Career Development

How to Prepare for the CWI Exam: Part 2

In Part 1 of our in-depth look at How to Prepare for the CWI Exam, we began by breaking down the CWI exam part by part. We also reviewed the two standards that document the CWI exam, and singled out specific sections that provide you with important information regarding reference materials and exam structure.

In this part, we’ll focus on a self-assessment of how much of the material you know. It’s important to have a plan, so let’s get started!

How much do I know?

As we covered in Part 1, the CWI exam is a comprehensive test that covers a wide range of information. As such, you should carefully review the information on the make-up and scope of the exam found in AWS QC1 Standard for Certification of Welding Inspectors and AWS B5.1 Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors. Then, you should ask yourself, “How much of this do I really know?” An honest answer is the only way to have a clear idea of just how well you know the material.

A potential CWI candidate may meet the educational and experience requirements to take the exam, and still not understand the knowledge points well enough to do well. And if that’s the case, it’s important to carefully note exactly which topics you need to brush up on. David Hernandez, Director of the AWS Education Services Department, developed a simple way for potential test takers to assess their readiness. Take a look at Table 1 in the B5.1 specification that we reviewed in part one of this blog, and think about how well you know each particular knowledge point. Then, assign a numerical value that reflects your level of competency in each topic. Hernandez’s rating system is a three number system, but you can make the scale wider if you deem it necessary. In Hernandez’s rating system, a “1” reflects a rudimentary understanding with a basic ability to recall facts; a “2” suggests enough of an understanding to apply that information and knowledge to a real work environment; and a “3” means that you know the material well enough to teach a novice, and increase that student’s rating on the subject from a “1” to a “2”.

Take a moment to examine your understanding of one of the knowledge points in Table 1 using Hernandez’s criteria.  Note that we are only concerned with the topics that correspond to the Xs in the center column under WI (Welding Inspector). For example, under Training, a CWI—as opposed to a Senior CWI—would only need to know the first three points. Number two is “develop visual inspection training”. If you have don’t know about this topic, or only have a general idea about it, you may give yourself a “1”. If you’re familiar with the details of developing such a program and have successfully implemented one, you’ve earned a “2”. If you can tailor a visual inspection program to suit the needs of a particular work environment and also teach others to do the same, then a “3” would be warranted. Do this for every item on the list. It may be a time-consuming process, but you’ll thank me later.

When you’ve done this for each item, you’ll want to take a step back and assess your overall rating. Since this is an exercise in self-evaluation, it’s important to provide honest answers, or the rating system simply won’t work. If your table has a lot of 1’s, you will need to develop a more well-rounded knowledge base and acquire some additional experience. If the vast majority of the knowledge points have 2’s and 3’s, and perhaps a very rare “1”, then you can review the 2’s and really get to work on the 1’s.

How long will it take to prepare for the CWI exam?

Future CWI test takers often ask how much time they should dedicate to studying for the exam. The truth is, this depends on a variety of factors. Not everyone has the same knowledge and experience, nor do they learn at the same pace. Obviously, those with more 1’s on their table will need more time to prepare for the exam. However, it’s important to note that the CWI exam can be challenging for even seasoned professionals. This is partly due to the fact that many of us work in areas that do not emphasize the use of one or more of the required knowledge points. Therefore, it’s important to set aside an appropriate amount time to prepare. For most of us this means months of study—not days or weeks.

o get an idea of how much time you will need, you can look at one of the standards or books in Annex A of the B5.1 Specification that contains information you may be unfamiliar with. For example, if you’re a bit rusty on the use and interpretation of welding symbols, it would be a good idea to review AWS A2.4 Standard Symbols for Welding, Brazing, and Nondestructive Examination. This standard is roughly 100 pages, so if you feel you can cover that material in 15 hours or so, studying and practice included, then you have a decent idea of how much time you can allocate for any other knowledge points you may need to brush up on. However, it’s important to note that not all reference documents are easy to comprehend, nor are they the only option. For example, you can take a live or online course about welding symbols. These often include multimedia elements and practice problems to make the material easier to understand.

By the way, many AWS sections have a library where you may be able to access some of the reference study materials listed in Annex A. This will give you an opportunity to see if the document is something you want to purchase and study, or if you might be better served by taking a course on that particular topic.

Whatever your decision, be sure to set aside several hours each week to study. For example, you may decide to study 3 hours every day and cover all of the relevant material in a few months. However, it’s important to be realistic when scheduling study time. Missing your target and watching your proposed completion time pass you by can be disheartening. Perhaps with all the other responsibilities in your life, you may only be able to study 8 hours a week. No problem. It’s much more important to be properly prepared and pass the exam, than race to the finish and fail. The schedule for CWI exams and seminars is available for the entire calendar year, so it’s easy to review the schedule and determine what testing date you should sign up for.

Check back soon for Part 3 of this topic, when we discuss how to get the most out of the resources AWS has available for the CWI exam, and review some study tips that can help you prep for the exam. Leave a comment below if there is something you think we missed, you’d like us to cover, or if you have any questions.

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