The API Exam Handbook

Exam candidate feedback and FAQs

In the postscript at the end of the API Exam Guide, we included some feedback comments collected from API ICP exam candidates; some successful in passing and others not. More than half of API 510/570/653 exam candidates will likely experience one or more of the experiences related to those comments. There’s always a wide range of opinions on how the exam went, in comparison to what candidates expected. Here are a few of the general conclusions, culled from hundreds of feedback discussions;

Open-v-closed book questions
More than 70% of candidates found the closed-book part of the exam more difficult than the open-book part. Of the other 30%, many of the negative feelings were around a few calculations that they couldn’t get a match with one of the answer options, rather than necessarily a feeling that they had ‘failed badly’ on this part of the exam. The predominance of feeling that the closed-book part was the most difficult is unsurprising: remember its features;
• There are 110 questions to do. That’s a lot, for which to maintain your concentration for such a wide variety of BoK subjects. The time allowed of 2.75 hrs (165 minutes) gives approx. 1 ½ minutes per question.
• Statistically, a large proportion of the 30 unscored test questions will be in the closed-book section. Remember that these are ‘questions under development’ and do not count towards your final adjusted score. Unfortunately, you don’t know which ones they are, so you have to treat all questions as if they are scored ones.
• There’s no indication which of the BoK codes and RPs each question has come from. This is not such a disadvantage as it sounds, however many candidates make a big deal of it.
More than 50% of candidates reported that many of the open-book questions could be answered closed-book if you ‘know the answer’. The most common questions like this (that didn’t involve calculations) were about;
• NDE techniques (from ASME V)
• Calibration periods for NDE equipment
• CMLs (for piping and vessels)
• Damage mechanisms (from API RP 571)
• Features of welding techniques
• Features of valves (from API 570/ RP 574)

Unfortunately, not all candidates who express this view pass the exam; some get marginal results and some fail. There’s nothing wrong with ‘knowing the answer’ but it’s always best to check in the code. If it’s an open-book question, you have nearly 4 minutes to look it up and make sure. If you don’t, you have to be careful you don’t get caught by one of the common traps that can appear in obvious-looking open-book questions. For example;
Questions cleverly using one of the alarm words explained in Chapter 4 of the API Exam guidebook. Experience shows that used well; they can have a 30-40% hit rate of getting candidates to choose the wrong answer to the option to a question that looks ‘obvious’. The extra discipline involved in looking up the code answer whilst carefully analysing the question reduces this to 10% or so. NDE equipment checks and calibration fall squarely into this category.

Awkward closed-book questions
About 30% of candidates feel that some closed-book questions (perhaps 15-20% of them) ‘should be open-book’ as they involve numerical values of temperatures, process parameters, inspection intervals etc. We think these fall into two categories;
• Those that are test questions, i.e. will eventually be weeded out as being more suitable for open-book questions. They don’t count towards the final score, so don’t matter (apart from making candidates feel uneasy).
• Questions, where the numerical value involved is part of some important principle of the API core code (510,570 or 653). In these cases, remembering the numerical value is a valid close-book point. Examples include inspection periods, calculation of corrosion rate and half-life, code edition dates for rerating (ASME VIII-I) and vessel static head equations.
An essential point on Responsibilities and Authorities
A whopping 75%+ of candidates get surprised by the large number of questions on Roles, Responsibilities and Authority for approvals/authorizations that appear in the closed-book exam parts. The point is clearly made in all parts of the API exam guide that questions on Approval/Authorizations are significant closed book questions. Some candidates don’t accept this and end up guessing or answering based on their own employment experience(a risky exercise)
The correct answers to exam questions are what the codes say, not what you have experienced.
Perhaps 50% of exam failures have their origin in this overriding principle of API ICP exams. It’s explained in the API exam handbook, but candidates still make the mistake of not believing it. Think of it from the examiner’s perspective, and it’s obvious; examiners have to write questions based on the BoK codes in front of them; they can’t assess the experience of thousands of separate exam candidates, no matter how clever or experienced they are.
Candidates’ feedback about code-v-experience questions normally takes the form of thinking a question is easy, rather than difficult. Their experience makes it obvious what the answer must be… how could it possibly be anything else? They’re often wrong, however, because the BoK codes take a different view. Here are some typical points where API code-opinions may differ from your experience;
• In-service cracks can’t be found reliably using RT
• Slide valves do not provide leak-free shut-off
• What is a major repair, and what is a non-major repair?
• When is a hydrostatic test mandatory?
• How and where to site CMLs
• Almost anything to do with who Approves and Authorizes repairs, alterations and re-ratings
• Deciding inspection frequency and scopes using RBI (whatever you think of it, API codes like it)

FAQs. Here’s our experience on some Frequently Asked Questions on API exams

QU: Is it possible to pass the exam by just memorizing the codes, rather than working through piles of typical exam questions?
ANS: Some people can memorise huge banks of almost any information, without necessarily understanding any of it. They can also be excellent at ‘guessing’ the correct answers to questions, using logic they probably couldn’t explain. The evidence for this is that some people have passed six, ten or more API ICP certs, in addition to welding and NDE exams and academic qualifications. It’s debatable whether they could use the knowledge contained in all these diverse BoKs, but that’s not what passing API exams are about; all you have to do is choose the correct answers from the options provided.

QU: I don’t like calculations. Can you pass API 510/570/653 exams if you ignore all the tmin and MAWP calculations and rely on the questions on other subjects to get you to the pass mark?
ANS: It’s possible, but carries risk. Figures 4.6 to 4.8 in the API Exam Handbook show ways to meet the pass-mark. You can see from the example below that the open-book construction-

The API Exam Handbookcode tmin and MAWP calculations from ASME VIII-I are not as significant as many people think. The problem is that other types of calculations of corrosion rate/allowance, remaining life and inspection interval from the core code API 510 are very significant. There can be lots of them (10-15) so ignoring these carries a serious risk and is not recommended.

QU: ASME IX is a huge, confusing document if you are not familiar with welding. Is there a quick way to learn only what is necessary for the API 510/570/653 exam?
ANS: Yes, just work through the examples in the API Exam guide and that’s the main information you need. If you read a little around the clauses and figures/tables covered in the book, this should prepare you for the occasional unexpected open-book question that appears in the exam. The exam scope is much the same for API 510,570 and 653 so don’t worry about any differences. If you’re not heavily interested in welding qualifications, it doesn’t make much sense to spend a lot of time anticipating closed-book questions from ASME IX…there aren’t enough of them in the exam to worry about.