The AWS Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) Exam

Are you looking to boost your earnings, gain flexibility, and increase demand for your welding expertise? If so, becoming a Certified Welding Inspector (CWI) may be the career path you’re looking for.

To become one, you’ll need to take the CWI exam. But first, what is a CWI?

What Is a CWI?

A CWI is one of the many career paths in the welding, inspection, fabrication, steel, and pipeline industries. CWIs are responsible for ensuring that welding related work is accomplished in accordance with project specifications and welding codes. Some responsibilities include:

  • Reviewing non-destructive testing
  • Producing Welding Procedure Specifications (WPS)
  • Overseeing test welds and qualifying welders to make certain welds
  • Reviewing documents such as WPS, building plans, and material specifications
  • Observing procedures before, during, and after welding
  • Ensuring compliance to project specifications and welding codes
  • Inspecting finished welds
  • Providing quality control (QC) services for the fabricator and contractor
  • Providing quality assurance (QA) services for the owner and engineer

To safely use infrastructure, buildings, and bridges, the general public relies on CWI’s. Employers rely on them to increase the quality of the work. CWIs help ensure that construction projects meet code and can be safely used by the public. Because of the high level of responsibility required by the role, you need to pass a rigorous test to prove you are fit for the task.

Why Become a CWI?

Becoming a CWI is a huge step up in a welder’s career and can mean a much higher paycheck. CWIs can make well over $100,000 per year.

And since a CWI is in charge of so many diverse areas, there is always more to learn. You can continue to increase in knowledge and experience as you learn more about welding testing, processes, and methods in your day-to-day work.

If you’re interested in becoming a CWI, keep reading to learn if you’re eligible for the exam, how to prepare for it, and how to sign up.

About the Exam

The CWI exam is administered by the American Welding Society (AWS). Depending on your level of experience, you can become a Certified Welding Inspector, a Senior Certified Welding Inspector (SCWI), or a Certified Associate Welding Inspector (CAWI).

Exams are held year-round across the country. Here’s the list of test locations and dates.

As of 2018, the CWI exam costs $850 for AWS members and $1065 for non-members. Once you’ve been certified, however, your CWI certification is valid for 3 years.

After 3 years, you’ll need to renew the certification, which costs between $450 and $960. After 9 years, CWIs must recertify by retaking the exam. View the AWS 2018 Price List for more detailed information.

To qualify for the exam, you must pass a vision test and have a combination of education and work experience.

If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher in welding engineering or related field, you only need one year of welding-based work experience. On the other hand, if you have a high school diploma but no technical degrees or courses, you need to have a minimum of five years of welding-based work experience.

You can view the full table of requirements to see if you have enough experience to qualify. Also, read the AWS B5.1 Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors and AWS QC1 Specification for AWS Certification of Welding Inspectors for in-depth requirements of the CWI certification.

What to Expect

The exam is divided into 3 sections and each section is allotted a time limit of two hours. You spend six hours taking the exam, so you need to be mentally prepared on test day.

Part A, called Fundamentals, is closed-book with 150 questions. That’s a lot of questions so it’s important to move quickly. Remember: an educated guess is better than not answering, because an unanswered question will be marked incorrect.

During this part, you’ll answer questions about welding principles such as processes, definitions, inspector’s duties, joint design, safety, non-destructive testing, metallurgy, welding processes, and even some math calculations for the job.

Part B is the Practical Application section. The part tests your ability to physically examine welds, conduct visual inspection, and interpret compliance with codes and specifications.

During this section, you’ll be given a set of tools and weld replicas to assist you with your tasks and you’ll be asked questions about the weld replicas. Plus, you will need to use your inspection tool kit to measure weldments and then compare your measurements with pretend specifications. Part B has at least 46 questions.

Part C is Code Application, which tests how well you can locate, understand, and apply the information found in various welding codes. This portion is open-book and you can test with different codes including AWS D1.1 Structural Steel Welding, API 1104, D1.2, and ASME B31.1.

This part has 45 to 60 questions depending on the codebook you chose. AWS advises you to choose a book that you’ll probably use in the future. They say that none of the codebooks are easier for the test than the others.

Although AWS D1.1 is by for the most popular, when you pass the exam, it won’t matter which codebook you use. Your certification will simply say “CWI”, just like all the other certifications out there.

How to Prepare

Passing the CWI exam is proof of excellence in the welding/inspection field, and because of that, it’s not something that can be mastered quickly. The exam pass rate is not high partly because people don’t spend enough time studying.

For example, traditionally, students take the AWS week-long classroom seminar. However, because too much information is crammed into that one week, most of the students walk away still feeling unprepared and need supplemental training.

To have success, expect to spend a number of weeks preparing for the exam.

Before you begin studying, it’s important to assess your current level of knowledge.

David Hernandez, the former director of AWS' Education Services Department, recommends assessing your knowledge on a 3-point scale to see how much you already know.

First, consult the B5.1, QC1, and AWS Body of Knowledge for a list of topics you need to know. Also, the Body of Knowledge has the current book editions you will need to reference during the exam.

These three documents are going to be very useful for evaluating your readiness to pass the test.

As you go through all the topics, rate each one on a scale from 1 to 3. A rating of 1 means you have a basic knowledge of the subject but may not be able to apply it practically.

A rating of 2 means you can understand and apply the concept. A rating of 3 means that you understand the concept well enough to teach others and have them apply it themselves.

After you’ve rated every topic, see where you stand. Do you have mostly 1s and several 2s? Mostly 2s? Understanding where your weaknesses are will help you to create an efficient test prep strategy.

After you’ve done the self-evaluation, it’s time to create a realistic study plan. Estimate how long it will take you to study each topic with a rating of 1, then block out a certain number of hours each week. The number of hours you can study will depend on your schedule and lifestyle. Everyone is different.

You’ll know you’re ready when all of the topics can be rated 2 or higher.

To study, go through the reference materials listed in the Body of Knowledge and Annex A of B5.1. You’ll find a list of publications that can improve your knowledge where you are weak. AWS Sections often have libraries with these materials handy.

You can also take online courses that provide interactive guidance for studying. We offer an online test prep course that replaces the week-long, in-person seminar.

Our course has 80 hours of instruction to really prepare you for the exam. It also includes multiple practice quizzes and tests for you to see how ready you are for the actual exam.

What Scores Do You Need to Pass the Exam?

The magic number is 72.

A passing score is a 72% or higher in all 3 sections of the test. If your score on any part of the test is lower than 72%, you will not be certified.

However, if the average score of the entire test is 72% or higher, yet one or more of the sections have a score lower than 72%, you can retake just the parts of the test that had a failing score. If you pass them on the next try, you will be certified.

But that only applies if the average score of the entire test is at least 72%, so try to get the highest score you can in the sections you know.

How to Sign Up

Are you ready to take the exam?

You can find application forms and the exam schedule on the AWS website. Your application must be submitted to AWS’ Certification Department six weeks before the date of the exam.

If you need guidance applying for the exam, check out our online CWI course. In the course, we break down the application process in detail. We’ll explain everything you need to know and we’ll help you prepare for the test.