General Information

License Exam Preparation Steps

Preparing for a Construction License Exam

What is the key to passing a state licensing exam? ┬áSince most exams are “OPEN BOOK”, knowing how the code book is organized is a good place to start.  If you know how to find the answers quickly and efficiently, you should be able to get through the first pass of the exam, allowing you more time to go back and do the more detailed calculations.

Knowing how to use the subject index (shown in the exam bulletin) and learning how to navigate to the right section of the code will be a tremendous time saving tool.

Most code books are written by attorneys and are very hard to follow.  The text is designed to have multiple meanings.  Trying to memorize answers won‘t be of much value to you in an exam.

Please see our web page about “How We Write Questions” for an example of multiple meaniings in questions.

The question most frequently asked by construction contractors is “How do I begin the process of preparing for my license exam?”  We have researched the process ourselves and have compiled the necessary steps to you get started below:

1.  Determine the exam provider for your jurisdiction

Once you have navigated our web site and located the specific state and trade you are studying for, at the top of each trade page you will see the name, contact phone number, and web site link for the licensing agency.  We recommend calling the licensing agency to verify the name of the exam provider they are currently using.

When available, we provide the name of exam providers on our trade pages.  Oftentimes, in small towns or remote areas, building departments may handle licensing locally and use the national standard exams provided by the International Code Council.

Sometimes licensing is handled statewide.  In this case, applications may be taken through a state-owned licensing agency dedicated to contractor licenses.  These companies are generally separate agencies connected with either the Attorney General’s Office or the state office of Professional and Occupational licensing, and use satellite offices for testing.

2.  Determine if you can take the exam

Most state and local licensing agencies require that you submit an initial application form.  Some use information submitted directly through their web site after you set up an account.  Others ask that you print out a form and mail it to their office.

Normally, this is a necessary step before you contact the exam provider to schedule your exam date.  Most forms ask about your work history related to the license you‘re intending to obtain.  Be prepared to provide some form of legal evidence of your work history (obtained from your employer).  This may simply be a letter on company letterhead, signed by your supervisor.

Don't make assumptions about exactly what the licensing agency wants and the format.  Otherwise, you may be wasting a lot of time collecting info that‘s not needed or is determined to be unacceptable. 

3.  Obtain the Candidate Information Bulletin (CIB)

Begin your preparation with the most current copy of the exam bulletin and use the content outline for your specific examination as the basis for your study.

Most bulletins can be found at one of the following exam provider links:

Bulletins will usually give you the following information:

  1. Exam classifications (trade list)
  2. List of subjects covered in the exam with the number of questions
  3. Reference books that are ALLOWED in the exam, and restrictions
  4. Books that are NOT ALLOWED in the exam
  5. Exam dates and locations
  6. How to schedule your exam
  7. Items you can or cannot bring to the exam
  8. Sample questions
  9. Type of work allowed by each license classification
  10. Cost of the exam (fees)
  11. Exam application (may be a separate PDF file from the licensing agency)
  12. The number of total questions on the exam (or portion of the exam)
  13. The length of the exam (in hours or minutes)
  14. The passing score for your exam (usually in % correct)
  15. Where to apply for the exam (some testing agencies allow Internet registration)

4.  Add up all the costs of the licensing process

Before you make any plans to take an exam, add up all the cost... otherwise you'll be in for a big surprise.  Here is a short list of expenses you might incur:

  1. Application fee to the licensing agency
  2. Personal background check and finger printing
  3. Signage/decals for your work vehicle (some states require that your license number is displayed)
  4. Bonding
  5. OSHA compliance for your jobsite
  6. Insurance for yourself and workers if you have employees
  7. Books and printed statutes
  8. Certification courses (ex. Fire Alarm Technicians)
  9. Exam fees
  10. Printing costs for our study materials

Read the license application carefully and ask a lot of questions.  It’s best to visit the licensing office in person rather than trying to get someone on the phone.  Most government offices have phone systems with endless computer prompts that don't allow you to talk to an actual person.

Make sure you know ALL of the licensing requirements before you pay any fees or make commitments of money, time or equipment purchases.  The information printed on the application may not be inclusive.

5.  Buy the books and/or statutory codes

You‘d think this step would be obvious, but, some people think they can just “wing it” and not buy books.  You CAN NOT use our study materials without having the actual books recommended in the exam bulletin.  We prefer printed versions because there are no restrictions on viewing and making your own notes.  Electronic versions often make you view on one computer or tablet at a time.

REMINDER:  if you make any alterations to your code books, you can not take them into an exam location – even if they are “allowed”.

