Certification Preparation Class
David Carns and William J. Bender
Central Washington University
This paper provides description and discussion of an undergraduate course designed to
prepare seniors in the Construction Management Program at Central Washington
University for the American Institute of Constructors Constructor Qualification
Examination (CQE) Level I. The history and benefits of the American Institute of
Constructors (AIC) certification program and need for the construction management
professionals to be certification is provided is provided. Specific details of the
pedagogical nature for the preparation course are provided to assist other university
programs that offer or desire to offer a similar preparation class. Examples of lesson
objectives and preparation questions are provided and discussed. The paper also reviews
recent results of the course’s effectiveness in preparing students to pass the Level Exam.
Finally conclusions and recommendations are provided that may help other construction
management educators’ implement or augment their existing curriculum.
Need for Certification
The need for professional certification in the construction industry has been identified in
recent years for many different reasons. Perhaps the reason that draws the most attention
is the need for an improved public image of the construction industry. Numerous surveys
at a variety of levels have been conducted that indicate that the public in general has a
very poor perception of both the skill required at the craft level and the technical,
financial and organizational expertise necessary to successfully manage construction
projects in today's world.
Mulligan and Knutson ask incoming freshman at Arizona State University a question
pertaining to their perception of construction, contractor or constructor. The results
indicate, "…we still have a long way to go to achieve the accepted status of a
professional on par with architects, engineers, etc. It appears that in the eyes of the
general public, hard hats, detour signs, and construction delays represent the constructor."
Construction Management students new to the program at Central Washington University
are introduced to the variety of industry organizations such as AGC, NAHB, MCA,
NECA, etc. but still have a hard time distinguishing between companies that actually
build projects (contractors) and individuals involved as professionals (constructors). In
fact the authors have found that at this level the word "constructor" is difficult for the
new students to include in their vocabulary. There appears to be little or no recognition
of the distinction between companies involved in construction and individuals as
professionals in the industry, in the eyes of the public. In the summer of 1999 both
authors participated in a weeklong program sponsored by the Associated General
Contractors of Washington Education Foundation. This program was actually designed
to place teachers from the public schools in the Seattle area on construction sites to learn
more about the complexities of the industry and to bring improved perceptions back to
their students in the classrooms. The teachers, most of whom had little or no construction
knowledge prior to the experience, gained new respect for the industry. Prior to the
experience one individual did not realize that contractors actually had offices. She
thought that the workers just showed up on the jobsite and built the project. Others were
surprised to learn that trades people have to use math and that construction companies
actually use computers. Although progress was made in this case there is obviously a
very large need to improve the public image of the construction industry.
The second reason for certification is the need within the industry to recognize
accomplishment and professionalism. Architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers and
accountants "…have achieved their professional status through education and
examinations. In addition to the degrees these professionals need, they also go on to
become in someway 'certified' or 'registered'. In most cases this process requires some
type of rigorous examination and generally is administered in two phases. The first, early
in the career, following a formal education and the second, after gaining several years of
experience in the chosen field." (Mulligan, 1999). This type of certification or
registration carries a lot of weight within the particular profession, beyond the perception
of the general public. For example, obtaining a professional engineer's license and
having the "P.E" designation means something to most engineers and other design
professionals. Most employers, including public agencies recognize this extra level of
professionalism in some manner or another, including, in some cases, additional
compensation or job status. The same is not true within the construction industry at this
point, although progress is being made. On March 21, 2000 the AGC of America
announced an official endorsement of the AIC Constructor Certification Program (CPC):
"Today, the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) announced the official
endorsement of the American Institute of Constructors' (AIC) Constructor Certification
Program (CPC). Although AIC certification is not required to participate in construction
projects or for construction industry employment, contractors and subcontractors are
increasingly asking employees to obtain AIC certification."
Following this endorsement, on September 21, 2000, the AGC of America entered into a
partnering agreement with AIC. This agreement is designed to promote education and
professionalism in the industry and includes the opening statement:
"The American Institute of Constructors (AIC) and the Associated General Contractors of
America (AGC) desire to work together to promote the profession of construction and to
enhance the image of the industry."
The agreement goes on to list eight goals, two of which are:
"Promote the use of Certified Professional Constructors on projects in the private and
Support and promote the AIC Professional Constructor Certification process."
Realistically, however, it is the authors' experience that in general the industry is at the
point where they do not yet truly recognize or understand the process. Last spring some
graduating seniors in the CMGT program at Central Washington University, all of who
sat for the CQE Level I exam, mentioned certification to employers during interviews.
Very few of the employers were even aware of the certification process and no employer,
to the authors' knowledge, differentiated between students who had passed the exam and
those who did not. This may be attributed to the relative infancy of the process or
perhaps to the robust economy at that time, however if certification is to be meaningful it
first must be recognized by others within the industry.
