Reading time ( words)
Today's global PWB design job market is more competitive than it's ever been. To cope with the threats of downsizing and outsourcing, increasing numbers of PWB designers are recognizing the value of continuing education.
Designers who were formerly tentative about taking the IPC Certification Exams are now coming forward and diving into the process. Many of them haven't been exposed to a multiple choice examination for decades, and are understandably nervous about preparing for the big day.
Here's a typical comment from one of my CID certification candidates: "I've got a couple of weeks to review this material before I take the IPC CID Certification Exam. I'm staring at a 160-page book, a CD-ROM, and numerous IPC Specifications. Frankly, I'm so overwhelmed, I don't know where to start! Can you help me get focused?"
Here's the advice I give these candidates.
First, to get started in your study process, you'll need to look at two places in the training book (IPC PCB Designer's Certification Study Guide - CID Basic Training Module * Rev. A). The first place you'll look is at the beginning: The Introduction on "Page i" is a useful overview of the process. Although it says on "Page i, Paragraph 3" that "For study purposes, this guide should be supplemented with a copy of IPC-2221A, IPC-2222, and IPC-T-50," in reality, all the relevant passages that you should read from the IPC specifications are actually excerpted in the book itself. So ... focus on the book!
This means that, for now, you should put those specifications within easy reach on your book shelf at work, so you can reference them when needed during your normal work day. No memorization of the tables found within the specs is necessary to pass the exam.
For example, in the real world, when an electrical engineer informs a designer that a certain trace needs to accommodate 10 amps of current, the designer grabs the specs and looks it up, finds the charts, and does the math to determine how wide and how thick that trace needs to be. No one memorizes these things! Designer skills consist of knowing where to look to find the right information and tables, and most importantly, how to use them once you find them.
When you take the exam, you will be asked to use some tables and charts from the specs, but they will be given to you right in the exam book--just like in real life, you will need to know how to USE the tables and charts. And by the way, don't worry about my amperage example when studying for the CID exam; that will come later in the CID+ exam!
Cracking the Book
Turn the page to look at Pages ii and iii. Notice that the training book is divided into five sections, with the starting page for each section in BOLD on the right:
1. DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS2. LAYOUT PRINCIPLES3. COMPONENT AND ASSEMBLY ISSUES4. PRINTED BOARD CHARACTERISTICS5. DOCUMENTATION AND DIMENSIONING
Each section has 8 sub-sections (e.g., 1.1, 1.2), with their referencing page numbers in regular type on the right.
These sub-section numbers correspond to the slides found on the CD-ROM, and also the slides your instructor will use during the Workshop Review of the material. These two pages are a useful overview of the book's organization. These sub-section numbers also correspond to the second place (and the most important place) in the book to look at before you start. This second place is the BACK of the book.
Although the book and the slides are divided into five sections, the exam itself is actually divided up into 10 sections! (Don't worry. It's OK.)
1) Layout2) Electrical3) Material4) Components5) Assembly6) Printed Board Fabrication7) Printed Board Physical8) Documentation9) Testing10) Reliability
Look on Page 157 of the book; note these 10 sections and the number of questions on the exam that will come from each section. The numbers on the left that are associated with the 10 sections (e.g., 1A.1, 2A.2, etc.) are NOT the sub-sections we just discussed at the beginning of the book, these correspond to the 40 learning objective associated with the Workshop.
The key to studying for the exam is found in the 40 learning objectives! These are found on Pages 150-156. Each learning objective has an alphanumeric ID associated with it, and each learning objective has four tasks for you to master. These alphanumeric IDs correspond to the objectives found on Page 157. The learning objective IDs are mapped back to the sub-sections of the book on the right-hand side of Pages 150-156.
What you need to focus on in your preparation to pass the exam is buried in these 160 tasks (40 Objectives X 4 tasks).
The exam has 104 multiple choice questions on it and you need to get 76 of those questions correct (73%) in order to pass. This means you can get 28 wrong and still be certified ... and your certificate will look identical to the one awarded to the hot shot in the class who achieves 100%!
Back to Study Hall
Returning to the subject of studying to pass the exam, you should know your strengths and weaknesses as a designer, since you will be tested on a broad range of inter-related electronic design topics, including fabrication, testing, libraries, assembly, and all the corresponding documentation required to make this all happen. Please notice that 27 of the 104 questions deal with layout and the first seven learning objectives.
Adjust your study time to cover all objectives with a focus on the subjects with which you are least familiar. For example, a hard-core senior designer who cranks out layout after layout and delegates the fab and assembly drawings to a junior designer might want to spend some extra study time on the documentation section, since there are 14 questions that involve documentation. Similarly, a librarian who spends most of the time dealing with component footprints and symbols would want to spend more time on the layout sections.
A final tip for studying for the exam--frequent, shorter study periods with lots of review usually works best. Long cramming sessions with no review are self-defeating. Research has shown that if the adult learner reviews the highlights of what he or she learns within 24 hours, retention is increased by 60%!
When you study, make up questions for yourself to answer. If you're lucky enough to have study partners, quiz each other relentlessly! Sometimes, others will think of questions that you didn't think of!
The important thing to remember is to treat the entire study period leading up to the exam as an investment in your career. Passing the certification exam is certainly a worthy goal, but it's the journey and the attainment of knowledge that makes you a more valuable designer and employee.
Good luck, and I'll see you in class!
Kate Mayer is a CID and CID+ instructor for IPC. She also offers design consulting services, including outsource collaboration and training in design principles and manufacturing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-828-7448.