Quick tips on passing the Whitlow Smoke School certification test the first time

Location and observer position: Sit at least 45 feet from our smokestack with the sun to your back and the plume blowing perpendicular to your line of view. Holler scratch if the winds change and are coming at you or going away from you, or if the smoke curls. Choose a good contrasting background and memorize what the background looks like at the standards of 25%, 50%, and 75% because these are the basic GPS points. All of smoke school is based on the three standards. Remember this: You read the background- not the smoke. 25% opacity means that 25% of the background is obscured by the smoke. The smoke is like placing a filter between your eyeball and the background. It is similar to putting on sunshades and taking them off. Opacity is based on photography. I once had an antique 35mm Cannon camera with a very wide long lens. I could adjust the lens or add a filter to reduce the amount of light passing through the lens. Read the background- not the smoke.

Observation point: Choose an observation point in the plume to read the background. The observation point must be at least 2 feet from the edge of our 12 inch diameter smoke stack.

When to read the background: Only read when you hear the word read. Do not look at the smoke until you hear the word read. Read is the trigger word. Stop reading and look away when you hear the word mark. There should be at least 4 seconds between the word read and the word mark. Do not look back after the word mark- a costly and very common mistake. After we say the word mark, we are moving the dial to the next reading. You will miss it if you look after the word mark. Holler scratch if you did not get a good look. Do not ever stare at the smoke. Only glance at the smoke between the word read and the word mark. Do not stare at the smoke. Look away and relax between readings. You will get lost in the smoke.

Recording the opacity value: Listen for the word read. Glance up at the smoke a few times. Compare it to the image of the standards in your memory. All smoke comes in ranges. The ranges are:

·      0 to 25%

·      25-50%

·      50-75%

·      75-100%

Determine the range of the smoke first. Determine the range of possibilities. Example: Is it 25% or lower? Is it 25% or higher? Is it 50% or higher?

Record the opacity in the first column. Remember your first impression is always right. Go with it. Do not second guess. Do not even think about looking on your neighbor’s paper. They are looking at your paper. You will both end up in the dog house without a bone. Your answer must be in 5% intervals. Every answer should have a 5 or a 0 in it such as 5, 10, 15, and 20, so forth. Read the background and record your answer. Write it down. Look at what you wrote and make sure you wrote what you intended to write. Then do the math. Your answer must be accurate to within + or – 15%. In your head add 15 to what you wrote and take away 15. Example- if you wrote 15, your answer will be correct if the actual opacity was from 0 to 30. This is the sliding scale.

Summary: We want to do this job right the first time. We take our time during testing. We give precise instructions. We show the standards, we do plenty of practice. Make sure you understand the fundamentals. Stop us at any time by raising your hand, yelling time out, or hollering scratch. Stop us if:

·      You do not understand the fundamentals

·      You did not hear us

·      You did not get a good look at the smoke

·      You get lost- tell us where you got lost and we will go back to that point in the test

·      The wind changes or curls the plume


We want you to pass and pass quickly so we can go fishing. You can do this. Just do it. This is very important information, a top secret. Please pass it on to your employees or you will be wasting their time and your money. Most people do pass our test the first time. But be prepared to stay just in case you have a bad hair day. All re-tests go quicker than the first test.


Smoke School is all about calibration. We calibrate our smoke machine with NIST certified opacity filters. You lean how to calibrate your eyeballs to determine the correct visual opacity based on the standards of 25%, 50%, and 75%. The calibrated eyeball is more powerful than a locomotive and faster than a speeding bullet. A calibrated eyeball is more accurate than any opacity monitor in captivity- without a doubt. If I'm lying, I'm dying. Take that to the bank. 

More tips on passing the test the first time

Order Whitlow Smoke School Practice Test Visible Emissions Training DVD

 What are the requirements for passing the smoke school certification test

I WANT YOU to come to smoke school.







The Whitlow team includes 5 retired Louisiana DEQ employees and other very qualified team members dedicated to routine maintenance, quality control, and customer service. With over 100 years combined experience in environmental protection and smoke school we are the experts. We choose locations with your comfort in mind. Each location has a convenient classroom, clean restrooms, a shelter form sun and rain, and a contrasting background for reading smoke. We serve you free hot coffee, fresh donuts, cold bottled water, sodas, and a great lunch at each location.  We desire to make you feel at home. We calibrate our equipment electronically and visually with the human eye before, during, and after each smoke school. We check the zero drift before and during each test run. If the zero is off, everything is off. We take our time giving the test, so you can keep up. We give precise instructions on how to take the test. If you pay close attention and bring a positive attitude, you will pass sooner than later. If you are having difficulty understanding what to do prior to the actual test, please ask for assistance. We are prepared to stay at each location until you certify to become a smoke reader. Remember, patience and attitude are everything. Be prepared. The first test run each day will take a little longer because we take the time to teach you how to take the test. Additional test runs will be quicker. Historically, most people pass by the third run because of our exceptional teaching skills. If necessary, we will retest until dark.

We would love for you to try Whitlow Smoke School and see the difference. If you have previously registered for, and paid for another upcoming smoke school by another provider, then send in a copy of your receipt along with your registration and you can attend your first Whitlow Smoke School free. What a deal!

We always provide hot coffee, fresh donuts, ice cold water, soft drinks, and great tasting lunches at each location. If you prefer a certain type of food please let us know before the school and we will try to accommodate your tastes.

Initially, we will choose smoke school dates compatible with previous smoke school providers. Eventually, we will provide additional dates in the hope of milder weather.

Welcome to Whitlow Smoke School and welcome to customer service. We are a Disabled Veteran owned and family operated small business and we are a member of the Better Business Bureau.

Please pass all of this information to your employees. Thanks for coming.

Lets go Pilgrim,

we are burning up daylight.                            



Uncle G Artie Whitlow
My Novel A Smoke School Prize worth keeping. 



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