AFTE Certification Program
AFTE Certification Policies and
The Association of Firearm and Tool
Mark Examiners offers a certification program to
qualified AFTE members. The purpose of this program
To demonstrate to
interested parties that successful applicants
have met a standard of excellence in knowledge
and skill for a qualified examiner as defined by
professionalism among firearm and toolmark
examiners by establishing certification as a
level of accomplishment.
Effective February 16, 2014, the qualifications necessary to
apply for certification are as follows:
All regular, distinguished, emeritus, and provisional AFTE members
in good standing are eligible if they can demonstrate the following:
1. Training and experience equivalent to the two-year course of
study described in the AFTE Training Manual.
2. Three years paid experience as a Firearms and/or Toolmark
Examiner following successful completion of a competency test and
authorization by the applicant’s laboratory to perform firearms
and/or toolmark identification casework. Training and experience
must equate to five years of total experience as a Firearms and/or
3. Possession of an earned baccalaureate (four-year) degree or
equivalent from an accredited academic institution. Although it is
desirable that the candidate has had major coursework in physical
science, natural science, forensic science, criminalistics, criminal
justice, police science, industrial technology, or related fields of
study, possession of a baccalaureate degree in any subject will meet
the basic requirement (this requirement does not apply to applicants
for recertification if they were certified or began the
certification process prior to June 1, 2006).
definitions are specific to this document:
process whereby a candidate who has failed either a written
examination or practical component during the AFTE
certification process requests the Certification Committee to
review the correctness of the failed result.
A person who has submitted an application for the AFTE
An applicant who is eligible to take a certification
An AFTE member who holds a current and valid AFTE certificate of
competence in one or more of the offered subject areas.
The person who monitors the written and/or practical testing
component(s) of the AFTE certification process for a candidate.
The process whereby an AFTE certificant renews their
certification after the prescribed time period.
Revocation: To have one’s
certification(s) rescinded by AFTE as a punitive action.
A period during which a certificant is not considered by the
Association to be certified due to an unacceptable test result
on a proficiency test related to the subject area(s) in which
the certificant is certified. If the test is successfully
remediated, the suspension will be temporary. If not, the
suspension may lead to revocation. The suspended certificant’s
name will be removed from the list of certified members on the
AFTE website during the period of suspension.
To have one’s certification(s) ended by AFTE, either voluntarily
Qualified applicants can choose any or all of the following
three subject areas in which to become certified:
Examination and Identification (FA-AFTE)
Examination and Identification (TM-AFTE)
Gunshot Residue Evidence
Examination and Identification (GSR-AFTE)
For eligible applicants, the certification procedure consists of
the successful completion of both a written and a
practical examination in each of the subject areas they have
selected. These examinations were developed and validated in
conjunction with an independent firm to meet applicable
guidelines for certification examinations. The independent
agency chosen to participate in the development and validation
of certification tests, Cooperative Personnel Services
(currently known as CPS HR Consulting, or simply “CPS”), was
designated by the AFTE Board of Directors after the completion
of a competitive bidding process and the recommendation of the
Certification Committee. For an overview of the development of
the AFTE Certification Program, refer to the
Report which originally appeared in the AFTE Journal
(Kowalski, Kenneth F., “Summary Report on the Development of
Certification Examinations for Practicing Firearm and Toolmark
Examiners,” AFTE J., Vol. 32, No. 4, Fall 2000, pp.
373-379). For a complete description of the program written by
CPS staff and edited by the AFTE Certification Committee, refer
AFTE Report of Occupational Analysis and Certification
Starting in 2012, written examinations are now offered
exclusively online and are administered by the National Forensic
Science Technology Center (NFSTC). Written examinations consist
of 100 multiple choice questions, with a time limit of three
hours to complete. The applicant is responsible for designating
a qualified proctor to monitor the testing process. See
Requirements, below. The minimum passing score for any of
the written examinations is 70%. Refer to the
Study Guide for a listing of the appropriate references to
study for each examination. The timeframes of upcoming online
testing periods (“open seasons”) will be posted on the AFTE
website homepage. All certification examinations are conducted
in the English language.
Practical examinations are mailed directly to the candidate’s
designated proctor, who will administer them at a suitable and
mutually acceptable location, such as the candidate's workplace.
