materials that may have been used in the creation of exam questions. The list includes various specifications, guides, and handbooks published by AWS, ISO, ASNT, and ANSI. It is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it can certainly give you a better idea of what materials you can utilize to prepare for the exam. All this information, including additional recommendations for self-study, can also be found in the CWI Body of Knowledge document.
- AWS QC1 Standard for AWS Certification of Welding Inspectors
The QC1 standard addresses how personnel are certified, and the principles of conduct and practice by which certification may be maintained. Section 2 defines the three levels of CWI certification: Senior Certified Welding Inspector (SCWI), Certified Welding Inspector (CWI), and Certified Associate Welding Inspector (CAWI). Section 4 specifies the duties that each of these levels can perform. Section 11 details the professional and ethical responsibilities of a CWI. Some sections – like 5, 6, 8, and 10 – summarize exam requirements, and refer the reader to the B5.1 Standard. Sections 12 through 16 deal with the maintenance, renewal, and revocation of the CWI certification.
Check back soon for Part 2 on this topic, which will cover ways to help you assess and bridge the gap between how much you know and what you need to know, as well as give you information on CWI pre-seminars, seminars, and methods of self-study. Also, if you’re getting ready to take the CWI exam, make sure you sign up for our online CWI Pre-Seminar to help you on your path.