How Hard is the CWI Exam?

Why passing rate is so low and what to do about it

Are you planning on becoming a certified welding inspector (CWI) in the near future?  Or do you need one of your employees to get this certification?  If so, you have probably heard that the exam is pretty tough.  Although the American Welding Society (AWS) does not publish information on passing rates, it is estimated that only about 30 to 40% of CWI hopefuls pass the test on their first try.

The body of knowledge for the CWI exam can be owerwhelming. Get an early start on your preparation.

The body of knowledge for the CWI exam can be owerwhelming. Get an early start on your preparation.

Why is the passing rate so low?  If you ask 20 people you probably get at least 15 different answers.  Some go as far as saying that AWS makes it impossible to pass this exam in order to make more money off of hard working individuals.  After all, the fee for taking the test as of the writing of this article is $1,065 ($850 for AWS members).

However, if you are serious about becoming a CWI you need to be OK with the fact that the test is very challenging.  It has to be. A CWI has a tremendous responsibility as he or she is involved in the determination of weld quality according to applicable codes.  Welding inspection goes way beyond simply looking at welds.  The CWI must have a wide range of knowledge and skills including, but not limited to the following:

  • Knowledge of drawings and specifications
  • Knowledge of welding terms
  • Knowledge of welding processes
  • Knowledge of testing methods
  • Training in engineering and metallurgy
  • Welding experience (helpful but not obligatory)
  • Ability to maintain good records
  • Ability to understand and apply documents describing weld requirements

Back to our original question, how hard is the CWI exam?  This exam is extremely hard. Some professional engineers that have taken both the PE exam and the CWI exam say the CWI exam is much harder.  We don’t necessarily agree with this, but it goes to show that the CWI exam is very challenging.  At the end of the day what makes it hard (or easy) is how well you prepare.

Below are, in our opinion, the major contributing factors to failing the exam on the first try.  Usually you learn from your mistakes and pass on the second go-around.  Ideally, you learn from the mistakes of others and pass on your first try.

  1. Lack of preparation – this one should go without saying, but if you don’t take time to prepare for this test you will probably fail, regardless of how much you know about welding. If you have been welding for 20 years, or have been inspecting welds for 20 years, or are a degreed welding engineer, it doesn’t matter.  You have to spend the time preparing.  This means reading reference material, taking practices exams, asking other CWIs about their experience taking the test and getting to know the test format.  Prepare as much as you can. It is very important that you take multiple practice exams.  These must be exams and not just questions.  There is a time constraint in each of the parts of the exam.  You must practice answering questions under time pressure.  If you attend one of the week-long seminars offered by AWS you will be given practice exams.  However, this gives you only a week to prepare.  Try finding practice exams several weeks before your testing date.


  1. Not having a test-taking strategy – All three parts of the CWI exam are challenging and if you don’t have a strategy on how to attack the questions you may be in trouble. Knowing how much time you can allot to each question is important.  Knowing you don’t need to score a 100% to pass is also very important.  Many people end up spending a lot of time in a single question and then run out of time with many questions left.  In Part B you will have about 46 questions.  This means you only need 33 correct answers to pass (passing grade is a minimum of 72%).  If you blow 20 minutes trying to get a question right you will end up failing.  Each question is worth approximately 2.2% of the final grade.  Don’t let a single question derail you.


Your test taking strategy should include items such as the following:

  • What materials to bring to the examination (pencils, erasers, calculator, etc.)
  • Understanding what is allowed during the exam
  • What to do about questions you can’t solve quickly
  • Tabbing/labeling you code book
  • Understanding how many questions you need to get correct to pass
  • How to set up your test area – in Part B you will have a “fake” code book, inspection tools, plastic replicas of welds, a book of exhibits and your pencils. You will be surprised how much time you can waste looking for a fillet gauge.
  • Knowing what to do to relax – this test can be quite stressful, especially if your job, or future job depends on it. Knowing what to do in the event you become overwhelmed or start hyperventilating can be your key to passing.


  1. Not checking your work – This relates to part C of the examination. In Part C you are tested on your ability to use the code book.  Which code book depends on your choice, it can be D1.1, D1.2, API 1104, ASME Section VII & IX and a few other choices.   Many veteran inspectors who are going for their certification or recertification answer questions on Part C off the top of their head and don’t verify it by finding the answer in the code book.  Many mistakes can be made this way.  Codes can be tricky.  Much information is provided in tables and then complemented by footnotes.


This is what we mean. Suppose a question is asking the test taker to correctly identify the preheat temperature required for welding half-inch thick ASTM A36 steel in order to use a prequalified welding procedure as allowed in AWS D1.1.  If you are from Texas or Florida (very mild winters) you probably would never preheat A36 when it is less than 3/4” thick.  One of the choices would be “No preheat is required when material thickness is below ¾ inches” and you may be tempted to choose it.  Of course, the correct answer is 32˚F [0˚C].  In the winter months steel stored outside a shop can dip below this temperature and would require preheat.


Simply checking the correct table in AWS D1.1 would have made this very clear and would have taken no more than 20 – 30 seconds.

Hopefully these warnings can help you avoid costly mistakes when taking the CWI exam.

If you are taking the exam soon or would like to get a feel for the type of questions you would see you can click here to get sample CWI exam questions.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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7 thoughts on “How Hard is the CWI Exam?

  1. Im a welder / fabricator, I love what I do and am constantly trying to better myself in my field of work. I’ve been planning on going to go for the CWI course for awhile now. The guy that owns AWI the welding school I went to obviously has his, even when I was in school I was talking to him about going to get my own. He said I could use his books and study them in advance witch is great, however I’d like to be able to practice exams as well, what online course is best for that, if any?

    • Hello Logan, the only course that I have seen is the one offered by the American Welding Society. I did not take it but had access to preview it. If you have to do your preparation online this would be my recommendation. If you are able to take this online prep course and then attend the CWI Seminar (week long in-person class) before taking the exam it would be extremely helpful. AWS holds many CWI seminars every year all over the country.

  2. I am preparing to take the CWI course . my plan is to take the two week prep course then follow up with the exam at the end of the prep course. Im going to test on API 1104 and any advise how to prepare beforehand would be appreciated . I have roughly two months before the course starts.

    • JT, It is great that you are preparing this far in advance. Too many leave it to the last 2 or 3 weeks. The prep course is extremely helpful but it is no replacement for your preparation at home. Both parts B & C test your ability to find information in a code book. To increase your chances of passing you need to get familiar with these books. If you are taking API 1104 try to get a copy now and get familiar with it. The exam does not test your ability to remember the code, it tests your ability to find the information necessary in the code to answer the questions. In essence, the better you are at navigating the code book the better off you’ll be. For the practical parts you will receive a made up code book. This code is comprised of bits and pieces of different codes such as API 1104, ASME Sec IX and AWS D1.1. However, even if you know an answer based on your knowledge of one of these codes always find the answer in the document. The wording may be same as with other codes but the numerical values change.

      If you are not strong on the fundamentals this is were you’ll need to spend most of your time preparing over the next couple of months. The seminar will teach you all about navigating the code, but only briefly skims through the fundamentals.

      AWS should send you practice exams as well as other essential textbooks needed for the test. Make sure you do those practice exams.

      Good luck and if you have any specific questions as you study let me know.

  3. I would like to be sent a few questions about Material & Design, Fabrication and Qualification if you wouldn’t mind. I am scheduled to take Part C of D1.1 Code in May for my last retest, my preparation has been lacking and I think extra questions other than the 3 exams in the back of the Code Clinic Book would help. I am starting to memorize all the answers which doesn’t help me practice navigating the Code Book. Thank you for your help!