The Certification Game: The Ultimate Strategy Guide and Walk-through
What Is SOLIDWORKS Certification? (Starting the Game!)
SOLIDWORKS Certification has been around for more than 20 years. Like a well-played game cartridge, it has with stood the test of time. With nearly 300,000 certified SOLIDWORKS users and hundreds of people passing every day, it’s been almost a tradition at this point for engineers to prove their mastery of SOLIDWORKS. That comes with many questions. Why should I take certifications? How should I take them? What are the tips and tricks? What if I fail? Well, with this ultimate strategy guide, we will find out all of that and more. Let’s power up!
For starters, we should answer the first question. What are SOLIDWORKS certification exams? From the SOLIDWORKS website, the exams are comprehensive, non-proctored online exams that test an individual’s ability to design and analyze parametric parts and movable assemblies using various complex features in SOLIDWORKS, including design validation tools. These come in different flavors that test different specialties and levels of proficiency. For example, consider the exams for mechanical design (MD). These exams are just about modeling, reading drawings and creating assemblies for the most part. No simulation or data management here—although certifications for those exist. Let’s see what the path for that looks like:
The important thing to note is that there are three main tiers of exams: Associate, Professional and Expert. Each offers a degree of difficulty above the one that proceeds it, as well as extra prestige for obtaining those certifications, which we will see later. The first one in the lineup is the Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate exam (CSWA). It is the basic level exam that many universities give out to their students. This doesn’t mean it is easy. The exam is 3 hours long and tests essential SOLIDWORKS skills, such as creating models and assemblies, reading drawings, and analyzing mass properties.
The Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional (CSWP), also called the CSWP Core Exam, is one step above. Not only are the models and assemblies more difficult to create, but also new topics such as configurations and modification of existing parts are added. The exam is given in three parts, totaling 3 hours and 20 minutes. It’s interesting to note that the CSWA is not a prerequisite for the CSWP exam. If a user is confident in his/her abilities, then the user may attempt the CSWP without obtaining the Associate level certification.
Finally, the crown jewel of achievements is the Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert (CSWE) exam. This grueling 4-hour exam tests the user for a true and deep understanding of SOLIDWORKS and how it was intended to be used. According to the Certification Catalog, “A CSWE is able to solve practically any modeling problem given to them and is traditionally the go-to SOLIDWORKS user among their colleagues.” You are not even allowed to attempt it until you have passed the CSWP and four of five specialty Professional exams: Drawing Tools, Weldments, Sheet Metal, Surfacing and Mold Making).
These descriptions only begin to etch the surface on how much a certification distinguishes an individual. Let’s inspect some data. According to the SOLIDWORKS fact sheet, there are about 3 million users globally. As of June 2018, there were 203,368, 91,631 and 3,479 people that passed the CSWA, CSWP and CSWE, respectively. Just having the CSWA exam verifies that you are in the top 10 percent of SOLIDWORKS users globally. The CSWP certified individuals make up the top 3 percent, and Certified SOLIDWORKS Experts have a club so exclusive as to only make up 0.1 percent of all SOLIDWORKS users. It’s so exclusive, in fact, that the CSWEs get an entire event to themselves at SOLIDWORKS World.
The exciting thing is that the exams mentioned are only a handful of what is available in the certification catalog. There are certifications for every kind of engineering specialization including Additive Manufacturing, Electrical, Sustainability, Simulation and Data Management.
Benefits of Certification (Achievement Hunters)
Achieving rock-star status in SOLIDWORKS World is one thing, but what are some other benefits of obtaining SOLIDWORKS Certifications? The certification exams provide the user with many power-ups to his or her career. Let’s talk about the increases to the employment stat. If an individual is in search of employment, then the benefits are clear. Adding this achievement to your resume, or profile, will tell people looking for SOLIDWORKS talent that you have proven your skills without even talking to you. This allows your resume to see the top of the stack more often than non-certified users.
What if an individual already has a job? There is still much to be gained by the player of the certification game. In fact, these are the people that should be jumping at the chance to achieve a certification. With ready access to SOLIDWORKS, as well as being at the height of your powers, there is no better time to take a SOLIDWORKS Exam. The benefits in this situation can be enticing too. At best, having definitive proof that you are efficient at your job can make it easier to ask for a raise. At worst, it will make it easier to find a better job should you decide to move on from your old one.
Another advantage of certifications is to provide a clear path toward mastery. Some people wish to be the best they can be and the go-to SOLIDWORKS user among their colleagues—in other words, a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert. That is a pretty daunting task all on its own. By following all the exams in order of difficultly, it can break down the monumental goal into manageable mini-goals. The learning paths are clear for each exam and can lead to a focused path to expertise.
Other benefits of certification include discounts on SOLIDWORKS Partner Products (seriously, just ask!), knowing that you are meeting or exceeding the industry standard and, of course, to become a better user. There’s no better feeling than knowing that you are doing your job well.
