There is a lot of talk these days about the CEDIA Designer Exam. Many of us are now certified installers and are ready to take on the next big challenge, while others are faced with the challenged of having CEDIA-certified staff to maintain membership. What follows is a brief description of the exam, and the various methods to passing.
WHAT IS A DESIGNER?
CEDIA defines the Certified Designer as a person who communicates with clients and installation professionals. Also, a Certified Designer selects the appropriate products and materials to design individual (integrated) residential systems (including alarm, telephone, cable television, satellite television, data, audio, video, home theater, HVAC, and lighting control). This person has at least five years of related field experience prior to taking the examination.
What this means is that youre not going to show up to a four-hour review and expect to just pass the exam. Think of the certification as a milestone in your career, not the starting point. The designer has two main tools to work with, his or her brain and a computer. Therefore knowledge of common software tools such as office programs, and at least one CAD software program is imperative.
WHATS ON THE EXAM?
The exam is comprised of 200 multiple choice questions that are pulled from a larger number of questions developed by a group of subject matter experts (SMEs). The SMEs meet regularly to determine what questions are relevant and to develop appropriate answers to the questions. In fact a committee of experts assembled this winter to review the exam and create an up-to-date set of questions. But lets be realistic, SMEs are people too. How they view the role of the designer directly affects the exam. While it is the goal of the team to represent the day-to-day workload of a designer, your organization and your own design methods may vary slightly. Again, being in the industry for a substantial period of time aids the designer in seeing the big picture.
Exam questions are posed in a multiple choice fashion and follow an Angoff process (see sidebar) to ensure that the questions are fair and that a person with the minimal acceptable knowledge can pass the exam. To pass the exam, 140 out of 200 questions need to be answered correctly. Youll have four hours to answer all 200 questions, so thats one answer every 72 seconds, which is a challenge for sure.
The exam is broken into four major components, each representing a different portion of the overall questions.
Needs Analysis (21.5%) – This involves understanding the needs of the customer and how to properly gather the information and apply it in the form of a properly designed system.
Design Documentation (20%) – This includes the various forms of communication and documentation that is commonly used in the residential integration design process.
Project Design (38%) – This includes converting the information gathered during the needs analysis phase into a functional description of the system.
Design Management (20.5%) – This includes some basic project management concepts, as well as keeping abreast of technology changes in the industry.
HOW TO GET READY
Now that we understand what the exam is, how do we get prepared? First understand that the exam is a benchmark of success in the industry and not a starting point. Those just entering the industry will undoubtedly have difficulty passing the exam. However a designer who is diligent in taking educational course work, and regularly designs systems, will pass the exam as a matter of course. How much education and how much industry experience is based solely on the person taking the exam. A designer with an electrical engineering degree may require less coursework, but more on-the-job time. While an industry veteran who has passed the Installer I and the Installer II exams may require more coursework, but already have ample field time.
With this in mind lets look at some of the educational opportunities provided by CEDIA and other independent organizations.
DESIGNER BOOT CAMP
In this course, which is offered by CEDIA, the student spends two days examining the challenges of designing residential integrated systems. This class is for those who wish to design communication and entertainment systems. Emphasis is placed on paper-based communications and design techniques. The class is a fast-paced format with a large quantity of information in only two days. This course focuses on key technologies found in residential integration, such as structured cabling, music systems, lighting controls, and integration with other systems such as HVAC and security. In addition the class helps students learn how to develop standards within their organization, block diagrams, cabling documentation, functional specifications, and project communications. The bottom line for this class is that it is a great starting point for anyone wishing to become a designer.
THE DESIGNER SCHOOL
In this five-day course, students will spend approximately four hours each day in a lecture environment and the rest of the time in a computer laboratory actually designing residential systems. In addition study groups help the students fill in missing gaps of information to get prepared for the exam. Key technologies include structured cabling, music systems, media rooms, lighting controls, home theater systems, acoustics, HVAC control systems, and security integration.
This course is offered through DIpartner.com, and has been designed to align with CEDIA University and offers 20 CEUs. The primary audience is those who are new to the industry or new to the design process.
THE CEDIA DESIGNER CORE COURSES
CEDIA unveiled 17 newly developed 100 and 200 level Designer core curriculum courses at the Denver EXPO in September. (See the Blooms Taxonomy side bar for more on course levels). Under construction currently are the advanced 300-400 level Designer core courses, adding an additional 15 courses to this colleges offerings. Some of the industrys leading minds are serving as the SMEs are supporting the authorship of these courses.
The education leadership is implementing a pre-requisite program to ensure that all students are properly entrenched with the knowledge needed to move up the courseware ladder.
The courseware embraces key aspects of the designers role within the company.
OTHER WAYS TO GET READY
A good designer should fully understand and have implemented the industry standards, which include TIA 570B, CEA 2030, CEA 863, and the NEC 800. Also look for books on the topics that appeal to you, or areas that need improvement. My book, Residential Integrators Certification, co-written by Quentin Wells was published in September 2006. It focuses on the knowledge areas required to pass the exam. In addition there is a great list of books available on the CEDIA website, www.cedia.net.
Dont forget to chat with certified dealers about the exam and their experiences. Do you have the right educational background? Do you have enough experience? Only those who have completed the training and certification can tell for sure. Good studying and good luck!
Todd B. Adams is a CEDIA Certified Instructor and CEDIA Certified Electronic Systems Designer. He is also co-author of a book called, Residential Integrators Project Management.