Since there are a limited number of practical examination kits,
their availability may be limited at any given time depending on
how many candidates are taking a particular test at the time a
request is made. They will be issued to waiting candidates on a
first-come, first-served basis. Practical examinations are
designed to be worked like actual casework, with the exception
of technical review. Each practical examination, which consists
of two parts, is designed to take a total of approximately eight
hours to complete; however, there is no time limit. If the
candidate should feel they need more than eight hours to
complete an examination (including time over one or more
additional days), the additional time will be allowed depending
upon the proctor’s availability. In such circumstances, the
candidate and proctor will need to work together to facilitate
the time extension; the proctor is accountable for the security
of the test materials during the intervening periods (overnight,
etc.) when it is not being actively worked on by the candidate.
Upon completion of a practical examination, the examination kit
must be mailed back to the Certification Committee with the
candidate’s answer sheets and notes; no documentation of the
test may be retained by the candidate or proctor. Return postage
for the examination kit is the responsibility of the candidate
or their agency.
The written and practical examinations cannot be taken on the
same day. Candidates can only take the practical examination for
a particular subject area after successful completion of
the written examination for that area. Separate applications are
required for the written and practical examinations; however,
applicants can use a single application form to apply to take
either the written or practical examinations in more than one
subject area. For example, an applicant can use a single
application to apply to take all three written examinations
during a single online testing period.
Examinations are graded by the Certification Committee in
accordance with procedures determined by the test validation
study. Test results are reported as pass/fail only. No
information regarding the number of times a candidate takes any
certification examination will be released by the Committee.
Both the applicant and proctor will be required to sign security
(confidentiality) agreements. Candidates must agree not to
divulge any information pertaining to the contents of any
certification examination including, but not limited to, any
questions or answers to which they may have been exposed. No
notes or documentation may be retained by the either the
applicant or proctor upon completion of the examinations. There
is no restriction to the time interval that elapses between when
an applicant passes the written examination and when they pass
the practical examination in a particular subject area to become
Candidates should expect to be notified of their written
examination results within approximately two weeks after the
close of the scheduled online testing period, after the
Chairperson has received and verified the results from the NFSTC.
Candidates will typically be notified of their practical
examination results within a few days after the returned
examination kit is received and graded by the Committee.
Successful candidates receive a certificate of competence in
each relevant subject area that is valid for five years from the
date of issue. Candidates will be notified of any unsuccessful
attempt to certify within a selected area. If a candidate should
fail either the written examination or either part of the
practical examination within a selected area, a six-month
waiting period is required before retesting should the candidate
choose to take the test again. Another examination sitting fee
will be required for any retesting. Failure in one subject area
does not affect the certification process in any other area.
In order to maintain their certification, certificants must
recertify every five years. Recertification requires the
certificant to accumulate and document points as outlined in the
AFTE Recertification Process prior to the end of the
original certification or most recent recertification period.
Successful recertification extends the certification period for
an additional five years, for which a supplemental certificate
will be issued. Note: All prospective applicants for
certification must attest on their application that they have
read and understand the Recertification Policies and Procedures
before their application will be accepted.
The members of the Certification Committee will act as the
Appeal Panel to evaluate all appeals. The written examinations
have been determined to be content valid. All questions were
reviewed by a panel of AFTE members, in cooperation with CPS,
and each was determined to be properly worded, applicable
(relevant), and the correct answer to each has been verified.
Therefore, no appeal as to the clarity, applicability
(relevancy), or correctness of examination questions will be
allowed. The Committee will, however, review written tests for
possible scoring errors.
The appeal of a written or practical examination must be
directed in writing to the Chairperson of the Certification
Committee within thirty (30) calendar days of the date the
candidate was notified of the results.
The decision of the Committee is final. Further information on
the formalized appeal process will be provided to the candidate
prior to testing.
Suspension and Revocation
Certification may be temporarily deactivated or suspended
(possibly leading to revocation or termination) under any of the
determined that the certificant has reported an unsatisfactory
result on an annual proficiency test in a subject area relevant
to their area(s) of certification.
does not comply with the annual proficiency testing reporting
requirement for recertification.
certificant’s recertification packet is not received by the
Certification Committee by the recertification date (expiration
Refer to the AFTE
and Procedures for further details.
