Licensing requirements for general contractors or residential and commercial building contractors and specialty trades like electrical, plumbing and HVAC licensing will vary by state. In most states that license general contractors, and depending on the license(s) you apply for, you will be required to pass one or more examinations.
Exams cover various topics such as estimating, framing, trades, safety, business and more. Note that exams for general contractors usually require some amount of qualifying experience. Typically, exams are open book. State licensing agencies will tell you what reference materials are allowed in the exam and what materials are prohibited.
How to Prepare for a Contractors Licensing Exam
When it comes to exam preparation, there are numerous routes you could go to prepare, depending on your time, resources and what types of schools and preparation academies are available in your area. Exam prep options include:
obtaining all of the study material provided by the state or local licensing agency. Material resources include recommended books and the reference materials allowed during testing along with other guides such as the Contractor’s Guide to Business Law and Project Management.
Online practice exams, general education and continuing education courses
There are organizations like Dewalt and PSI Learning Academy that provide practice exams for each state as well as practice exams for the National Association of State Contractors Licensing Agencies (NASCLA) accredited exams for Commercial General Building Contractors, Residential basic contractor and Residential/light commercial contractor exams. The NASCLA exam is accepted by the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and the Virgin Islands. These same types of agencies also offer online exam prep courses that include taking practice tests. If you desire a little more hands on instruction, there are schools and academies that provide tutoring and instruction specifically geared for you to pass contractors license exams.
License Exam Preparation Schools
These schools provide a variety of services, such as classroom based training and tutoring for specific exams, general education and continuing education courses in subject areas covered in sections of licensing exams. Typically, these schools also sell reference books and may provide additional services as well, such as filing assistance, finding a secured bond, or contractors risk insurance, renewals, and so forth.
Higher Education degree programs
You could also decide to go for a higher education degree, such as a Bachelor’s degree in construction management, architecture, engineering and related fields, for a more well-rounded educational background in the building industry.
Get certified in one of these specialties and attract new clients: Remodeling, energy retrofit, aging in place remodeling, and green or environmentally friendly energy saving building construction, and more.
How to study at home
Many contractors prepare on their own to pass the state contractors license exam. State licensing agencies will provide lists of references and the bookstores where you can purchase exam prep materials like the California Law and Business Exam Contractors Study Book. Visit your state contractors licensing agency to find recommended study resources or purchase from third party booksellers such as iContractor.net or the PSI Online Bookstore.
What about licensing exam prep schools?
A good school will not only be focused on the exam and getting your money, but will also walk you through the requirements and your background and provide assistance before and after you take and pass the exam. There are a number of schools and programs that offer exam preparation courses and services. Courses will either be classroom based, online or home study. These services could help you pass your exam on your first try. Many also offer guarantees (e.g. no pass no pay). They also sell guide books (and some will buy back your exam guide books after you are finished with them). These books also serve as references, telling you where to go to find information you need.
How to Find License Exam Preparation Schools
The truth is that it depends. Some contractors swear by them and others find them useless. Based on feedback from our subscribers and research on what licensed contractors recommend, we’ve compiled a list of contractors license exam preparation programs and classroom based exam prep schools.
State licensing agencies will provide lists of schools and bookstores where you can purchase exam prep materials. For example, directories of construction and exam preparation schools can be obtained (without endorsement or ratings) from states like Florida and California.
A growing list of schools
Below is our growing list of schools where contractors have had positive experiences and that provide classroom-based and/or web-based exam prep for contractor exams across the country. (There will be many more local contractor exam prep services in your state. See your state regulating agency (see our list of states where you will find links to each state regulator that licenses general contractors and specialty trades (electricians, plumbers, etc.)
- ExamPrep, or American Contractors Exam Services, offer study materials, online contractors license exam preparation in the form of general education classes that cover topics such as General Commercial, Residential, Electrical, Mechanical, Plumbing and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), Business Law and Management. Online continuing education courses are offered for the following states: Alabama (HVAC), Florida (Solar), Kentucky (Electrical), Georgia (various), Louisiana (Residential Contractor), North Carolina (Residential Contractor), Virginia.
- Aldridge Consulting provides online and classroom based training for the construction industry. They specialize in providing contractors licensing exam preparation in North Carolina. They also provide counsel on renewals, company changes, additional classifications, additional qualifiers, financial upgrades, and licensing in other states through reciprocity (South Carolina and Tennessee).
- Arizona Contractors License Center has an online bookstore, exam preparation and state filing assistance.
- JJ Johnson provides online and on site seminars. On site seminars on passing the residential and commercial building exams for contractors, as well as continuing education classes and books and study guides.
- Construction Estimating Institute offers classroom and home study construction courses for estimators and managers. They are recognized as one of the main providers of contractor license exam preparation programs in the state of Florida. Officers courses on estimating, blueprint reading, and management.
- Contractors Institute, Inc. offers contractor exam preparation and continuing education courses for Florida and Georgia. Offers classroom training for all contractor licensing categories in Florida, including General, Building, Residential, Roofing, Plumbing, Air-Conditioning, Electrical, and Underground. Licenses Etc. also helps with general licensing in Florida and Georgia.
- Other Florida home study based courses included Cam Tech School, Gold Coast Schools.
- Dewalt Contractor’s Exam Preparation (Construction Edge, powered by Cengage)
- PSI Learning Academy for General Contractors, Construction and Trades Exams
Note, you could also buy books and take classes at local colleges that would probably cost much less than commercial courses that help you “cram” for a state contractors license exam. If you go with a school, look for full service schools that provide application assistance after you pass the exam.
How do you prepare?
We will continue to update this list of contractor licensing exam schools over time with input from our subscribers and our ongoing research. Feel free to share, in the comments below, your favorite publishers, schools and tools, or just share what worked for you.