I noticed two things when I first got into the construction materials testing industry:
- those who had the Reinforced Concrete certification from ICC were making good money, in demand, and staying busy, and
- many guys (and gals) who attempted to take the test failed the first and even second try, leaving them discouraged and hesitant to keep pursuing the coveted certification.
Others, seeing these repeated failures, wouldn't even try. The question is often asked, “How do I prepare for this test?”
First, you need to have the correct references to study from. Download the ICC National Certification Examination Information Bulletin. Near the end of the document, in the section labeled "47 Reinforced Concrete Special Inspector", you'll find a list of the references you need for Reinforced Concrete Special Inspector. All the other Special Inspection certifications are there, too. The bulletin also contains information for test-taking such as scheduling a test, certification renewal, and how the ICC scores the tests.
Once you have the right references, knowing what to study is the next step. However, most people don’t enjoy reading code, myself included. Who wants to sit around and read a code book?
Some companies and individuals offer classroom instruction. This can be very helpful because there are experienced workers who can take you through the code, explain the difficult portions, and add personal experience to the teaching, removing the "dryness" of studying code books. This personalized instruction can come at a very high price though and is not available in most areas.
What should you look for when seeking a classroom course, or some sort of tutoring or outside help?
5-Step Checklist for Evaluating a Course
1. Make sure the teacher is qualified.
The teacher should know what they're talking about. They don't have to have a degree, or even be in the industry for 20-plus years. They need to understand how the ICC tests people, what information should be the focus of study, and which instructional methods work to help you pass the exam.
2. There should be a section for test-taking strategies.
Sometimes just being a good test-taker can make all the difference. Can a teacher who is a poor test-taker give you the direction you need, even if they managed to pass the test themselves? You’ll find that a teacher who understands test-taking strategies will help you be more confident during test day.
3. The teacher should know the difference between the field and the test.
There are really two different approaches to learning ICC Special Inspections. The first is knowing how to perform the duties in the field. The second is passing the test to obtain the certification. These approaches are entirely different. The help you are seeking must be able to differentiate between the two, because spending time in the field going through the inspection process will not prepare you to pass the exam. I've seen this time and time again. Why do you think you come across those individuals who know how to inspect reinforced concrete, but just haven't passed the test? Yes, plan reading can certainly be improved in the field, and should be, but your teacher should be an expert in the exam in order to prepare you to pass.
4. The course should have a firm grasp on plan reading concepts.
This is extremely important. People who can pass the code but fail the plan reading portion of the test become extremely discouraged by the entire process. What is often missed is learning the tricky concepts of reading plans. A good course provides a conceptual approach to plan reading so that you can navigate and understand any set of plans you come across. A course that merely gives you four sets of sample plans can be a waste of time. You can become familiar with all four sets, but become lost on test day when you are faced with a new set of plans.
5. Avoid cheater courses.
These are the expensive (or non-expensive) courses where you sit in a room with a highlighter and highlight portions of the code that are "most likely questions" on the test. Even if you end up passing the test, you wasted your money because you haven't learned anything. There are better options out there for actual learning and they are less expensive than these overpriced cheater courses.