Becoming a CSWA, or Certified SolidWorks Associate, can seem like a daunting task if you don’t know what to expect. However, if you are an experienced SolidWorks user, you should have no problem passing the certification if you set yourself up for success. The following article is intended to help you do just that.
The CSWA exam is a 180-minute long (3-hour) exam that you complete online in the SolidWorks virtual testing environment. The exam consists of several questions and a score of 70% or higher is required to pass. The questions are all multiple choice. Throughout the exam you will encounter 2 types of questions: practical questions that require you to use SolidWorks in order to obtain an answer, and theoretical questions that demonstrate your technical knowledge of things like drawing views and basic simulation (SimulationXpress) procedures.
Below I’ve compiled a list of tips that I hope will help you to prepare for your CSWA exam. Some tips are designed to arm you with knowledge on what to expect during the exam and others are my own personal suggestions for how you should approach the exam.
1) Review the exam criteria here and make sure you have a good understanding of what material the exam will cover. The CWSA page at www.solidworks.com contains a detailed list of the topics that you may come across while taking the exam, but in general you should expect to spend a lot of your time on basic part modeling, saving a good grasp on sketching and basic features (extrude, hole wizard, fillets, etc.) is important. You can also expect there to be at least one question that requires you to put an assembly of components together using mates.
2) Watch this series of YouTube videos put out by SolidWorks in 2009, designed to help you prepare for your CSWA exam. Keep in mind that these videos are a few years old at this point, so some of the tips (setting your units, for example) are a little outdated and there may now be better ways to do things.
3) Take a practice exam! I found a good practice exam here, but there are others available online if you just search “CWSA Practice Exam”. To get the most out of your practice exam, I would suggest simulating a real exam experience. Set yourself up in the same way you would for the real thing and don’t allow yourself to go over the 3-hour time limit.
4) Be comfortable interpreting detailed drawings in order to create a 3-D model. There will be several questions that require you to create a 3-D solid part based on a number of dimensioned 2-D and 3-D drawing views. It is extremely important that you can interpret these drawings in a timely manner so that you can create an accurate part. Completing the CWSA practice exam linked in tip #3 is a good way to test your ability in this area.
5) Practice sketching! Know how to define a sketch properly using dimensions and relations. This is a basic set of skills in SolidWorks that is required to be a good user of the software, so naturally this is something that is tested thoroughly in this exam.
6) Know how to set units and compute mass properties. The way the CSWA tests your ability to create a good model based on the given drawings is by asking you to compute the total mass (for a single part) or center of gravity (for an assembly). If you do well, the answer you get will match one of the multiple choice answers offered. If your answer doesn’t match, then something you’ve done is off.
Before you even start modeling you should check to make sure the units of your document match the units given in the question. This will be stated at the beginning of the question and it can be easily set in SolidWorks by checking the units in the bottom right hand corning of your SolidWorks window (available whenever you have a document open). If the units say MMGS when it should be IPS, simply click the units and a menu will appear in which you can make an alternate choice.
When you’ve completed your model and are ready to check your mass properties, go to Tools > Mass Properties or choose the Mass Properties icon in the Evaluate tab of your CommandManager. The Mass Properties window will appear and list various properties of your part or assembly, including the mass and center of gravity as it relates to the origin. If the units presented in the Mass Properties does not match the units required for the question, choose “Options…” at the top of the window and set the units properly.
The mass of your part depends on the material assigned to it, so be sure to choose the proper material from the SolidWorks material library before checking your mass properties. Like the units, the material will be stated at the beginning of the question. You can set the part material by right-clicking on the Material callout in your FeatureManager design tree and choosing “Edit Material”
Finally, the location of the center of gravity of your assembly depends on the location and orientation of your assembly with respect to the origin, so when you are assembling your components, be sure to match this perfectly. There should be an image in the question statement that shows how the assembly should be placed with respect to the origin.
7) Have a good computer set up. Since much of the exam will be spent looking at drawings of a part and recreating that part in SolidWorks, it will be extremely useful to have the drawings visible while you are modeling them. Because of this, a dual screen set-up is ideal so you are not constantly switching between the exam and your SolidWorks window.
If dual screens aren’t possible, the next best thing is to use two computers, one for the virtual tester and another one for SolidWorks. If you use this solution, keep in mind that there might be part files you need to download for the assembly modeling component of the exam. You should have a flash drive handy to quickly transfer the solid part files from one computer to the other.
8) Use SolidWorks Help, when needed. The CSWA exam is considered an open book test and all of the answers to the theoretical questions can be found in the SolidWorks Help documents found at Help > SolidWorks Help. Familiarize yourself with the SolidWorks help environment and use the search capibilities to quickly look up answers when you aren’t entirely sure. This will not be very helpful on the practical components of the exam, so don’t rely too heavily on the availability of SolidWorks Help to get you through the part and assembly modeling challenges.
9) Read through the entire exam before starting. While taking the exam, about 80% of your time will be spent on the practical components, even though that may only make up about 50% of the questions. Because of this, when you first begin your exam, it is a good idea to go through all of the questions and answer the theoretical questions first. Getting 50% of the questions out of the way quickly will help you to focus on the more time consuming problems while cutting down on the stress of answering all questions before time is up.
If you have a reasonable amount of experience creating part models and assemblies in SolidWorks and you follow my advice, you should have no problem successfully achieving your CSWA certification in no time. By keeping a cool head, reading each question thoroughly and answering the questions you know first so that you can focus on the harder questions later, you too can become a Certified SolidWorks Associate. Good luck!