Not all practice is equal. Not all practice is even beneficial. This is actually a major problem when technicians and inspectors are studying for the next certification. Here’s what we’ve seen in the marketplace, and we’ve rated the approaches. Consider the following:
Poor Practice – The Oversized Question Bank
If someone told you they have 1,000 study questions they could give you to practice for the Reinforced Concrete test, would you be receptive, or want to put a gun to your head? Would 5,000 be five times as good? Think about this. Studying taxes the brain and uses your energy. Is this the best expense of energy? Time should be equated with value, and the use of time in this manner is not only taxing – it’s wasteful.
Too many questions tires the student out. Without a balance of instruction, interaction, and comprehension, this one-sided approach can discourage and heavily tax the student. There’s much better options.
Poor Practice – Highlight Everything
Just go ahead and highlight every paragraph between chapters 3 through 12 in your ACI 318-11. It’s more convoluted in the ACI 318-14. Better, pay someone a lot of money to tell you to do this. Yet we still see students forking over cash for this training, hoping they are going to get some live instruction, or one-to-one time with an experienced veteran. What ends up happening is a week-to-week rushed lecture, or worse, isolated study with plenty of highlighters. Both are quickly becoming antiquated teaching methods. They are actually already antiquated, but students just aren’t aware of a superior approach.
Highlighting is done for emphasis, but when one uses it as a sole means for test preparation (what we call the cheater course approach), it’s like the card memory game we used to play as kids. On the floor lies 8 or so rows of cards face down, and each card has a pair. To find the pairs, you must turn over two cards at a time. If you didn’t get the pair on the two flips, both cards are turned back down and you’re left with sheer memory and more flipping until you’ve finally found all the pairs.
Relying on excessive highlighting or tabbing is just like this memory game. Except with the amount of code to be studied, it’s like playing the game with about 75 rows of cards. You’re playing the memory game because you’re not learning anything. During the test, you’ll be flipping lots of cards, racing against the clock.
Okay Practice – The Brick and Mortar Classroom
Brick and mortar classroom. We would never discount the value of one-to-one live tutoring. The problem is you will rarely get it, even though you pay $500 - $1,000 for the tuition alone, not factoring in time spent on commuting, gas, and if you’re from out of town, hotel stay and time lost from work. Thousands of dollars. It better be damn good.
Classroom instruction today is not one-to-one tutoring, or even close to what you would expect. This isn’t possible with a class of 20 students. The teacher has only one of two options. Present a lecture, or give a self study assignment (or a combination of both). Because of the volumes of information, lectures are blown through by the instructor to maximize time. Out of 20 students, 5 may track fine, 10 may retain 50 - 75% of the lecture, and the other 5 will range from fairly to completely lost. Save a few sporadic questions, the instructor holds center stage and moves through a planned agenda.
This method is too instructor-centered, versus being student centered. It’s not always best for the student, and never best for all students, but it works for the instructor who charges the tuition, fills the seats, and makes it through the lecture outline. Hopefully you’re one of the top 25%.
Okay Practice – Self Study
Some can still fair well with this method, but even the “book smart” student should evaluate the value of their time, one’s own window of opportunity, and the current marketplace. Money can be saved by going at it oneself, but at what cost in the form of your time? How much longer will it take to get ready, and make sure you’re ready? You won’t be sure that you’re ready until you’ve taken the test at least once to see where you’re at. But what if you fail?
A failed attempt is about $225. Currently, that’s half the price of our course. Then after you’ve already done self study, you’ll need to figure out how to gain that edge you need to pass the next attempt. How can you gain that via the same methods you’ve already exhausted? Now there’s a significant risk on the line going in for the second attempt.
Then there’s the sheer time factor. How much is your time worth? If YOU value (not what your employer pays you) your time at $20/hr., then about 20 hours of personal study equals the cost of our course. We figure our course takes about 25-30 hours to complete. This is guided study. We tell you exactly what you need to study. If you spend 20 hours of your own study without our course, will all 20 hours be studied in the right place? Will all 20 hours count? If 10 hours focus on what’s test-worthy and 10 do not, then you’ve wasted another $200.
This doesn’t even take into account the time you’re throwing away. What if your co-worker gets the certification before you and lands the next big project? What if someone has to be hired in on quick notice? There’s always more at stake than what’s immediately apparent. Also, many field personnel will value their time at a higher dollar value. Now the scale shifts further out of the favor of the self-studier.
And what about preparing for the test plans? This is where self-study falls short every time.
Great Practice – A Personal Tutor
Who would pass up an opportunity for one-to-one personal tutoring? Someone to guide you through the code and personally walk you through preparing for the test? This is someone who has taken and passed the test themselves, and of course knows the industry. If a mentor was offering you this tutoring at a cost, would you pay them for the one-to-one time? It’s a better bet than the brick and mortar approach.
Best Practice – In-Depth Plans Reading Instruction from a Personal Tutor
The most often failed portion of the test is the plans reading. I wrote an article on our website detailing my testing experience the last time I went in and sat for the Reinforced Concrete test. Why are the plans so difficult? There’s a number of reasons, but here are the two main reasons:
- The set presented has been altered in CAD. This means the details and markings have been moved from their original positions and placed in areas that they aren’t normally or logically found. Sort of like throwing in several extra letters into an algebraic equation, and now the focused student has to figure out which letters don’t belong before they can even begin to solve the equation.
- You are constrained by a time limit. If you had half a day, you could probably find just about anything. If you take too long on the code, which is Part I of the exam, then you begin to tie on of your arms behind your back while still trying to complete a complex puzzle.
SI Certs incorporates both of what we call Best Practices, or our Passing Strategy to prepare for this test. We have already created a one-to-one personal tutor experience right in an online course. You study at your own pace, within your own schedule, and we walk you through the code you need to know. We teach you via photos, custom illustrations, and audio playback through your browsers. It would be as if someone is sitting next to you, showing you where to flip in your references, teaching you the intent of the code, showing you pictures, and then giving you personal quizzes after each lesson to make sure you understood. We also give you practice using your references that you know more intimately from our course. We are your personal tutor, and you’re paying us for 3 months of our time to prepare you.
So how about teaching plan reading? Sorry, but the lame approach is to give you a set of plans, 10 questions (or 100) and tell you to “figure it out”. What a waste of time and energy.
Students need to know how plans are built. Why foundations and details are laid out the way they are? What are common ways a structural engineer shows how to construct a wall, a column, or a suspended slab? What are best practices for laying out the design of a high rise with repeating floors? Understanding this is what prepares you to encounter any set of plans. When you have this foundational understanding, you begin to know where to look.
What navigation routes can I expect from the questions on the test? With some special techniques and approaches that we teach, you can go into the test ready to face their convoluted plans. Learn more about our teaching approach to plan reading.