When I last took the ICC Reinforced Concrete Special Inspection Exam (2012), I left the testing center and immediately documented my experience below. I wrote this to help others who would be facing this same experience and are curious what the testing experience is like. If you’ve never taken the test before, this is for you. If you have, you may find some comfort in our shared experience.
The In-Person Registration Process
I had a morning session scheduled to take the 2012 updated Reinforced Concrete Exam. The registration process was easy. I did it online, located test center, chose number 47 reinforced concrete test – 2012 version, and gave over my hard-earned cash. When I got to test center the morning of the test, I was asked to show my ID, take a number and divulge who I was. My ID says “Gabriel”, but I registered for the test online with “Gabe” and this put a quick halt in the process. The front desk lobby Pearson Vue gal called someone (not sure if it was ICC) to verify that this was okay. For a quick second I thought I threw 225 bucks in the trash. But whoever was on the other end of the call said that was fine.
The gal then checked through all of my references against a list she had. Pearson Vue administers probably over 100 different tests for numerous industries like insurance, medical, corporate, etc. So this gal didn’t know ICC from NFL. But there was no way I was taking anything into the test other than what was on her list. It matched ICC’s National Candidate Bulletin, but there’s no surprise that she didn’t have the latest codes listed. Her list had the 2009 IBC, ACI 318-08, Concrete Manual 2006 or 2009, etc. So she had to verify that, but I think she realized or had instructions somewhere else informing her that ICC has just updated their Reinforced Concrete Test, as well as all their other special inspection tests.
At this point I had to lose all of my belongings - phone of course, wallet, keys, and even hat. Now everyone at the testing center could see that I was about a month overdue for a haircut. I locked them in a small locker with phone off, so they wouldn’t interrupt me during the test in case phone calls started coming through and annoying people in the lobby.
With me, I lugged all of the original books I’ve purchased, but I had the 11 ASTMs printed and punched into a small 3-ring binder. They allowed this, but I had a spiral bound duplicate in my car just in case. All of my references are currently new and unmarked. Once my ID was verified, I followed a second Pearson Vue gal to her work station where she could see all of the test takers through a glass window. Also, she had a rigged up monitor showing each individual testing cubicle from overhead cameras.
She went through my references carefully a second time. She informed me that I could have brought them in with highlighting and underlining, but that they would not accept any reference with handwritten notes. Of course loose papers are out of the question. Next to her spy monitor was a machine that captures a palm vein reading. Apparently fingerprint scanning is now obsolete because it’s not as unique and reliable as the palm vein. Not sure why, but she did not verify mine. But she did make me turn my front pockets inside out to verify they were empty, and she had me spin around where she nearly patted my backside down. Flashbacks of TSA post-911. Clearly, security measures have greatly increased since I took my previous ICC test (Bolting) 3 or 4 years back.
I was escorted into the testing room after the second comb-through of my references. My cubicle had a small second table to lay out the plans. How thoughtful. Everything was computer based of course, and gone are the scratch sheets of paper and pencil that I’d seen many times. This gal gave me a dry-erase pad and dry-erase type marker, although it was pretty hard to erase by smudging with fingers. She instructed me that if I filled the space, to raise my hand and she would bring me another pad. In the end I had a few scribbles, but I didn’t use it much, other than to calculate lengths of bar spans for the plans portion of the test.
Taking the Test
So after escorting me, I took the same Pearson Vue tutorial as last time, telling me how to navigate forward and back, mark questions, and return to review those marked. At this point I was informed that I had been assigned Plan Set #4. I previously remember using #1 or #2, but that was a while ago admittedly.
I was not given the set. During my previous taking of this test, I was given 2 sets at the outset, before I even began the code portion of the test. So this was different. Also, ICC has instructions in the beginning explaining that they weigh your scoring to determine if you pass or not. Depending on the difficulty level of the questions, each question is weighted. So by this account, you could miss more questions that are harder and achieve a score of 75 than you could missing easy questions to achieve that passing score. This can be a little confusing, but my take is find all of the answers, answer every question and don’t worry about this.
Even after taking multiple ICC tests and having multiple certs, I still had a bit of butterflies in my stomach. I honestly would have rather walked out and left! And it took me about 5 or even 10 minutes to settle down mentally. In my mind, I was trying to read through text in the reference quickly as I got stuck on question #2. Since I’m aware of being timed, I didn’t want to blow a bunch of time on a question and I couldn’t find the answer. So my mind raced quickly through the text I was trying to skim to find the answer, but I was getting absolutely no comprehension out of it. I probably wasted 6 or 7 minutes, and to keep going down that road would have been a mess.
