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Certification & Exam Prep for Water and Wastewater Operators

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Operator certification helps protect human health and the environment by establishing minimum professional standards for the operation and maintenance of public water and wastewater systems. While the specific requirements vary from state to state, the goal of all operator certification programs is to ensure that skilled professionals are operating and maintaining drinking water and wastewater plants.

We have 872 resources (and counting) on Certification & Exam Prep in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents that go over math for water operators and for wastewater operatorstraining programs for water and wastewater operators, and many other useful guides that will help you prepare for your certification exams. 

To access the wealth of knowledge on Certification & Exam Prep within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Certification/Exam Prep." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

How to Find Free Webinars on

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Our staff at work hard to make sure operators can easily find all potential training opportunities for their water or wastewater operator certification using our national training calendar. This calendar currently links to over 11,000 events each year, all of which are pre-approved for operator continuing education credits and many which are free. Whether it’s a training hosted by your primacy agency, the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a subsection of the American Water Works Association, or another local training provider, we strive to list them all.

Given the increased demand for virtual training opportunities, we’ve recently created a tutorial to help you optimize your search for live, online training. We hope that this video will help you to more easily meet the training requirements under your certification.

Please note, that these opportunities all have a time and date associated with their registration. We do not list on-demand training in our calendar. If you require assistance searching for pre-approved, on-demand training opportunities, please email us at

Studying for the Certification Exam

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Studying for the certification exam can seem difficult or tedious for the many of us who are out of practice when it comes to taking and preparing for standardized tests. Adding to the challenge, most operators or operators in training must balance daily responsibilities and work with studying. In this week’s blog post, we hope to make your certification exam prep more productive by reviewing the best methods to study.

Before studying for the exam, operators should start by briefly researching the exam itself. Knowing the topics that will be covered and the resources that will be available during the test can help you make the best use of your study time. For starters, each certification agency can have a substantially different distribution of topics included on their need-to-know (NTK) criteria. The American Water Works Association (AWWA) published a 2018 summary of each state’s licensing requirements and NTK criteria (if developed), however operators should check with their primacy agency directly to really familiarize themselves with the test requirements, format, and design.

For most primacy agencies, certification exams are administered online at a certified testing center, however many agencies offer a few pencil and paper exams throughout the year. Operators that are taking an online exam can familiarize themselves with the feel of an online test using the Association of Boards of Certification’s (ABC) exam demo. For either exam format, the test taker should find out how many questions will be included in the exam, what the question format will be, and how many minutes they have to complete the exam. Certification agencies that use ABC testing services require candidates to bring photo ID, a non-programmable calculator, two sharpened #2 pencils, and an eraser. The exam will likely provide a Formula/Conversion table that you should practice with during your studies. Please check with your primacy agency to determine what score is required to pass. Most agencies require a 70% or higher.

The AWWA suggests that operators should begin studying immediately after submitting their testing application. Applications are generally due two to three months before the test date itself offering ample time to study. During this period, test takers should strive to learn and understand, not memorize, all the material identified on the NTK criteria. Setting a goal to study at the same times and location each day will help improve focus when you sit down to work. As you study, keep your notes and study material in the same binder or notebook to improve organization. How long you study each day will depend on your current knowledge and experience. Even if you think you know some material pretty well, set aside time to review just in case.

Deciding how to study and the resources you want to use will depend on how you learn best. Some operators retain information by reading and writing. For the exam, this might look like learning from a textbook or manual and then summarizing the information in flashcards or a study guide. Research has shown that writing down information improves retention. Generally by the time a student has finished their flashcards, they already know the material pretty well. Reviewing those written summaries will only reinforce that knowledge. Check out our previous blog post on free test prep resources to find downloadable study manuals. If you want to use a textbook instead, we recommend purchasing them used whenever possible!

Many other operators prefer a visual or auditory form of learning that comes from watching training videos online or enrolling in a certification exam prep course. If already studying from a textbook, we encourage visual learners to make their own diagrams and charts. Operators can find upcoming certification classes by visiting our national training calendar and selecting “Certification/Exam Prep” in the Category filter. Training courses are also good for kinesthetic learners that retain information by 'doing'. To really prepare for the exam, chances are high that you will need to apply a combination of these study methods. When none of these tips seem to work and you just can’t seem to remember an important fact or process, try developing your own mnemonic.