Most exam bulletins contain a complete list of references needed to study for your exam.  The investment in these materials is an invaluable resource both for exam preparation and in your future contracting business.

Reference books are generally available from Amazon, Builders Book, Inc, and Technical Bookstores such as: Community College Bookstores, Retail Bookstores, Construction Specialty Bookstores, or online retailers.  Most of these bookstores will have some, but generally not all of the titles needed for your exam.

As free copies of statutes and other codes become available, we try to post links on our web site.  Some of these codes are diffuctlt to find such as federal compliance statndards (EPA, FAA, USGS).  Often times, links in the exam bulletin go to missing web pages.

6.  Allow three (3) weeks or more study time before your exam date

Don't expect to cram for your exam by ordering materials the weekend before your exam date.  Allow plenty of study time to acquaint yourself with the material.  Would you hire a contractor to work for you who only studied your building plans a couple of days beforehand?

7.  Take advantage of supplemental study materials

Our experience has shown that exam candidates who take advantage of high-quality, third-party study materials greatly increase their chances of passing their exam on the first try.

For example, if you are taking an NEC-based electrical exam, the exam bulletin may list only the reference books used for writing exam questions, but if you purchase a Key Word Index such as “Tom Henry's” or “Ferm's”, it will assist you in finding answers in your references book much faster.  Many of our trade pages list these supplemental references and offer links to where you may purchase them.

8.  Take study notes

Putting information in writing will increase your chances of remembering it.  Discuss any new terms or concepts with your business associates as often as possible.  This will test your understanding and reinforce your learning.  Your studies will be most effective if you study frequently.  Your potential for learning tends to decline if you study for any longer than an hour at a time.

9.  Review the exam administrator's restrictions on books

Each exam administrator (PSI, Prometric, ProV, ICC, etc.) has their own rules which effect the use of reference books in an exam.  Failing to read the CIB with regard to book restrictions could result in your having to re-schedule your exam and pay the exam fees again.

If the exam is OPEN BOOK, and the administrator supplies code books at the exam location, the bulletin will advise you to NOT bring your own copies of reference books.  If the administrator does not supply code books, the books you bring will be searched for notes and other items listed in the exam bulletin.  If they are found, your books will be confiscated.

The recommended study method for an OPEN BOOK exam is to focus on learning how to FIND the answers to questions vs. memorizing answers.  This is the primary method we use in preparing our study materials.  In the case of electrical exams, you will want to learn the calculations for performing by learning which table to use and the steps to follow to arrive at the correct answer.

Most electrical exams are OPEN BOOK because most people need to access the charts and tables in the back of the National Electrical Code (NEC).  This does not mean you will be allowed to bring your own copy of the NEC into the exam area.

If you bring your books or notes to a CLOSED BOOK exam, they will be confiscated.

10.  States that do their own testing

Some states, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and West Virginia, design their own exams and schedule them at their own facilities.  Unfortunately, many of these states do not provide lists of reference materials on their web sites.  When references are provided, they are sometimes non-standardized and difficult to find.  Calling the licensing agency for exact books may be required.  Information that may be useful in finding your own books would be:

  1. ISBN number
  2. Publisher Name
  3. Author Name
  4. Edition (2nd, 3rd, 4th) or year of printing

11.  Research laws and rules that may appear on your exam

Many states use their own proprietary code that can only be found through legislative web pages and PDF files.  We have done much of that research for you by providing links to those files and code sections located on our license trade pages.

Unfortunately, if the link takes you to a web page, the text is generally not printable unless you cut and paste from your browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Goggle Chrome) into a word processor program.  Your other option would be to find a link to an area on the licensing agency's web site where they sell copies of the printed code section(s) that apply to your license.

In the case of landing on a legislative web page, you may find page after page of code that does not apply to your license.  You will have to look at the list of subjects shown on our web page (or in the exam bulletin) and do a search in the code to find the sections that may have been used to write questions for your exam.  Most of the time, we have researched these and given you the specific (numbered) code sections that apply to your license exam.

Unfortunately, statutes are not as easy to acquire.  The best way to find the statute that’s used to write your exam questions is to locale the licensing agency's web site and look for links to “Law and Rules” or “Laws Regulating (your trade)”.  You may be able to find a link that allows you to download a section of the code in as a PDF file or you or you might be able to obtain the entire code section as one PDF.

In other cases, you may have to order the code sections in printed format from the licensing agency or the Attorney General's office.

TIP:  If you live near a college that has a law school, you may be able to hire a student to help you research and explain the codes.  Most legal code is written in a language that only attorneys can understand.  Definitions of words in the legal industry are not the same as in common English, so soliciting the help of a law student may be beneficial.

Updated:  6/1/22

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