For listeners of the Civil Engineering Academy Podcast, the transition from the usual pen-and-paper exam to a computer-based format (CBT) is not “breaking news”. We’ve all listened to episode 51 of the podcast featuring Tim Miller, the Chief Officer of Examinations at the NCEES, who oversees the development and scoring of all examinations, as well as the exam administration. In his interview with Isaac, he presented NCEES’s plan for accelerating this transition and making the civil PE exam go 100% CBT in 2022!
While the reason for accelerating this move came as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic and its implications, it actually follows the trend already put into practice for the FE exam and the PE exam for mechanical engineering. Today, Mark jumps back on the show to discuss some of the new conditions announced by NCEES that will come along with such a move, and whether or not they can be considered a pro or a con, at least from a test-taker standpoint.
On one hand, people will be able to take the test any time of the year, as opposed to the previous April and October time frames people used to center their studies around. On the other hand, there’s a slight possibility that questions belonging to the breadth and depth portions could get mixed up and tested “together”. To top it all off, the number of references test-takers can bring to the testing locations will be reduced to…. Listen to the show to find out!
The CBT format is now, more than ever, a reality. It’s not something to be afraid of. It’s just something that will require an adaptation period and a lot of discipline and effort. If you’re planning on taking the PE exam or the FE exam, do not forget to check out the Civil PE Review Course and the Civil FE Review Course to refresh your memory on all the things you need to know to ace these exams!
CEA Episode 51 with Tim Miller – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/cea-51-the-ncees-chief-officer-of-exams-tim-miller-pe/
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com/
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com/
PPI is our partner to help you ace your FE and PE exams. Use our discount code of CIVAC and our link to get 15% off any book you order – http://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/ppi
If you need exams, solved problems, or courses, make sure to check out our home base – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
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Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
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Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what's going on, everybody? Isaac here with Civil Engineering Academy. I'm excited for this episode. I'm joining my brother Mark, and we sit down and talk about the benefits and the cons of going computer-based testing. It was just announced that the PE exam is going to be accelerated to a 2020 schedule of going computer-based. Now, there's already some exams that are already computer-based, that includes the mechanical exam as well. But we don't have a civil exam that's going computer-based yet. [inaudible]. So, because of COVID they accelerated the schedule. It's now going to be 2022, instead of, I believe, it was 2023, when they initially said they were going to do that. So, things are going to be accelerated. You're going to be using their own reference manual. And in today's episode, we talk all about the pros and the cons about it going computer-based testing with my brother, Mark. It's going to be a good one. So, stick with me and we'll see you soon.
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, what's going on, everybody? Isaac here. I got my brother Mark on with me. How's it going, Mark?
Mark Oakeson: How's it going everybody? Good?
Isaac Oakeson: Good, good. We wanted to jump on together and discuss this big announcement. I actually did a podcast episode with Tim Miller. It was actually episode 51. If you want to go check it out: civilengineeringacademy.com/cea51. But I did an interview with Tim Miller and he didn't use the platform -- They had just barely announced it. But they accelerated the schedule for the CBT exam to go out in 2022 instead of 2023.
Mark Oakeson: That changes things. Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: And the reason for that, he said, is because of COVID mainly. They wanted people to have access to a testing center and be able to not have to group together, and socially distance, and all that jazz. So that kind of came out in that interview. I thought that was interesting. So, in today's episode, I wanted to talk with you and maybe we could hammer out some of the pros and cons to going computer-based testing in 2022. Maybe why people might want to knock it out in 2021. So, that's kind of what we want to discuss.
Mark Oakeson: Let's talk about it.
Isaac Oakeson: So, Mark, what do you think are some of the pros of this guy?
Mark Oakeson: Well, some of the pros is -- I think being able to take it any time of the year can be a positive for some. It's just, you know, you have that much more flexibility, and usually you're scheduling your studying around an April or an October timeframe, right? Every year. And this like opens it up, man. Any, you know --
Isaac Oakeson: Anytime you want.