How to Prepare (Stocking up on Goods)
Go to the certification center and click the exam you want to take. This will list information about the particular exam, what topics are covered, the minimum passing grade and the practice test, if it has one. Once you have trained and practiced for the exam, more on that later, you can purchase an exam attempt.
How to buy credits: No need to stock up on quarters. Go to the certification catalog and select an exam of interest. Make sure you meet the requirements. There is a link on the right hand side to purchase an exam attempt.
Now that you have a credit, it’s time to prepare. This can be done in many ways. Sometimes raw experience is all you need, provided that it is diverse enough. Taking technical training with a value-added reseller (VAR) also is a fantastic way to learn SOLIDWORKS very quickly, as well as ask questions. If you prefer custom-paced online training, then MySOLIDWORKS training may be the path for you. It offers a wide selection of training videos that have quizzes to test retention, as well as click-along exercises to reinforce concepts. They even have learning paths that specifically prepare you for the exams.
Once you feel that your training has adequately prepared you, let’s talk about the techniques you can employ. For the mechanical design-based exams, the process of building a robust and accurate model can be attributed to the following techniques:
- Design Intent—Know what you’re up against. Read the question set and know the model. Take advantage of symmetry, patterns and other geometric constraints to simplify your work.
- Input—Assign Global variables and the material properties. Save the part.
- Meditation—It’s ok to spend a good amount of time on this one. Plan and choose the best default planes and profiles.
- Construction—Don’t let unknown challenges crumble the foundations of your training. Remember: Create material, remove material and apply features like fillets and chamfers.
For tips on specific exams, check out these videos on the CSWA and the CSWP.
Frequently Asked Questions (Myths, Legends and Easter Eggs of Certification)
With certifications there seems to be a handful of frequently asked questions and misunderstanding. I spoke with SOLIDWORKS’ Avelino Rochino from the SOLIDWORKS Certification Team to shed some light on some of the myths of SOLIDWORKS Certification.
More frequently asked questions can be found here, such as what is required, retaking policy, etc.
Myths with Avelino
Q: When can I reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org?
A: The Certification Team can be contacted to check that an answer was typed in correctly or if a user failed on the border of passing. The certification team may review part and assembly files. (This is why it is important to save your part after every question!) Keep in mind that the certification team cannot give out any solutions to the practice exams or actual exams.
Q: What if I think there was a mistake on the exam?
A: You can reach out to email@example.com, but the exams are really well-vetted to ensure the accuracy of the prompts and answers. After the first couple of months, the answers of the exam are pretty much set in stone. Hundreds of people pass these exams every day.
Q: Who are the best resources to help when I fail an exam?
A: Failing an exam can be really frustrating. Getting help doesn’t have to be. We urge the user to get help from the SOLIDWORKS Community, be it the forums, SOLIDWORKS User Groups, a colleague or even your Value-Added Reseller.
Q: What are the SOLIDWORKS exams really testing?
A: The Certification exams test the user for several things. Well-rounded knowledge of SOLIDWORKS is one of those things, as opposed to a very specialized skill set. Due to specific types of work a user may encounter, he/she may be excellent with the sheet metal package of SOLIDWORKS but may not be comfortable with assemblies. It’s important that users review what is tested for a particular exam and be comfortable with all aspects of the exam. Another thing is using SOLIDWORKS as it was intended: as a parametric modeler. Some people adopt the “one and done” mindset, as opposed to having their parts easily reused. This is crucial for success in the exams. Techniques like using global variables will help with this. The exam tests other skills like attention-to-detail that is critical in an engineering environment.
Q: Am I allowed to look things up during a SOLIDWORKS Certification Exam (googling?)
A: Google searching is perfectly fine. Since the exam is timed, there is little an internet search would do for an inadequately prepared user. Training manuals are also fair game. Users can use any resource short of having someone model the part for them.
Did you know you can purchase a T-shirt after the exam is completed? This is a dark heather shirt with the certification logo embroidered on the front. Simply browse to www.solidworkscertificationstore.com, select a shirt, enter your certificate ID and enjoy showing off your achievement.
Summary (Game Over?)
Thank you for following along. Remember to take it easy during the exam. Sure, some prep work needs to go in to study for them, but rest assured that you are making some of the best career decisions you can make by participating in this program. I hope this has been helpful. Good luck on your certifications. Beat those bosses and get those achievements that you long for.
P.S. The game is only over if you stop playing.
Article and 8-bit art by: Rob Maldonado, CSWE (LinkedIn)
Inspired by a SOLIDWORKS World presentation by Rachel Diane York
About the Author
Rob Maldonado is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert that graduated from Case Western Reserve University in 2017 with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and music. His passion for SOLIDWORKS stemmed from his studies at the university where he achieved the Expert certification before he graduated. He now works as an Application Engineer in New Jersey, runs his YouTube Channel VirtualFlatCAD (previously called SolidWorksNerd), and is the founder of virtual-flat.com, a resource and blog for engineers, geeks, and 3D models! His passions include SOLIDWORKS Certification, 3D Printing, making cool models, and writing blogs about those models!