2023 Edition

Building Contractor Licensure Test Guide

Building Contractor Licensure Test Summary
What: Certification for building contractors.
Who: General, residential and commerical building contractors
Where: State licensing board or a testing company facility
When: Contractor exams are given on a regular basis.
How: Contractor exams are multiple choice and true-false.
Type: The exams will be computer or paper based.
Why: To ensure comepetence and safety.
Time: The exams can last anywhere from 1 to 5 hours.
Language: English and Spanish, in some states.
Preparation: Study guides, online courses, college courses, and flashcards available for study.
Cost: Varies

Building contractors are generally licensed by the state or local municipality where construction takes place.  The legislative or regulatory purpose behind licensing requirements is usually stated in terms of public safety and consumer protection.  To qualify for a license a number of requirements must be met including experience, bonding and testing requirements.  A contractor will typically face an exam to qualify for the license.  These exams are typically administered by a state or municipal contractor's licensing board.

Who Needs to Test

A person renovating or building their own home typically does not need to acquire a building contractor's license.  Licenses are only required when a person in the building trades is seeking to pursue a commercial enterprise where the construction is for a third person who pays consideration for the construction service provided.  There are generally three types of building contractors:

  • General
  • Residential
  • Commercial

Generally, all of these types of contractors will have to be licensed to contract to do work in the state or municipal jurisdiction.  Some jurisdictions do allow small residential contracting without a contractor's license.  If you plan on limiting your contracting to small residential projects, check with your local building inspector to see if you would need a license. 

Obtaining a License

To obtain a building contractor's license, a contractor must complete various prerequisites, which vary by state. In most states, the qualifications are a high school diploma or GED and between one to four years of supervised work experience. Some states require fingerprinting and specialized classes. Also, some state boards will consider trade school or unsupervised self-employment for the work experience time requirement, depending on the circumstance.

License applications are available from state contractor's licensing boards. Candidates likely will have to provide proof of eligibility to work in the United States and proof of supervised work experience. Prior employers may have to fill out a form and certify that you worked the requisite time periods and with the requisite responsibilities.   

The Exam

The type of license sought will determine what type of exam will be required.  The exams will typically not only include trade knowledge, such as scheduling, construction math, framing, excavation, carpentry, hvac and plumbing questions, but also questions related to business and law.  Some of the business and law subjects that may be tested include:

  • Permitting
  • Bonding and Insurance
  • Worker Safety
  • Environmental Laws
  • Labor Laws

When the exam covers business and law subjects, often the exams will be broken in 2 separately timed exams, one for trade knowledge and the other for business and law. 

The state licensing boards typically use testing companies to administer the exams.  Usually, there will be a candidate exam bulletin that goes with the test.  Not all states have information bulletins but those that do provide important information that you need to review prior to the test.  These bulletins will often tell you the specific subjects that will be tested and the number of questions in each section.  Check your state licensing board's webpage for information about the exam.  It may provide a link to a test bulletin or direct you to the company that is administering the exam.  The bulletin may be at the testing company's webpage. 

The tests will have multiple choice and true/false questions, some of which will be scenario based.  The tests will typically have about 100 questions and you will be given anywhere from 1 to 4 hours to complete the test.  Some of the exams are open book, meaning you can bring the building code and other authorized codes into the testing facility and use the codes as a reference during the exam.  In open book exams there will often be limits on what you can put in your code books.  Usually, only highlighting and tabs will be allowed and notes in the books will be disallowed. 

Exam preparation is important. Are you ready to start preparing for a building contractor's licensing exam? Check out our Building Contractor's Exam Directory to find tests and prep materials today.