Computer-Based Certification Testing: What to Expect

online welding certification test
By: Carlos Plaza

In a world of quickly advancing technologies, more and more adults find themselves taking tests to prove their competence in some new process, method, or skill. For some of us, just the thought of taking an exam conjures nightmarish memories of ticking clocks, long answer sheets, and the dreaded sound of a teacher pronouncing, “pencils down”, before having had the chance to give each and every numbered row a black eye.

However, things have just gotten a little better for those of you planning to sit for an AWS Endorsement exam or one of three AWS Certification exams: Senior Certified Welding Inspector (SCWI), Certified Welding Supervisor (CWS), and Certified Welding Sales Representative (CWSR). You can now register to take these exams on a computer at a PROMETRIC testing center near you. Many of you may be happy just to hear that bubble answer sheets and #2 pencils are no longer part of the testing process. Others, such as those who might describe themselves as computer-averse, may not welcome the change.

We understand. That’s why a few of us here at AWS recently took a tour of our local PROMETRIC testing site and checked out their process for ourselves. However, before we talk about the wonderful world of computer-based testing, it’s important to note that you still have to fill out and submit an exam application. Simply go to the AWS Certification webpage (SCWI, CWS, or CWSR) to download the application. These pages also contain other useful information such as applicant instructions, the body of knowledge, relevant seminars, exam prices, and more.

When the application is complete, AWS will send you a confirmation letter with instructions on how to register for the exam on the PROMETRIC website. PROMETRIC has a relatively simple and intuitive user interface, so this shouldn’t pose a problem for the computer-phobic. PROMETRIC has thousands of testing centers across the world so finding one near you shouldn’t be an issue either. I used the PROMETRICS test center locator and found several sites around my home in South Florida, including Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, and West Palm Beach. I imagine most PROMETRIC test centers are similar to the one I recently visited in Miami: A spacious suite in a building nestled inside a sprawling office park. All good, considering what you will probably want on test day is plentiful parking and a quick elevator ride to your destination. However, the check-in process takes some time, so be sure to arrive about half-an-hour early.

Upon entering the test center, a test center administrator (TCA) stationed behind a counter will greet you, and ask for your name and the exam you are there to take. She will also ask you for a signed photo ID (driver’s license or passport) to confirm that you are indeed who you say you are.

Test candidates are asked to store their personal belongings in a locker.

After signing-in, it gets really interesting! Well, not really. The whole point of describing this process is to remove the uncertainty that most of us tend to feel when visiting a new place or doing something new. So, at this point the TCA will ask you to step over to a section of the office which contains lockers like those found in high schools, minus the graffiti. Here, you will be asked to remove and store all extraneous items except your ID and your engagement or wedding ring. This includes, but is not limited to, all other jewelry, hair clips, headbands, purses, cell phones, cameras, jackets, hats, weapons, and food items. You can hold onto your key and return for a snack during a break later on. Just be aware that the test clock does not stop if you choose to take a break and that a TCA will conduct another security check before you return to the test room.

After storing your personal items, you may be asked to wait before proceeding to the biometric check-in area. During this time, the TCA will ask you to read and sign a test policy agreement in which you consent to abide by all of the testing protocols. You are basically agreeing not to cheat or disclose any information about the exam. As an added incentive, the document also tells you about the unhappy consequences if you do either.

A test candidate signs the daily log book at the biometric check-in area.

When you are called over to the biometric check-in area, a robot will ask you to extend your arm and proceed to inject you with truth serum. Cool, right? Unfortunately, the ominous-sounding biometric check-in area simply consists of a human TCA behind a desk with a computer. After you sign the daily log book, she checks your signature against the one on your ID. Then, she uses a computer program to verify the authenticity of your ID. Next, she asks you to stand up and turn out your pockets, roll up your sleeves, and roll down your socks. After that, she physically checks your eyeglasses and scans you with a hand-held metal detector wand. And just in case things get unruly, all of this is being recorded on overhead cameras.

If you, like me, think this might be a bit excessive, it’s only because we are not privy to the lengths some people will go to in order to cheat their way to success. When I asked the PROMETRIC representative who was giving me the tour of the facility to give me an example of a recent case that might warrant these security measures, she smiled and said “the guy with the video camera in his beard.” Enough said.

Once you’ve completed the security procedures, you are ready to head into the test room. The TCA will provide you with a 4-page test booklet and 2 pencils. You can use these to take notes during the exam, but the booklet must be returned with all 4 pages intact before you leave. If a certification exam is of the open-book variety, the book will be checked for extra pages.

Now it’s test time. A TCA escorts you into a large room with several rows of cubicles, each with a computer and a keyboard. The screen will display your name and the name of the exam. Make sure that both are correct. The screen will also show a nondisclosure agreement to which you agree not to share the contents of the exam. Next, consider taking the tutorial that shows you how the exam interface works. All you have to do is carefully read each question and click on the box next to the right answer or answers below. However, the test interface includes several features, such as strikethrough, highlighting, and opening pop-up images that you may want to familiarize yourself with. The test clock on the screen will not begin until you click “Start Exam” so you don’t have to rush through the tutorial. However, you cannot stop the clock to take breaks so make sure that you’ve gone to the bathroom and are otherwise comfortable before you start.

Test candidates sit at individual testing stations.

Once you begin the exam, you can use the clock on the screen to help you pace yourself. To figure out how much time you have for each question, divide the time allotted by the total number of questions. For example, the fundamentals portion of the Certified Welding Supervisor exam consists of 150 multiple-choice questions, and must be completed in two hours. 120 minutes divided by 150 questions gives the test taker 0.8 minutes, or 48 seconds, per question. If after 15 minutes you’ve completed 20 questions (15 min ÷ 20 questions = 45 sec per question), then you know you’re on target and keeping a good pace. This allows you to spend additional time on tougher questions if needed. On the other hand, if the same amount of time has lapsed and you’ve only answered 15 questions, then you should either adjust your pace or implement a new strategy in order to complete the exam and obtain a passing score.

While it’s wise to keep track of your progress, it’s not a good idea to keep track of how long it takes to answer each and every question while taking the exam. Not only is this time-consuming, but it also makes it difficult to concentrate. Instead, set a series of benchmarks that allow you to check your pace. Thirty minute marks are always a safe bet. Check how many questions you’ve answered at the 30-minute mark, the 60-minute mark, the 90-minute mark, and so on. Doing so can help you maximize your time during the test.

If you get stuck on a question, flag it and move on to the next one. However, be sure to revisit the question at the end of the test. If you don’t have time to think about the question, then guess. Never leave a question unanswered. Unanswered questions are marked wrong, so it’s better to guess and have a shot at getting it right than to leave it blank. The computer will point out when there are 10 minutes remaining, and alert you again when there are 5 minutes remaining. It will also indicate if you have left any questions unanswered.

This walkthrough of the PROMETRIC testing process is meant to remove the uncertainty about how the exam is administered. This, in turn, will allow you to focus on studying for the exam. However, if this information has had the opposite effect, I urge you to click here and watch the “What to Expect on Test Day” video. It actually mirrors the pleasant experience I had at the Miami testing center and puts the play-by-play described above into perspective. Make sure you check out the other resources on this page, especially the Prepare for Test Day tips and the sample tutorial, which lets you try out the test interface. If you are still a little nervous, you even have the option of scheduling an appointment to do your own 30-minute “dry–run” of the test center experience. If you have any questions please feel free to contact the Certification Department at 1-800-443-9353 x273.