Mark Oakeson: Anytime you want. So, there's, there's some pluses to that
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. I agree. I think that's kind of nice. I think you'll naturally probably still see when people will be taking that. It's probably going to be summertime just because of school. But it'd be interesting to see if it follows the same trends as like the FE, or even the mechanical PE, which is computer-based and the percentages there.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, I bet you do see some of those trends that'll mirror the FE, and the spikes and those things. Yeah. Soyeah. That's one of the other pros, I think you just touched on a little bit, isthe results come quicker. So, how long were we waiting before for results?
Isaac Oakeson: So, before, you'd go take the exam, let's say in October, and you wouldn't get a result until December.
Mark Oakeson: That's painful. It's a long time of painful waiting, isn't it?
Isaac Oakeson: Could be a nasty Christmas present for people taking it in October. Or it could be really good.
Mark Oakeson: And so now they're promising those results in about a week, which, with CBT, I think that's still a little bit long. They could probably tell you a little sooner, but they have to keep those results as long as that, you know? At least a week is better than two months.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. From what I'm hearing about the mechanicals is that it's usually like six days that they get the results. So I mean, that's better than months. But you would think that, if you're taking it on a computer, they could spit it out as soon as you're done, I guess. But they do those psycho-symmetric grades and testing, and they probably look at some of those questions and see if a group of people missed the same similar question or whatnot, even though they can [inaudible].
Mark Oakeson: Statisticians are having a field day with this CBT stuff, aren't they?
Isaac Oakeson: Yes. Yes they are. And you can imagine -- You know, most people would have the same AM, and maybe this is a con, is that most people would have the same AM portion of the exam and the same PM portion, if you were taking, like, geo-tech. But, in this scenario now when you go computer-based, those things can be mixed up. So, it's not necessarily that, like, the morning portion might be easier. It might be that they could throw that afternoon portion at you first and you're just hit with a bunch of geo-tech questions and then they throw like, the morning type questions in the afternoon.
Mark Oakeson: The breadth questions. Yeah.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. There's no real, you know, rule of thumb there on what they could ask you and not ask you. So, that kind of sucks, I think. Because, mentally, I think people like knowing that they're all preparing for the same kind of examine, and when they throw all this stuff at you, that might --
Mark Oakeson: Well, and when I took the PE, I kind of liked that breadth portion, that morning portion, to kind of get my brain in gear, you know?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Work into it.
Mark Oakeson: Work into it. And then I could focus on my depth section, you know? But that's the way my mind works. I thought that was a little bit better. So, if they're throwing in, you know, the breadth and the depth stuff, kind of mixing it all up --
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And I don't know if that's for certain. But I have, you know, I've heard that they could ask you the PM questions first and throw you the AM stuff in the afternoon, just to mix it up. Beause the exam you're taking at one computer is not the same as the guy next to you, even if you're taking the same depth exams. So, that's the beauty for them to do a computer-based test. But that might suck for you. Anyway, that's another one.
Isaac Oakeson: What are some other pros you think? Sorry. I started going into cons.
Mark Oakeson: Well, let's talk about the different testing locations. There's going to be a lot of those, and so it'll be a lot more convenient to find a local testing location. And you're not going to be scheduling flights and trying to get somewhere, I guess, more remote. It'll be more convenient that way, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Oh yeah. So, just quick story. The first time I took the PE I was all gung-ho and I actually registered to take it in Arizona. I'm from Utah. So I paid all the money to fly down there. I had to get a hotel. I had to rent a car. And I took the exam, just got slapped in the face beause I was not ready for it. Did not prepare properly for it. And it was a huge waste of time and money. SoI wish, you know, if it was a local place that I could go take the exam, to me, that would be a lot better. I think that's really nice.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, absolutely. A lot more convenient.
Isaac Oakeson: And year round. You can just, you know --
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And just the logistics of all that, Isaac. Trying to find a place to stay, the hotels. Blah-blah-blah. There's a lot of things that you didn't have to -- You won't have to do.
Isaac Oakeson: And that just adds to people's anxiety about this exam in the first place, having to do all that.
Mark Oakeson: Well, this last one that we're going to bring up, Isaac, I don't -- It could be a pro or a con. But when they transfer to CBT format, how many references are we going to get?