Certification may be revoked if it is determined that any of the
following have occurred:
knowingly participated in any fraud associated with the
certificant divulged any information pertaining to
the contents of a certification examination
including, but not limited to, questions and answers
from the examination(s).
has committed a violation of the AFTE Code of Ethics pertaining
to their use of the scientific method, expression of opinions
and conclusions, or court presentation (Code Sections I, II, and
III). This condition applies to cases resulting in public
censure only and only after the entire ethics enforcement
procedure has been completed.
violated the AFTE Code of Ethics and the violation results in
expulsion from AFTE.
has failed an annual proficiency test in the relevant subject
area(s) in which they are certified and has not successfully
remediated it within the prescribed time period. This condition
only applies to the certification in the subject area that is
relevant to the failed proficiency test.
Revocation of certification, if related to a violation of the
AFTE Code of Ethics, is not final until the certificant has had
an opportunity to represent themselves in accordance with the
AFTE Bylaws and the AFTE Code of Ethics. Certified status may be
reestablished upon reinstatement of AFTE membership or if
sufficient evidence is presented to absolve the certificant of
In addition, if a certified AFTE member voluntarily terminates
or allows their membership to lapse in the Association, any
certifications they hold at that time will be revoked, to become
effective on the date their AFTE membership expires. The only
exception to this policy is if the certificant is on voluntary
leave from their certification(s) at the time their AFTE
membership lapses or expires. In this instance, the certificant
must reactivate their AFTE membership and be a member in good
standing before they may request to have their certification(s)
The proctor is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the
examination process. It is the applicant’s responsibility to
find a qualified proctor and arrange for them to oversee the
applicant’s written and/or practical tests. Proctors must be
available to be present at the testing site for the duration of
the test(s), which can be scheduled for a mutually agreeable
date and time. Persons who meet the following requirements are
eligible to act as a proctor for the AFTE certification
An AFTE member
who is AFTE certified in the subject area(s) they are
proctoring, and have a minimum of five years in good standing as
a regular, distinguished, or emeritus member of AFTE.
members who are members of another professional organization in
the forensic sciences with an enforceable code of ethics. For
example, a latent print examiner who is a member of the
International Association for Identification (IAI) or a lab
director who is a member of the American Society of Crime
Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) may proctor an examination. It is
preferable, but not required, that this person also holds
certification in their respective forensic specialty.
If qualifying under this provision, prospective proctors
must provide proof of other certification (e.g. copy of
certificate or most recent notification of certified status) or
proof of other forensic organization membership. This
documentation must accompany the certification application.
Whenever possible, every attempt should be made by the
applicant to find a certified AFTE member to serve as their
proctor for the certification tests. *Note: Most AFTE
Members who are not AFTE certified are ineligible to be
*AFTE Members who were members of the Angoff Committee involved
with developing the AFTE certification examinations, while
currently not eligible to take the certification examinations to
become certified themselves, are allowed to act as proctors for
any of the examinations. All other non-AFTE certified AFTE
members cannot act as a certification proctor until such time
that they become AFTE certified, and then may only proctor
examinations in the area(s) in which they are certified.
Instructions and security documents will be emailed to the
designated proctor prior to the test date.
The sitting fees for taking the examinations are commensurate
with maintaining a self-sufficient certification program. These
fees are required at the time of application.
Written test fees are $50.00 and Practical test fees are $200.00
[U.S. Dollars]. Applications will not be acted upon without fee
payment. The fee for recertification is $25.00 per area. Fees
can be paid either by PayPal, personal check, or agency purchase
order. Cash is not accepted. PayPal is the method of payment
preferred by the Committee. Checks must be made payable to
AFTE. Purchase orders requiring an invoice from AFTE should be
addressed to the AFTE treasurer.
application has been submitted and the applicant
applicant is determined
ineligible, all fees
who believe that they
Certification Program and
Click here to
pay certification fees via PayPal.
Interested AFTE members seeking certification who meet the
qualifications described above must submit an application (see
link below) to the Certification Committee Chairperson.
Applicants will be advised of their eligibility as soon as
practicable after their application is received.
The application and additional required documents (see below)
may be submitted via email or regular mail to the Chairperson at
the below addresses.