Certified Professional Constructor History
The American Institute of Constructors was established in 1971 as a professional society
for construction educators and professional practitioners. The Institute was created with
two goals in mind; provide standards for schools of construction in higher education and
promote professionalism and ethics in the construction industry. The second goal led to
the decision to establish voluntary national certification in 1994, and hence the Certified
Professional Constructor (CPC) program was created. (AIC information paper;
"Professional Constructor Certification Background Information").
The CPC program involves a two-step certification process. The first step leads to the
title of Associate Constructor and requires qualifying for the Constructor Qualification
Exam (CQE) Level I, Construction Fundamentals, through education, experience or a
combination of both, and successfully completing the exam. The second step requires
seven years of additional professional experience and successful completion of the CQE
Level II Exam. In addition the Certified Professional Constructor must agree to abide by
the AIC Code of Ethics and must comply with the continuing professional development
requirements established by AIC. (CPC Professional Constructor Candidate Handbook,
AIC Certification Commission, 2001).
The exams were created over a two-year time period as practitioners and construction
educators participated in writing and reviewing pilot examinations, leading to the
administration of the first national semi-annual exams beginning in 1996. Currently there
are 69 schools that serve as test sites for the exams and to date approximately 2900
candidates have applied for the exams. (AIC information paper; "Professional
Constructor Certification Background Information" and email from Cheryl Harris,
Executive Director, AIC, dated October 15, 2001).
Benefits of Becoming Certified
Compared to other professional certifications the CPC program is relatively young and
although there are certainly intangible benefits to becoming certified the construction
industry is just now starting to make a hard line distinction between certified and
uncertified practitioners. Just last year, in March of 2000, the Associate Constructor
designation was accepted by the Montana Department of Transportation as equivalent to
the Engineer-in-training (EIT) designation for non-design professional positions. Other
government agencies, such as the State of Idaho and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
are also investigating similar policies. (AIC paper). In addition the State of Oklahoma
recognizes the CPC as one of the credentials to practice construction management in the
state and the Central Indiana Business Roundtable has endorsed the CPC process and will
be investigating ways for owners to encourage companies to increase the number of
CPCs on their staff. (Cheryl Harris).
"Voluntary" Certification at Central Washington University
It is the authors' belief that the certification process is important enough to give the
students in the Construction Management Program at Central Washington University a
head start. This is accomplished by requiring a one-credit (quarter system) review course
of all seniors during winter quarter, followed by the requirement that each student register
and sit for the CQE Level I exam in April at their own expense. The class meets weekly,
attendance is required and grading is accomplished on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory basis.
The exam has been offered on campus for the April time only (it is not offered in the fall
on campus) since 1997, shortly after the inception of the exam in 1996. During this five-
year time span 126 students from Central have completed the exam and 69 have passed.
The philosophy of requiring the exam for all graduating seniors is different from many
programs, however. Telephone interviews with faculty from three other construction
programs provides some insight into what other schools are doing:
At Washington State University the exam is not required, although five of the 39
graduating seniors voluntarily sat for the exam in April of 2001. No preparation or
review is offered at this time although that may change next spring. (Darlene Septelka,
September 19, 2001). Oregon State University does not require the exam and very few
students participate, although the industry advisory council supports it. The program
does participate heavily in the licensing process for professional engineers (EIT exam),
however. (David Rogge, September 18, 2001). Arizona State University administers the
exam to students on a voluntary basis and approximately ten of the 30 graduating seniors
complete the exam in the fall and about that same number in the spring. Students who
pass the exam are reimbursed for the exam application fee by the program's foundation,
the Del Web Foundation. Consideration is currently being given to making the exam
mandatory and utilizing the results as an assessment tool for the program (Don E.
Mulligan, September 19, 2001).
Schools with Mandatory Requirements to Take the Certification Exam
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Students generally perceive the requirement to take a review class and an examination as
a burden instead of an opportunity to obtain a marketable credential sought by a future
employer or client. Student evaluation of instruction have of this class, although
satisfactory are somewhat lower than other required core classes in the major. Student
attendance and assignments, although not graded, are required to ensure full the entire
class is present. Motivating the students to take the course seriously is a challenge.
Some methods of motivation being tried are two person learning and teaching, inciting
class participation, and providing study outlines.
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The class has two main objectives 1) help students prepare for the Constructors
Qualification Exam (CQE) Level 1 and 2) provide a mechanism to require exam
Classes at Central Washington University are based on the quarter system of instruction.
There are nominally 12 weeks in a quarter and the class meets for one hour each week.
This provides for 12 class sessions that include an introduction and a final class
instructional period during the final examination period. The topic for each lesson is
shown in Table 1.
The format for the class is based on knowledge areas that are expected to be on the
(CQE) Level 1. Because most of the topics are a review of the material studied over the
course of a students program of instruction a different approach to teaching is presented.