Isaac Oakeson: You get one. One reference. That's it.
Mark Oakeson: So depending on your point of view, that could be good, or it could be bad. I tend to -- When I think of NCEES reference material, I'm thinking of the FE Reference Manual, right? My opinion is it's not the greatest piece of reference material in the world. It's just not. Is that what we're going to get?
Isaac Oakeson: That's what we're going to get. We're going to get one, fat reference manual. You know what, most people now use the Civil Engineering Reference Manual, or whatever it's called now, the PE reference manual from PPI. And if you go get it, go use our discount code and website, so you can get 15% off. If you head to civilengineeringacademy.com/ppi, and our code is CIVAC, and get 15% off that book. I still think that book is a valuable resource, even if this is going to go with one particular resource. I don't know if that's a pro or con. It kind of fits in both, but you're going to want to obviously study from the NCEES reference manual, because that's your only thing you're going to bring to the exam, similar to the FE. But at the same time, if you're looking for problems and resources and something to help you study you know, it might still be good to get the CERM, even if it's something you keep at workThat could be helpful too.
Mark Oakeson: So, is that going to force you to memorize more material then?
Isaac Oakeson: I think so. I think you'll have to memorize more material just so you don't have to be stuck looking up equations all the time and whatnot. But who knows? The other kind of, maybe we can -- Well, we'll hit some of these later. I'm kind of jumping ahead. But that is a pro. We've listed it on there as a pro, because you're focused on one reference manual and not a million. So, you just need that one.
Mark Oakeson: That's a good point, Isaac. I mean, when I took the PE, there were guys sitting, you know, a few tables away from me that were bringing in milk crates on dollies, just full of reference materials. They never used them all. But, you know, I don't know if it gave them a sense of security to have that much material, butin that regard, it's probably a plus, you know? Because --
Isaac Oakeson: Well, in my interview with Tim, also, he touched upon this, and I said, "Well, how are they going to handle the standards?". Because usually that's -- The students that bring in the most amount of books are guys that are taking the structural depth exam. And they're bringing in massive amounts of standards because they have to. It's all referenced in the -- They tell you you need it. So how are they going to handle that? And, from what my recollection is, he told everyone thatthey're going to have that as PDF reference as well. So, you know, it might not be the only reference, just the handbook that they're going to make. But you're going to have those standards, I think, as well that they've got called out. I don't see any way around that.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. I probably agree with that. And so, in that regard, it's a time-saver. You're not hassling with a million references trying to flip through pages and find things that you need. It'll all be there. It'll be the appropriate references, the appropriate standards, cited with just quick reference.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. But I totally agree with you. The handbooks that the NCEES produces -- Yes, they work. But they're not the most user-friendly. People don't like the variables they use because it usually has nothing to deal with what you learn.
Mark Oakeson: And there are inconsistent variables too. They use a variable in one equation, and then they'll use the same variable, but it has a different meaning in two equations down the page, you know? And it's like, "Holy smokes, man. At least be consistent".
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. We can't get this right. So, yeah, that's a negative, I think, overall on that. But, you know, you're going to use it. Let's go over this. So, the NCEES, some of what they promise as part of this, is that you're going to have enhanced security for exam content as a bonus.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. So they're making -- I guess you have to sign an agreement that you will not disclose any of the exam content, post exam, right? You can't go and talk to your buddies about what type of problems you solved or anything.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And that's similar as it is today. You sign that
Mark Oakeson: Plus, they have you on video surveillance as you're taking the test, right?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. You're in the testing room, they're watching you.
Mark Oakeson: So, enhanced security for sure.
Isaac Oakeson: More uniform testing conditions. What does that mean?
Mark Oakeson: Well, so everybody's in the same environment, right? These testing centers have the same ambient temperatures, and have the same facilities, and the same bathrooms. Everything's exactly the same. So it takes that variable, I guess, out of the equation. I'm trying to think of my ownPE test experience, and when I took it back in the day, and I don't know that those environments were exactly the same. It was quite a large auditorium that I was sitting in.
