Every once in awhile I like to have a case study or a guest come on and give us their take on taking the civil PE exam.
Every engineer's experience is a bit different - did they take a ton of book in with them? Did they guess 'B' on everything? How did they study for it? I like to share their experiences to give you, the future test taker, a good overall view of what you are getting yourself into.
Having said all of that, today's case study comes from a great student of Civil Engineering Academy, Tim Broadwell, PE. Read his own experience taking and studying for the PE exam - I'm positive you'll come away with a few things you'll want to try. Let's get to it!
If you have had an experience taking the PE exam and would like to share it with others then please contact me and let's get it shared. Your advice and tips will help future test takers (and repeat takers) get mentally prepared for this challenge. Head on over to our contact page or email me directly at [email protected]
1. I took a course called The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course. It is put on by the Civil Engineering Academy. It is a good course and a bit cheaper than most. It is all “On-Demand” rather than live lectures so you can go at your own pace.
2. I got a 1-year access pass and a special “VIP Package” that allowed access to all of their material and practice tests.
3. The lectures make constant reference to the Civil Engineering Reference Manual (CERM), which was a big positive in my opinion.
1. I highly recommend buying and using the Civil Engineering Reference Manual (CERM) and a few other books associated with it. It is published by Professional Publications, Inc. (PPI). It is well worth the money. It will be the most valuable tool you have (note: for any book from ppi2pass use Civil Engineering Academy's discount code of CIVAC to receive 15% off your order!).
2. Get to know The CERM front to back. On every note and every example problem that you intend to take into the exam, write a CERM reference (i.e. chapter and page number) for whatever equations, constants, tables or any other information you got from the CERM to solve the problem. These notes will help you on the exam and will help you learn where everything is in the book.
3. Other very helpful materials by PPI:
- Civil Engineering Practice Problems (CEPP)
Depth Reference Manuals (they have Transportation and Water Resources as well):
- Structural (CEST)
- Construction (CECN)
4. A number of reference material came with the course I took.
5. I purchased a number of other practice exams. There are several on Amazon.
My Studying Strategy
1. I decided on my depth early and hit that hard right up front. (1 month)
2. I went through all the video lectures and all the practice problems in the course I took. (2 months)
3. I took a practice exam to gauge what my weak areas were.
4. Then I did a bunch of problems in the Civil Engineering Practice Problems (CEPP) book. I spent extra time in my weak areas. (2 months)
5. I then went back to my depth and walked through the Construction Depth Reference Manual (CECN). I read it cover to cover and worked every practice problem. (0.5 month)
6. Finally, I took 4 more practice exams – both breadth and depth. (1 month)
Spend the last month or so doing nothing but practice exams – lock yourself in a room and time it just like the actual exam. As you take them, formulate a timing strategy to make sure you look at every problem on the exam. I found both in practice and on the actual test that I always passed when I was able to get through the entire exam.
7. I did not do any serious studying the last 5 days before the exam to give my mind a break.
My Timing Strategy
I made a pass through the exam and carefully each “theory” problem. These are problems with no numbers to crunch – just testing you on the principle. If I knew the answer I marked it. If I didn’t know it, I immediately marked “B” and moved on. It is not worth wasting time digging though pages and paragraphs in your reference materials hoping to find an answer.
I made another pass through the exam and worked all the problems I could take one look at and KNOW I could do and do quickly.
I made another pass and worked all the rest except problems I was sure I didn’t know how to do. Finally, with the remaining time I went back to see if I could figure out the ones I didn’t know how to do. On the morning exam I had a good chunk of time left and was able to figure out a couple I thought I couldn’t do.
1. When you begin studying use your exam approved calculator from the beginning. Being very familiar with it will keep you from wasting time trying to figure it out on the exam.
2. Use the exam pencil to practice with. I used my pencil from the FE. I didn’t want lack of comfort to be an issue when taking the actual exam.
3. When working through a practice problem use scratch paper to solve the problem quickly. You can make mistakes, cross it out, etc. Once you are done and have the correct solution copy the problem very neatly and write the correct solution very neatly. Save this copy and bring it with you to the exam.
4. Organize all your notes in a way that will make it easy and quick to find what you are looking for. I organized/labelled them by topics in the exam specs. NOTE: Do this before taking the practice exams so you get used to where everything is. I did it after I took all my practice exams. This cost me time on the actual exam because I was used to certain problems being in certain places.
5. Only bring books to the exam that you KNOW. Don’t waste space in your bag. Don’t waste time on the exam combing through a book you have never (or barely) cracked. It is tempting to think you need it “just in case” but it is far more likely to be a hindrance than a help.
Thanks for the great advice for future takers of the civil PE exam, Tim! Good luck to everyone taking the exam on the next round and make sure to check out the resources Tim mentions!
Bio: Tim Broadwell, PE
My name is Tim Broadwell. I graduated from the University of South Florida in 2010 with a BS in Civil Engineering. After school, I got a job as a Sales Engineer at Vulcraft of New York, Inc. which is a division of Nucor Corporation. we design and manufacture open web steel joists and steel deck. I am still at Vulcraft now. I took the PE Exam for the first time in October 2016. I did the Civil Construction exam since my job, along with the engineering work, also involves a good bit of project management and occasional estimating. Thanks to a lot of hard work studying and The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course, I passed on the first try!