How to pass the CWI exam (2023)

Knowing how to prepare for the CWI exam can set you on track to earn the credential on the first try. Getty Images

More than 90,000 people have become CWIs since 1976, when the American Welding Society (AWS) introduced the credential. The CWI designation is one of the most respected professional credentials in the welding industry. Industry professionals who earn their CWI certification often are highly regarded and sought after. Becoming a CWI means that you have demonstrated knowledge, skill, and ability in content areas such as evaluating weldments, solving problems, and determining remedial action.

The minimum requirement for work experience and education for taking the CWI exam is five years of work in the welding industry and a high school diploma or GED. The minimum work time decreases for those with a two- or four-year degree in a variety of engineering and welding-related education, but having experience as a welder is essential.

In many ways, CWIs have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Failing to properly inspect and qualify welds can jeopardize the integrity of the building, vehicle, appliance, or other product being manufactured, not to mention result in lost money, property, and possibly lives.

The CWI exam is meant to be robust and challenging to lay the groundwork for critical responsibilities. Preparation is critical. Knowing how to prepare can set you on track to earn your CWI credential on the first try.

Passing the CWI Test Favors the Prepared

The three components to the CWI exam are Part A: Fundamentals; Part B: Practical; and Part C: Codebook Applications.

Part A (Fundamentals) is administered at a Prometric computer-based testing facility and covers general CWI knowledge, including duties and responsibilities, processes (including cutting, brazing, and soldering), heat control and metallurgy for carbon and low-alloy steel, weld examination, weld performance, definition and terminology, math for welders, welding safety, reports and records, welding symbols, metallurgy, and nondestructive testing (many people need to focus on studying the latter three). This portion of the CWI exam has a minimum of 150 questions.

Part B (Practical) is administered domestically adjacent to AWS and third-party seminars in various cities across the U.S. and internationally through the AWS International Agent network. It covers topics in a hands-on manner using a variety of provided tools, plastic weld replicas, and a sample book of specifications. The exam questions involve procedure and welder qualifications, mechanical test and properties, weld inspection and flaws, utilization of specifications and drawings, and nondestructive examination. This portion of the CWI exam has a minimum of 46 questions with a time limit of 120 minutes.

Part C (Codebook Applications) also is administered at a Prometric computer-based testing facility. It requires you to use a codebook to successfully locate, understand, and use information, and apply codes. Part C does not require you to memorize the chosen codebook; instead, it tests your ability to contextualize the information it contains. In other words, you don’t need to know the code by heart, but you do need to know where to find the correct answer.

You have several codebooks to choose from. Most CWIs use the D1.1 (Structural Steel) or API 1104 (Pipeline) for Part C, but exams are available for other codes, including D1.5 (Bridge) and D17.1 (Aerospace). Part C of the exam has a minimum of 50 questions, and you have 120 minutes to answer them.

Break It Down, Then Break It Down Further

As a prospective CWI, you must read — and reread — several essential documents before going into the exam. All of the following are available for free download on the AWS website:

Becoming a CWI means that you have demonstrated knowledge, skill, and ability in content areas such as evaluating weldments, solving problems, and determining remedial action.

  • AWS B5.1 Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors
  • AWS QC1 Specification for AWS Certification of Welding Inspectors
  • Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) Part B Practical Examination – Book of Specifications

AWS B5.1 also holds a general scope for qualifying welding inspectors, terms and definitions, and education and experience requirements. One section of AWS B5.1 is the exam requirements. It breaks down the exam content into domains or topics. Each exam part comes with test specifications, i.e., the designated percent of total questions.

For example, Part A (Fundamentals) is divided into 11 topics, each shown as a minimum percentage of questions. For instance, 12% of questions are dedicated to Definitions and Terminology. Also contained in AWS B5.1 is a table that displays the three levels of the CWI credentials and the required education/experience:

  • Associate welding inspector
  • Welding inspector
  • Senior welding inspector

The AWS QC1 covers how personnel are certified and the principles of conduct and practice by which certification may be maintained. Details of CWI certification levels, duties that each of these levels can perform, professional and ethical responsibilities and maintenance, and the renewal and revocation of CWI certification are some of the sections included in AWS QC1.

The Part B – Book of Specifications covers workmanship requirements, procedure qualification requirements, and performance qualification requirements. This is the nuts, bolts, and paperwork part that comes to mind when most people think of weld inspection.

Self-Assessment for the CWI Exam Is as Easy as 1, 2, 3

Here’s where the rubber hits the road. Not only must you ask yourself how much you know, you also need to consider what you don’t know. One way to do this is by going back to AWS B5.1 and reviewing Table 1: Welding Inspection Capabilities Based on Qualification Level against each knowledge point to determine your competency.

AWS has a recommended rating system, where 1 reflects a very basic ability, 2 indicates an ability to apply the knowledge in a real-world setting, and 3 demonstrates an ability to provide instruction to a student. An honest and thorough self-assessment of this table will help you to determine areas where you might need additional experience or knowledge.

Resources for the CWI Test

AWS offers a number of other resources to help aspiring CWIs prepare for the exam. The AWS Bookstore has several publications to help reacquaint you with test topics and develop a test-taking strategy, including A1.1: Metric Guide for the Welding Industry, A3.0: Standard Welding Terms and Definitions, and WI: Welding Inspection Handbook.

Pre-exam preparation courses provide another way to get yourself ready. AWS offers both in-person and online options. In-person seminars are starting to ramp up again, with social distancing and other precautions in place. Online courses continue to be popular as they do not require the exposure and cost of travel, not to mention food and lodging.

Online exam preparation options include one self-paced and two instructor-led courses. The online and self-paced pre-CWI seminar sets a strong foundation and covers topics from mathematics to metallurgy. For a more regimented approach online, AWS has two instructor-led options: a two-week online CWI seminar and an 8-week online CWI seminar. Both courses cover the same materials.

If you value the preparation process or need to learn or reacquaint yourself with the concepts covered in exam Part A, use a two-stage strategy. Start with the self-paced pre-seminar, which consists of over 80 hours of instruction through 10 multimedia modules. Each module contains an online practice exam designed to evaluate your comprehension of the subject matter. You can access materials for 90 days after registration.

Failing to properly inspect and qualify welds can jeopardize the integrity of the building, vehicle, appliance, or other product being manufactured.

After the pre-seminar, take either an in-person or online instructor-led seminar, which offers the benefit of real-time feedback from the instructor during the live presentations. Study guides, including the appropriate codebook; a set of inspection tools for you to keep; plastic weld replicas (which need to be returned); and practice tests will be made available for all three parts of the exam one month before the live sessions begin.

Magic Numbers of CWI Exam Preparation and Passing Grades

Those who have taken the CWI exam say that it can be overwhelming and intense, and that it is imperative that future test-takers give themselves sufficient study time to absorb all they’ll need to know.

No outside expert can say how much time and how many resources you should dedicate to preparing, but six months of focused preparation seems to be a median consensus. Plan on studying several hours, several days a week.

To pass, you need a score of 72% or higher on each of the three parts. If you score lower that on one or more of the sections (Part A, B, or C) but the composite score (all three combined) is 72% or higher, you must retake the part or parts on which you scored below that. If you achieve a score of 72% or higher on the next try on the part(s) retested, you will earn your CWI certification.

No one can say exactly how much time and how many resources you should dedicate to preparing, but six months of focused preparation seems to be a general consensus.

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