Isaac Oakeson: Oh, a huge.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. It was just rows and rows of tables, and you're sitting by a bunch of your colleagues going through the test. So, that's what's in my mind when I think of the actual test conditions. But I think being by yourself in a cubicle, taking it on a computer I don't know. I don't know that that's all bad. I think thatit's probably a good thing. I get a little distracted when there's a lot of people next to me asI'm testing. For me, it's a little better because I can be a little more focused.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. So that's good. They hit scheduling flexibility as a promise. So, we kind of hit that already. But you're more flexible because of this testing center, you can choose a different date, you can move things around, it's close, local. So that's nice. You don't have to take it at the same time. You can do at different times of the day. So, you're not a morning person? You don't have to do it in the morning. So, there you go. In-Testing tools, aimed at aiding chart reading.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. So they've got -- You know, when you've got the NCEES reference material and there's charts that you're supposed to read values from different engineering charts. Sometimes that's a little tough to get, you know, appropriate values. I was looking atsome of theNCEES, I guess it's promotional materialon some of the tools, the in-testing tools, and that was one of the cool things that I noticed is, once you pull up a chart that you're trying to read specific values on,you can snap right to the exact values, like, right within the test. And so, you can get a little more accurate values on your chart reading. It's kind of a cool little tool that they had.
Isaac Oakeson: That is a good thing. Well, one of these we want to talk about, I don't know if it's a plus, but they've listed this as a plus: alternative answer types. So you got multiple correct, point and click, drag and drop, and fill in the blank. If you're unfamiliar with those, those are all part of the FE exam. So, if you took that recently, you'll probably be familiar with those, but that'san NCEES promise. I actually think that's a minus because theexam right now is just straight up multiple choice. When you start throwing in different ways of solving these you know, multiple corrects, point and click --
Mark Oakeson: It becomes more subjective.
Isaac Oakeson: It's just like, "Aah". Yeah. Now you're thrown in an extra element to think about.
Mark Oakeson: Lashes your subject to the format that the fill in the blank maybe requires, you know? That may trip you up.
Isaac Oakeson: Let'shit our cons real quick. So, obviously this is one of the biggest cons is that it's not open book anymore. Dunt, dunt dunt. So, sorry. This is a big reason, I think, why you should get the exam done in 2021.Ecause it's nice to have the references you want to bring in. I know you can bring in suitcases fulls, but so what, you know? That's nice. So, only one reference. You know, maybe that's a positive for you, but, when you're dealing with theory problems, it's nice to have a textbook to help you out. Otherwise you're just going to have to know it. So, do you think the CERM will be worth using anymore? We kind of hit that a lot.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah, we did. And that's going to kind of -- I think it will be. But maybe the way it gets used will change, you know Once we understand what this NCEES reference is, what it's got, maybe the way you approach your studies and the way you use the CERM, I'm guessing, that's going to change based on whatever that --
Isaac Oakeson: I'm betting PPI puts in references to the NCEES handbook in the CERM. So, you'll have like two references, probably. That's my guess.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. No, I bet you're right. I bet you're right.
Isaac Oakeson: So, here's a con. You'll need to get to know the new references. We aren't sure all that you need is in there. So, that kind of ties in to that. You know, I'm not sure every equation and everything that's in there. Theory can be a problem. How about this one: References could be organized in an unfamiliar way. This is a big reason why you got to use it all the time, I think.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. And that's part of your efforts as you study, right Isaac? As you're trying to get familiar with that reference manual, since it's the only one. We emphasize that for our students, our clients that are studying for the FE, that we're helping study for the FE, is use that reference material because that's all you got on the test. You got to get familiar with it.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And if you're studying for that, go check it out: civilfereviewcourse.com. If you need a review for your FE. We referenced that a lot. That's right. We touched on this. You said memorization. You probably do need to memorize a few more problems. I imagine that's just going to help you overall. I think it'll be helpful to understand or memorize conversions, probably the mostTry to bust through those quickly, which you probably are doing anyway. But, hopefully, the reference manual is good and helps you along with that. How about this one: specific formatting for inputting answers?