The last important tip we must offer is to repeat, repeat, repeat! In order to remember anything long-term, you should review the same material several times without cramming. For example, during the duration of your exam prep try reading from your study manual and summarizing the information in a notebook. Return to those summaries periodically, perhaps creating diagrams when possible or even rewriting the material for a second time. When you feel like you know your stuff, take a practice test to assess your knowledge.

Practice tests will help students determine where they need to improve while letting them get used to the types of questions that will be asked on the exam. Some primacy agencies have developed their own practice tests, however we recommended several additional practice exams in the October 29, 2019 edition of the Newsletter. The edition also includes some of our own practice questions and helpful test taking tips for the day of the exam.

Remember that doing well on the exam requires developing a study plan and sticking to it. With any luck, and a lot of practice, these tips will have you acing your certification exam!

A Veteran’s Guide to Becoming a Water or Wastewater Operator

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The career path of a water or wastewater operator is a great fit for veterans that want to continue serving the public with the skills developed during their time on active-duty. The profession requires mechanical, hands-on problem solving abilities and in turn offers job security, good pay, benefits, and professional development opportunities.

Utilities can mutually benefit by recruiting veterans. Talent gaps created by retiring operators can be filled by veterans returning home from active duty. Their military training ensures that they have the dedication, flexibility, accountability, and communication skills necessary to juggle small system needs. Furthermore, veterans are familiar with working nontraditional hours that are sometimes required to maintain smaller water systems.

Given the compatibility between veterans and the water industry, this blog will provide resources and guidelines veterans can use to become a water or wastewater operator.

Obtaining certification will be easiest if military personnel can start developing the necessary qualifications before leaving the military. Operators need to have a broad knowledge of chemistry, microbiology, math, equipment operations, and mechanics. Try to work in water operations or other positions that develops transferable skills during active duty. Request that these experiences be documented by your superiors. Saved military evaluations can also be useful to demonstrate qualifications.

Once you’ve left the military, research the certification requirements under your state. Each state’s certification requirements can vary, however many programs will convert military training into college credits or certification requirements. In the state of Virginia, “substantially equivalent” military training, education, or experience can be credited toward licensure requirements. Virginia also waives the costs for the certification exam. If you haven’t met all the requirements necessary to sit for the certification exam, use our national training calendar to find relevant certification courses and local training providers.

Veterans that are just beginning to fulfill certification requirements should consider joining a certificate program within their state. Certificate programs consist of a series of classes that take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years for completion. At the end of the program students will be prepared and qualified to take the state certification exam. The best programs facilitate hands-on training at a local utility, however these experiences can also be gained in an apprenticeship. To find an apprentice program, reach out to local water utilities, assistance providers, and the National Rural Water Association’s nation-wide apprentice program. Working at a water utility early on will ease the job hunting process after passing the exam.

For additional assistance, contact the AWWA’s veteran program. Scholarships, internships, and career advice in the water workforce can be found at Work for Water. Residents of New England states, can look into the Water Warriors Initiative to find assistance in certification, training, and internships. If you need help finding additional resources for your state’s certification program, contact and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Featured Video: Becoming a Water Operator

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Succession planning in the water industry has led to a growing demand for new operators. In addition to job security, the career path offers great benefits and opportunities to develop professionally while directly improving local communities. 

In this 10 minute interview by California Water Jobs, a successful operator describes the plans he accomplished to become an operations technician foreman for the Desert Water Agency. Before his career in water, Emmanuel Sarpong worked as a Field Radio Operator for the U.S. Marine Corps. He notes that his experience in the military gave him the discipline, communication skills, and problem solving abilities essential for utility operations and maintenance. A workday for Emmanuel is always changing, whether he’s putting treatment filters back on line, collecting water samples, or even pushing a broom for an upcoming tour.

To become an operator, Emmanuel began employment with a water utility as a general worker in construction. During this time he took correspondence courses with the state of California to obtain the certification that would allow him to advance into operations. He discusses his mentor Tom, an experienced foreman who trusted him to tackle projects that trained him in the skills he uses everyday. Emmanuel’s advice to operators is to keep pushing for higher levels of certification.