The format is a very short quiz presented to the students at the beginning of class which
is immediately self reviewed. A short lecture is presented on the topic of the day, this
lecture is interactive and essentially involves reviewing notes and asking the students
questions. Finally as an assignment for each class period each student is required to
develop a multiple choice question from the last class subject, these questions are
exchanged between students and two person learning occurs.
Table 1 Lesson Topics
1 Introduction and Communications
2 Surveying and Related Engineering
3 Statics and Strength of Materials
4 Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing
7 Methods and Materials
8 Budgeting and Cost control
9 Management and Test Taking Skills
11 Project Administration
12 Contract Law
The class outline is drawn from and follows the knowledge area list provided in the
American Institute of Constructors (AIC) handbook (AIC, 2001). Several of the
knowledge areas apply to several subject areas and courses students are required to take
to earn their Bachelor of Science in Construction Management. For ease of delivery and
to fit the knowledge areas into a once a week class, the topics shown in Table 1 are
defined in the following sections.
Introduction and Communications
Introduces the students to the class format, lesson objectives, and requirements. Written
and oral communication skills are reviewed and examples of good writing techniques are
Surveying and Related Engineering
This subject covers reading Philadelphia rods and instruments, establishing elevations
from known points and project layout. Terminology from the soils class is also reviewed.
Statics and Strength of Materials
This session reviews the basic laws of mechanics and properties of construction
Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing
Although not a specific knowledge area identified in the AIC handbook special attention
of these topic is given in regards to blueprint reading, terminology, estimating and
This class reviews the fundamentals of material take off and applys production data as
found in a typical database such as Means cost data (Means 2001).
This topic covers construction safety as published in the Washington State Safety
Methods and Materials
The terminology and application of the sixteen divisions of the Construction
Specifications Institute are reviewed in this class.
Budgeting and Cost Control
This class touches on how a project work breakdown structure, budget, cost control
curves and forecasting methods are developed.
The management topics of ethics, team building and leadership are reviewed in the
session. A short review of good test taking practices is reviewed.
This class reviews the procedures to develop a schedule showing the logical sequence of
events in a construction project.
This session is concerned with the various project delivery methods and stresses in the
field project management activities.
This class provides an overview of the duties, rights and responsibilities of the
individuals involved in the Architect, Engineer and Constructor (AEC) industry. The
A201 guide specification is reviewed.
Class begins with a very short self-graded introduction quiz that takes about 10 minutes.
The questions are multiple-choice and pertain to the day’s topic. The objective of the
quiz is to expose the students to a simple problem or construction term that may be
representative of an exam question. It is felt that by practicing typical questions students
may identify areas of weakness and practice answering multiple-choice questions. An
example question is provided in Table 2.
Table 2 Sample Introduction Quiz.
Per the AIA 201 who signs a Change Order:
(D) All of the above
(E) A & B
(F) B & C
(G) A & C
An interactive lecture follows the short quiz. The students are given an outline of the
lecture and because most of the material is a review are asked many questions. A portion
of an outline for the estimating topic is provided in Table 3.
Table 3 Portion of a typical outline for the Estimating lecture
1. Estimate types:
Conceptual ie SF parametric VS Detailed estimates take off/ quantity survey,
When do you use which?
2. Types of Bids
Unit price VS lump sum VS cost plus
3. Value engineering
When/ why used and by who, how does GC add value
The final portion of the class, about 15 minutes, is spent doing two person teaching.
Each student is asked to bring a multiple-choice question based on the topics from the
last weeks lecture. Students trade questions among each other and then answer the
question they have received. Once both students complete the question discussion is
encouraged among to individuals that have traded questions. Ideally each student will
discuss the answer and what the learning objective of the question was.
Two Person Teaching
As mentioned, Central Washington University offers the CQE Level I exam once per
year, in April only. To date 126 students have taken the exam with the following results,
as compared to students completing the exam nationally:
National Results CWU Results
Year No. No. % Passing No. No. % Passing
Candidates Passed Candidates Passed
2001 551 307 56% 32 19 59%
2000 459 262 57% 21 13 62%
1999 458 287 63% 25 13 52%
1998 285 207 73% 22 12 55%
1997 163 96 59% 26 12 46%
Total 1916 1159 60% 126 69 55%
Results, measured in terms of percentage of students passing the exam at Central
Washington University, have improved over this five-year period, from a low of 46% in
1997, to approximately 60% in more recent years. It is the authors' assessment that this is
partially the result of the students taking the exam more seriously, coupled with the
improved preparation for the exam. In the early years many students did not take the
exam or the preparation seriously, some completing it so quickly that they could not have
had time to adequately read the questions. While this attitude still exists among some
students it certainly is not as prevalent as in prior years. In addition the preparation
course has been improved to better help the students anticipate and prepare for the exam.
(alpha by surname of author/ corp agency
American Institute of Constructors. (2001). AIC Handbook. St. Petersburg, Fl.