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. We brought that up as one of the issues that could come up with these alternate answer types. I mean, sometimes thesecomputer-based -- You know, these applications for test taking, sometimes they require like a specific format. And if you don't input your answer in that exact format, then the answer might be wrong. Whereas if you had maybe an instructor, a professor that was grading that same answer, and you had something input as a different format, say like you know, like an equation, is a good examplet, those can be expressed in different formats. Equations are still equivalent, but they're expressed maybe a little bit differently, you know? And if you don't express that equation in the specific format that the testing software is looking for, then maybe it marks it wrong.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. That wouldn't be good. It wouldn't be good. Well, and also another con, just thinking out loud here that we threw on here, is: Are you going to commit to taking this? It was nice because the old way of doing things, you only had two times a year. It was an easy way to commit to a date, right? Like it's twice a year, that's it. Now, you can keep kicking the can, so to speak, and never feel like you're ready.
Mark Oakeson: Yeah. Yeah. So it's still going to be important to commit to a date and do all you can to stick to it.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And, in addition, you'll be charged a fee if you do kick the can down the road and keep rescheduling. They will charge you for that.
Mark Oakeson: So, they're disincentivizing that from happening?
Isaac Oakeson: Yes. And I believe right now they charge you $50 to reschedule that exam. So, you don't want to, but a lot of people still do because they just don't feel ready. Okay. We talked a little bit about alternative answer types. We talked about how that would maybe screw you over. It's just another thing to think about. Mark, what do you think is your plug for taking the exam in 2021?
Mark Oakeson: Well, if you are -- So, I would say, if you're maybe later in your career and you've kind of gotten used to the idea of being able to have all that reference material maybeI mean, I had some mentors in the start of my career that kind of get you up to speed, let you know the ropes, and kind of how things are going to go. And that was one of the things that they would always talk to me about, is "Yeah. When you're getting the PE test, this is what's going to happen. This is how it's going to go". And that kind of gave me a feel for how that was going to happen. You know, it helped me prepare, I thinkAt least giving me an idea of what to expect. And so, if you're that kind of a person that maybe you're a little bit later on in your career and you've had those mentors that have kind of helped prepped you and talked about, you know? Giving you their war stories about how they took the PE test, and maybe that's your mindset. And that's what you're geared up for. Maybe you try to get it in before that. That's my thoughts.
Isaac Oakeson: I agree. That's a good way to look at it. Personally I think it would be better to try to get it done in 2021, before it goes computer-based. But, either way, you're going to prepare for it the right way. And you're just going to take the exam the way they administer it and I promise you'll get through it the right way. But if you like the comfort of bringing in reference material, then I think 2021 is going to be your year to really shoot for that. I think you'll see a bump in numbers, actually, in people registering for the exam, because that's what always happens, before they make the big change.
Mark Oakeson: Right. And then you'll see people that are early adopters, you know? Those guys that like to get the latest and greatest upfront. Cutting edge technology, you know? The early adopters, they'll be jumping in and then everybody else. And I'm in this camp. I like to sit back and see how things fall out. So people sit back and kind of see "How did it go?", you know? And they'll be watching posts on social media or whatever, and getting a feel for how this new CBT test format went. And then we'll start to get a feel for how it is, and people can start to organizing their study patterns accordingly. But that's what I would do. I would be one of those that would maybe wait. I wouldn't be the first one out of the box to jump onto the CBT. I'd wait at least a couple cycles so that I can see what people were saying about it.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, cool. I think we kind of hammered everything about pros and cons, at least that we can think of. If you guys have any others, leave comments for us or shoot us an email. Would be interesting to hear your thoughts and opinions about it. Anything else you want to say before we wrap this up, Mark?
Mark Oakeson: No. I don't think this is anything to be scared of. I think it's just something we've got to adapt to and we'll do it.
Isaac Oakeson: And we'll be adapting our courses for this. So it'll be good stuff. If you need a course for the PE, go check out civilpereviewcourse.com, and we've got all the lecture modules and content you need there to help ACE this exam. Mark, thanks for joining this episode with me. It was fun to talk about this one.
Mark Oakeson: Okay. Thanks for having me.
Isaac Oakeson: See you later. Bye.
Mark Oakeson: Bye.
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