Did you know during the April 2016 PE exam that over 4500 people registered and took it (within the 5 major disciplines)? And approximately 67% passed the first time (it's much worse for repeat takers, yikes!). To me, that seems like a staggering amount of people trying to become professional engineers. It's amazing, really, but it looks like we need to hit some tips to help future test takers. And hopefully we can bump up that 67% up a little higher.
Passing the PE is fundamental to becoming a great civil engineer and it is a career MUST for anyone found in the discipline. Let's check out 10 quick tips for those gearing up for the next exam.
8 Quick Tips
This quick list will briefly take into account what we have personally heard from those that have taken our review course or our practice exams. Hopefully, this list will better help you prepare or just go into the exam with your eyes fully open to it. On to the tips!
1. How long should you study?
On average it takes a civil engineer 3 months of preparation. That's a pretty intense three months. I have always felt like four months gives me plenty of time to study and build a schedule that allows me to hit my trouble areas. So make sure you tell your friends and family that for the next three months you'll have no life. Ha! But seriously, you'll want to spend about 10 hours during the week day and another 8 or more on the weekends to really nail this test down. It's no surprise that it's difficult so plan accordingly.
2. Practice problems.
A lot of them. And do them by hand. You'll find a lot of areas to practice problems online. We even make a bunch of video review problems here at CEA, but make sure you are working problems by hand, looking up equations in your references, and simply going back to your good old college days of working problems.
3. Practice Exams.
This tip goes hand in hand with tip number two, but there's more to it. You need to get four practice exams (or more if needed). I recommend getting two breadth exams and two depth exams. The first set of exams you can take as you begin your studies to see where you need to improve and the last two can be reserved for the time you are ready to take them as the real exam - blocking out 4 hours at a time to sit and take them. With each exam makes sure to go over the problems you missed and work them like homework. Doing practice exams will be your barometer to where you stand. Get these to get it right the first time.
Get support when you need it. This can be a study group of your peers or old college buddies, or it can be forums, or even a review course and the students you'll interact with there. Maybe it's all the above. In any case, getting support when you have questions is vital to you not getting hung up on that one problem you couldn't figure out.
5. Bring the books you know the best with you.
This goes without saying, but you simply have to say it. The PE exam is an open book test so bring the books you know the best. Become intimately familiar with the Civil Engineering Reference Manual (CERM) and your "most used" resources. Any time I ran across a problem I knew would be an excellent reference I made a copy and placed it in a binder, so I had it with me during test time. I'm sure you'll collect your own notes, problems, etc. too. You don't want to be the guy that brings in five suitcases full of reference material and three handcarts of old college books. You will not have time to go through them. You either know it or you don't.
6. Know thy calculator.
Your calculator is your greatest ally and weapon when slaying these civil engineering problems. Know how it works and what it can do. If you want to know what calculators you can use then check them out here. I've also elaborated on what the best one is and why. Get one with solar and if you are extremely worried, you can bring in two calculators with you in case one dies.
7. Bring your own watch.
Yes, bring a watch. You can't take your phone with you. Bring a watch so you know how much time you have left. There will most likely be a clock in the test room but you might be a mile away and won't be able to see it. Get a cheap (or expensive) watch and use it to guide you along as you take the exam. You have only 3 minutes per problem but the crucial time is when the proctor lets you know you only have 10 or 5 minutes left. Having one is nice.
8. Know where you are taking the exam and how to get there.
You'll want to find out where you can park, where you can eat lunch (if you don't bring one) and everything about the place you are taking the test. I'd hate for you to be late because you weren't sure where to park.
9. Don't get discouraged.
You know the numbers. Typically around 67% of first time takers pass the civil PE exam. Repeat takers hover around 35%. Those look okay the first time you take it, but I know plenty that have had to take it again and those numbers don't look good at all. Don't get discouraged. Keep your head up and keep going at it. It get's much easier as you familiarize yourself with the type of problems that are asked on the exam. As a repeat taker you know the look, feel, and type of questions. You know what ones you had no clue how to solve so study those and ace them the next time. You can do this!
Wraping it Up
The PE exam is no joke. It's not an exam you can simply walk into and pass (if you are that guy, we all hate you). You have to put in the preparation and time to get the results you want. Don't waste away your money buy retaking the test 2, 3, or more times. Dedicate yourself, don't get discourage, and you'll pass this thing with flying colors. Remember if you ever need help you can check out our review course or just email me and i'll get back with you! Good luck on the exam!