(PDF Fillable Form; Adobe Reader XI or higher recommended)
photograph of the applicant (approximately 2” x 3” or 5 cm x 7.5
(does not need to be an original) of the applicant’s college
diploma and/or college transcripts bearing the seal or
identifying information of the college.
resume or curriculum vitae
proof of payment
proof of other certification or forensic organization membership
Note: A separate application is required to take the written and
practical examinations; however, the additional required
documents above only need to be submitted with the first
application (for the written examination(s)).
For applicants with degrees from academic institutions
outside of the United States:
In order for the Committee to
recognize the equivalency of an applicant’s foreign degree to a
four-year baccalaureate degree from an accredited U.S.
institution, the applicant must have their academic credentials
independently evaluated. There are several agencies
available online that provide fee-based credential evaluation
services for foreign degree programs. Although AFTE cannot
recommend or endorse a particular company for this service, only
reports from agencies that are members of either the National
Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES) or the
American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions
Officers (AACRAO) will be accepted for consideration. If
the evaluating agency finds the applicant's degree to be
equivalent to a four-year baccalaureate degree, copy of the
evaluation report must be submitted with the certification
application for review. Without this documentation, the
candidate's application may be denied.
Applications submitted to the Certification Chairperson
will not be acted upon until payment is received (see above for
fee and payment information).
Mail or email your completed applications to:
Eric R. Collins
Contra Costa County Office of the Sheriff
Forensic Services Division
2530 Arnold Drive, Suite 200
Martinez, CA 94553
Email: ecoll @ so.cccounty.us
Significance and Responsibilities of AFTE Certification
candidate is not deemed “AFTE Certified” in a particular subject
area until they have passed both the written and practical
certification examinations for that area. When a certificant
becomes certified or recertified, they will be notified of their
certified status and the date on which it becomes effective.
This date is also printed on their certificate. From that date
onward, as long as they maintain their AFTE membership and
certification status in good standing, the certificant may state
that they are “AFTE certified in [Firearms, Toolmark, and/or
Gunshot Residue] Evidence Examination and Identification,” or
similar wording. If an applicant has passed only the written
examination component or failed any of the examination
components, they may not state they are certified until such
time that they have successfully passed both the written and
practical examination components for the subject area(s) in
which they are seeking certification.
A list of
all certified members
and the effective dates of their certifications or most recent
recertifications is maintained on the AFTE website. If a
member’s certification is suspended or terminated for any
reason, they will be notified of the effective date of the
suspension or termination and their name will be removed from
the list of certified members on the website.
The names of suspended certificants will be restored to the list
if and when their certification is reinstated.
A certificant who is in good standing and is actively
participating in the recertification process is considered by
the Association to be “active”. Certificants who are on
voluntary leave from
their certification(s) will be considered “voluntarily
inactive”. A certificant’s current status will be indicated in
the list of certified members on the AFTE website.
It is incumbent upon all AFTE certificants to accurately convey
the current status of their certification in any professional
communications in which this information is being requested or
volunteered. A member whose certification has been suspended
or terminated must avoid giving the impression (expressed or
implied) that they are currently AFTE certified in the suspended
or revoked subject area(s) on any documentary record (e.g.,
resume, C.V., biographical summary, etc.) or during court
AFTE certification is not intended as a substitute for firearms
and toolmark training programs or continuing education received
by AFTE members in accredited forensic laboratories.
All active certificants in good standing have earned the right
to use the following honorific post-nominal letters
(abbreviations) to signify their accomplishment:
FA-AFTE = AFTE certified in Firearm Evidence Examination
TM-AFTE = AFTE certified in Toolmark Evidence Examination
GSR-AFTE = AFTE certified in Gunshot Residue Evidence
Examination and Identification
Examples of letters used in combination to indicate multiple
Certification Examination Link
Once the candidate has been approved to take the AFTE written
certification examination(s) and their proctor is ready, the
candidate may take the test(s) by clicking on the link below
anytime during the approved testing dates. A username and
password is required to log in to take the examination(s). The
username and password will be sent to the candidate and proctor,
respectively, via email prior to the start of the open testing
dates. Additional instructions will also be included. If you are
a certification candidate or proctor and have not received such
an email at least a few days prior to the start of the open
testing dates, contact the Chairperson of the Certification
AFTE Online Certification Test
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Copyright © 2001 Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners
All rights reserved. Revised:
October 10, 2014.