Everything You Need to Know About the NERC Certification Exam
Electric power is something most people don’t think about until it isn’t there. How do power utilities make sure the power stays on? Without an in-depth explanation of electric system reporting and regulations, we’ve provided some high level information.
Utilities are governed by an organization called the North American Electric Reliability Corporation or NERC. NERC is charged with making sure utilities keep the lights on. As part of this charge, NERC requires system operators at certain utilities be certified to manage the bulk power system.
Can anyone get certified? Yes, they can – by passing the NERC system operator certification exam. While most utilities require various educational and experience levels for system operators, getting certified is a step toward a career in ensuring the reliability of the bulk power system. We’ve answered a few key questions around the NERC certification process, including how to maintain certification after you earn it.
What is NERC Certificaton?
The NERC System Operator Certification Program certifies skilled and qualified system operators to ensure the reliability of bulk power systems. This program provides the framework for operators to get certified in one of four NERC credentials:
- Reliability Coordinator Operator
- Balancing, Interchange, and Transmission Operator
- Transmission Operator
- Balancing and Interchange Operator
You can find out more about the different certifications on the NERC website.
Through this program, NERC certifies individuals who show they have sufficient knowledge of the NERC Reliability Standards and the basic principles of power system operations by passing one of the four NERC exams. NERC issues a certificate to candidates who pass an exam. The certificate is valid for three years.
How does the exam work?
The four exams are computer based and made up of questions with multiple-choice answers. The number of correct responses required to pass the exam (also known as the cut score) is set by a panel of subject matter experts (SMEs) based on a comprehensive exam content outline. All four exams have an allowed testing time of three hours.
The following table outlines the minimum performance level as of June 1, 2020.
How do I register for the exam?
You must create an account in the System Operator Certification and Continuing Education Database (SOCCED) to register and pay for your exam. After you pay, SOCCED sends your information to the exam vendor, PSI. PSI will send you an email with the information to schedule your exam.
Once you pay, the exam application is valid for one year after the issuance date and can only be used once. If you fail to schedule and sit for the exam within the one-year eligibility period, you forfeit your exam fee.
Scheduling an Exam Appointment
After you receive your email notification from PSI, you can schedule an appointment for testing using PSI’s website (schedule.psiexams.com). You should follow the instructions sent from PSI. Exam appointments are subject to the availability of each test center.
If you want to withdraw from the process within the one-year period for any reason, you can by close of business the day before your year is up. You can submit a request through the SOCCED Help Center. Requests submitted within the time period will be reimbursed, except for the withdrawal fee. If you don’t properly withdraw, you lose all submitted fees.
What happens on exam day?
You should be inside the testing center at least 30 minutes before the exam start time for your Administration and Review of Candidate Identification. Plan on at least four hours for the testing process.
You must show two current valid forms of identification for admission – one primary form of identification and either another primary or secondary form of identification.
The primary identification is government-issued and must have your picture and signature on it. Examples are a driver’s license, a government-issued identification card, a passport, a temporary visa, or a military ID.
Secondary identification must have a name and either your picture or signature or both. Examples are an employment ID, credit card, or debit card.
What do I need to know about the testing center?
The following regulations apply during testing:
- Depending on established criteria at the testing center you use, late arrivals may not be allowed to sit for the exam. Late arrivals who are not allowed to take the exam will be considered no-shows and must reapply and pay the full test fee again to take the exam.
- You cannot bring reference materials, calculators, cell phones, or recording equipment into the exam. Since some testing centers may not have lockers to accommodate personal items, do not bring anything besides your IDs into the test center.
- No test materials, documents, notes, or scratch paper of any sort may be taken from the exam (pencils, paper, and an online calculator will be provided).
- Visitors are not permitted during the exam.
- Testing center staff can only answer questions about testing procedures. They cannot respond to questions about the exam’s content.
- You may use the restroom during the exam. However, the exam clock will continue running during that time.
- You cannot leave the testing center until you have finished the exam.
- You cannot smoke in the testing center.
- Any candidate giving assistance, receiving assistance, or making a disturbance will be required to turn in their exam materials, exit the exam room, and leave the testing center. A Disciplinary Action Procedure will be initiated once NERC is notified about the incident.
- Any instances of cheating or attempts to impersonate another candidate will be dealt with through the Disciplinary Action Procedure.
What happens if I don't pass the exam?
If you fail the exam, you must wait 42 calendar days from the date of your failed exam to sit for another exam. You will also be required to register through SOCCED and pay another exam fee.
What happens when I do pass the exam?
When you pass an exam, you cannot take that specific exam again until your credential has expired. For example, if you pass the Reliability Coordinator exam, you cannot take that exam again until your Reliability Candidate credential has expired. SOCCED automatically sets a credential to expire four years from the exam pass date if the credential requirements aren’t maintained.
What is credential maintenance?
The System Operator Certification Program includes a requirement to maintain certification by earning CEHs (continuing education hours) through your company’s training program and/or other training providers, such as a vendor or other utility. The certificate you earn after successfully passing an exam is valid for three years. NERC requires certified system operators to accumulate CEHs through the NERC Credential Maintenance Program on recognized operator training topics. You must accumulate the proper number and type of CEHs from NERC-approved learning activities within a three-year period to maintain your certification. You must meet the requirements and pay for your renewal in SOCCED. After reviewing and approving your transcript, NERC issues a new certificate with a new expiration date.
CEHs must include a minimum of 30 CEHs that focus on content and/or implementation of NERC standards. They must also include a minimum of 30 CEHs that use simulation such as tabletop exercises, operator training simulators, emergency drills or emergency procedure practice, restoration, blackstart, or other reliability-based scenarios. These CEHs must come from a NERC-approved education provider.
CEH requirements vary based on the certification you earn.
If you don’t accumulate enough CEHs to maintain your current credential before the certificate expires, it will be suspended for up to one year. If you have a suspended certificate, you may not perform any task that requires NERC certification. If you don’t earn the appropriate number of CEHs by the end of the suspension period, your credential will expire. You can accumulate the proper number and type of CEHs during the suspension period and have your credential reinstated with the original expiration date (three years after the previous expiration date).
NERC will recognize CEHs for a particular course or learning activity for credential maintenance once a year, based on your credential anniversary. CEH courses can also count as emergency operations courses if the training is related to emergency preparedness, operational communication and situational awareness, analysis and troubleshooting, or the response to any emergency as defined by NERC. NERC recognizes emergency operations courses for credential maintenance twice a year.