I can understand how test takers “spiral out of control” and lose it for even longer periods of time. What I had to remember was I still had plenty of time, and I could either mark the question and return or sit there and relax and calm down to proceed. I ended up marking the question and chose to stay calm. The following questions returned my confidence as I found the answers and could then relax and calm down to comprehend my reading.
The code portion, 60 questions, began with what I expected. The questions contained the level of difficulty that I expected as well, but knowing which references contain what is really the key to finding the answers quick enough to leave yourself adequate time for the plans. I also found that the questions are very balanced across the references. In other words, they were spread out pretty evenly across the five references, with the least coming from the IBC. Shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as the IBC heavily references the 318.
I was able to find all of the code answers in all the references except for one, which I’ve since researched further not being bound by time constraints from within the test. And I finished the code in just a little over an hour and a half. This left me about an hour and 50 minutes for the plans.
I clicked that I was finished, and it appeared the testing gal had been standing over my shoulder or monitoring me. As soon as I turned around in my chair, she knew I was done with the code part and signaled to bring me their plans set. She brought them over, but hovered next to me until I clicked the button to continue into part II. There goes my review time that I snuck in the previous time.
These Plans Are Crazy!
Right as I started flipping through the plans, holy crap. It was an entirely new “fabricated” set. The quality of the plans were fine, whereas previous years they looked like they had been scanned, then faxed, then handwritten with a pen running out of ink. No, these were fine to read. But the information was scattered EVERYWHERE. The first several pages after the general notes were details, not the foundation page and subsequent floors. I didn’t even know what the hell the structure was, but as I flipped through the set of plans, it seemed to be a multi-level parking garage.
Schedules were in about 4 or 5 different places, versus on one or two pages near the back. This was definitely not a typical structural set of plans. Any structural firm who would release a set of plans like this would be fired from the project and burned to the ground. That’s why it’s difficult to prepare for the plans portion of the test – you can’t find anything even remotely close out there to practice on. A side note, that’s why we know teaching plan reading concepts is the best approach. So you figure it out during the test because you understand the fundamentals.
Even having said that, I spent probably 5 to 8 minutes flipping through each page. Each time through I got a little more orientated to how the plans were structured, but even still it just didn’t make logical sense. After finding all the schedules, finding the foundation page and subsequent floors, and looking through some of the other elevation pages, I started going through the questions.
For two-thirds of the questions, I really had to look to find the answers. It was very difficult. Bits and pieces of information were everywhere. It was a nightmare. I ended up finding all but 1 of the answers, but it took every last minute of my time. In fact, I looked at the clock (I preferred keeping the time hidden until the last 20 minutes) and saw I had about 30 minutes left, and I had only answered 10 questions. I briefly panicked but realized I just needed to keep moving, and skip the ones I got stuck on, leaving for the end. That’s what I did. Was very helpful.
Interestingly enough, even by the time I finished I didn’t really get “familiar” with the plans. Information was so scattered unnaturally throughout that I flipped through that set probably 100 times over the 30 questions, and each time kept going back and forth trying to make sense of where things were located. It got a little easier, but not much. Lots of multiple flips and even times where I just needed to find the typical details versus trying to find the location of structural member, and then go from there.
The clock expired before I could find my last marked, unanswered question. I had guessed at a one in four shot of getting it right so as not to leave blank, but I wanted to find that answer. The testing gal quickly came to my desk to get the plans and usher me out.
The Moment of Truth
Both gals flipped through my references to make sure I didn’t mark any answers. I was a good boy and obeyed the rules to the letter. I didn’t make one mark in any of my books. Afterwards, I grabbed my stuff out of the little locker and the gal handed me my test results printout. Seemed that I could have either gotten an on-screen version of that on the test computer right after completion, or a printed version. I didn’t see any test results on my computer screen after I finished – I only received the typical PASS/FAIL printout. But anyways, I relieved to see "PASS" on the printout.
The experience was a bit draining. After a 3.5-hour test, you really want to shut off your brain for a bit and do something that doesn’t require much thinking. Wife and I have a date night and are going to catch a movie. Perfect ending to a drag-around morning.
I give credit to ICC for making the plans portion of the test even harder than the first time I took it. I didn’t think this was likely or possible. Looking at this updated version of their plans, I don’t see how they could make this version any more difficult. I still stand by SI Certs' approach for teaching plan reading. That is, teach users plan reading concepts, how plans are structured and thinking through navigation routes. Laying a foundation prepares users to encounter any set of plans. That is what we do. In fact, many of our users tell us they can get through the plans with time left.