Study your way to a better career.
Kurt Bedar had almost 20 years of experience in NDT before he decided to pursue his Level III certification. When Bedar, now a consultant with Acuren Inspection Inc. in Alberta, Canada, started his NDT career in the early 1970s, he just learned on the job. But improving the technicians’ skills eventually became a priority for his company, and Bedar decide to pursue the Level III. He started in February 1991 with a Level I course and finished his Level III in June of that year.
As Bedar discovered, in-house training allows technicians to pass on knowledge, but it often doesn’t expose them to codes and is limited to the skills of their predecessor.
NDT education can occur in many different places, from the halls of a university to a Level III exam preparation course to online or simply on the job. The value of NDT is the knowledge and interpretation provided by the technician, Bedar says, and so their education matters.
Today, it’s not enough to know how to do something—they have to be certified as well. Experts say that those practicing in the NDT field are now increasingly required to take exams. Luckily, they also say that courses and instructors continue to improve.
Taking a course can provide a huge boost in passing a certification exam. Even though manuals exist, they often aren’t enough. “I do not believe anyone should ever tackle these tests without taking the courses,” Bedar says. “If you don’t have somebody walking you through that process, you’ll get lost.”
Karl E. Kraft of Kraft Technology Resources LLC (Layton, UT) presented a session at the 2012 NDTMA annual conference in February on getting through a Level III exam. Kraft runs an NDT “bootcamp” to prepare students for exams, and though he no longer does his own inspections, he maintains his ASNT NDT Level III certification.
The vast majority—85% to 90%—of his students are experienced technicians; only 10 to 15% of his students will have a science or engineering degree. Students often want to take the Level III exam to further their career. During these courses, Bedar says that classmates often are a good source of valuable knowledge themselves.
Students review the material with an expert, and will likely work on hundreds of practice questions. From there, they will know their weak spots and be able to study accordingly.
But even if you know the material, it’s also important to know some test taking tricks. Kraft offers these suggestions:
- Read the answer to every question. The test may be asking you to discriminate between slightly different answers for the best possible one.
- Sometimes the answer to another question is divulged during the test. Information from one question may help answer another.
- If you’re weak on math skills, answer the informational questions first.
- For math questions, experiment with the formulas by adding a variable of a higher or lower number to see how the relationship changes.
- If one section gives you trouble, don’t panic. You don’t necessarily have to do well in every category to pass the exam.
But it’s not just a matter of knowing the material and how to take the test—sometimes timing is important. Kraft recommends taking the exam within two weeks of finishing a course. Too much longer and students may start forgetting things. But too soon after the exam may not be the best choice either. When students finish the course on a Friday and take the exam on Monday, they may become too overwhelmed with the task and lose some study time to stress and worry.
The Education Landscape
As NDT technology has changed, so too has the education involved. The technology has advanced and become more user-friendly.
“I would argue, as technology advances, the craft or deep knowledge gained by experience is reduced compared to what it used to be, but the technology makes up for it,” says Peter J. Shull, author of “Nondestructive Evaluation: Theory, Techniques, and Application,” and an associate professor of engineering at Penn State University (Altoona, PA). He compares the evolution to the introduction of GPS: “Today, with GPS, I don’t need to know how to read a map. But I get to places better and more readily. We would not be using the technology if it didn’t work.”
The technology is evolving, and so too is the education landscape. Shull says he has seen more students taking NDE courses, even if they have no intention of going into the field. Rather, they want to learn how to use NDE in process control, or in planning to build a structure so it is easily tested.
From the academic standpoint, more programs offer NDE courses as electives. Students may be in the mechanical or electrical engineering programs, or material science, but they are able to study NDE as well. Math is a challenge for those studying NDE. But for those who master it, an NDT education can lead to a career that’s in high demand, with easily transportable skills. Practitioners are able to work in a variety of locations, from plant floors to outdoors.
Now students can not only watch instructional videos, but create their own. This allows them to learn by teaching others. In some of his classes, Shull has his students create their own videos explaining how to do a particular project. If the videos pass, then they will be posted to YouTube.
Regardless of how students pick up these skills, improved NDT knowledge can only help the industry and the people in it. Taking the time to get the proper training will benefit individuals, as they will understand the theory behind the testing methods. “It’s still a relatively small industry, and it can be lucrative for those who want to make it a career,” Bedar says. “But if you don’t do a quality job, it costs you in the long run.”