That’s a fact: The PE Exam can be tricky. Whether it’s a calculation-based or a theoretical question, we have to watch out for everything during the exam to make sure our answer is correct. Our guest today will tell you how to prepare for the exam and handle those subtle questions that can trick you into choosing the wrong alternative.
Daniel Reyes is a structural engineer currently working at a consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio. He’s just beaten the exam’s low pass rates for repeat takers after enrolling in the Ultimate Civil PE Review Course, taking the PE Exam for the third time in April, and passing it. For all those who have failed the exam before, you can do this!
In today’s episode, Daniel and Isaac explain the importance of crushing the morning portion of the exam (and how it can help you in the afternoon portion), teaches you how to handle those questions you may not know how to solve, as well as the best resources and study habits you can have to set yourself up for success. And there’s more…Tune in to find out!
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 – http://www.civilengineeringacademy.com/ppi
Daniel Reyes, PE (LinkedIn) – https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-reyes-p-e-9a3014152
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course – https://civilpereviewcourse.com
The Ultimate Civil FE Review Course – https://civilfereviewcourse.com
CEA Youtube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPeFLBZ2gk0uO5M9uE2zj0Q
CEA Free Facebook Community – https://ceacommunity.com
CEA Practice Exams – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/exams
CEA Newsletter – https://civilengineeringacademy.com/join-our-newsletter
CEA Website – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
Civil Engineering Reference Manual – Click here
PPI Civil PE Structural Depth Practice Exams – Click here
PPI Six-Minute Solutions for the Civil PE Structural Problems – Click here
ASCE-7 – https://www.asce.org/asce-7
XactAnalysis – https://www.xactware.com
Reach out to Isaac – [email protected]
Transcript of Show
You can download our show notes summary here or get our transcript of the show below!
Isaac Oakeson: All right. Welcome to the Civil Engineering Academy podcast, Daniel. How's it going?
Daniel Reyes: Good. How about you, Isaac?
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, it's another fun day over here. I'm raising a newborn kid. I mean, my wife's basically doing all the work. But I sometimes have to bounce the kid in the morning and type with one hand, even while I'm working. It's a little crazy, but new routines with new kids is what I'm seeing what's happening. Well, I'm excited to have you join the show today. We connected kind of over Civil Engineering Academy. You recently passed the PE exam, you've just got a lot of momentum going into your career. I'm excited for you. So I guess to kind of start at the beginning, Daniel, how did you find yourself into civil engineering? What was the beginnings of that? Why did you want to go that route?
Daniel Reyes: Well, it's funny. I actually wanted to be an architect at one point, and I think because I liked drawing and designing when I was younger. But that was kind of fun [inaudible] gear my career path towards something in that field. But, you know, as I got closer to my undergrad studies, I realized that I think I like the engineering side better. How does it work? That just, you know, makes it look nice and pretty, but how do we make that functional and safe for people? So I think that was kind of my segue into civil engineering. And I realized that structural was probably going to be the way for me. It just fascinated me more out of the other topics.
Isaac Oakeson: Awesome! Did you have any mentors or anybody you looked up to that had gone into this world?
Daniel Reyes: Actually, no. I didn't really have any mentors. My parents, especially with dad pushed me to go into a math kind of oriented field, and he told me engineering would be a good field for me to go into. I think that, coupled with my background and, you know, wanting to design things, I think that kind of was a good pairing. So I think that's what put me in that direction. My parents and my desire to design things.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. That's great. That's a great combination. And knowing that, in the future you can work well with both sides because I've heard architects don't have the greatest love for engineers sometimes.
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. It's vice versa, I tell you. It's a hate relationship, but works.
Isaac Oakeson: So why don't you tell me what you do for work now? Like, where are we at now and what do you do?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. So I work at a structural consulting firm here in Columbus, Ohio, and we do commercial type buildings. A Lot of warehouse-styled structures, big, massive footprints, you know. We do like retail applications, like Wendy's or Tim Horton's, those type of fast food chains. And we also get into some residential, multifamily or one-off applications with homes, like residential single story homes and things of that nature. So we get a variety of work. So it's been a nice, good change of pace for me as it's getting more technical savvy, developing new skills. So it's really good and the work is varied. You know, there's different types of work we get.
Isaac Oakeson: Were you doing anything before that?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. I actually worked at a company that they did the forensics type work. So more related to insurance, property loss, more litigation side with insurance companies. You know, when these hurricanes or, you know, these floods, natural disasters come through, someone has to pay the dehydrate. So it's usually these big insurance companies, and so they would hire out these third-party consultants to kind of overlook. You know, review, like, the damage, and from like a more of a technical standpoint. What happened? How do we get here? How do we fix it? And the cost associated with it? So I was more --
Isaac Oakeson: Wow. That's interesting.
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. It was interesting. So I did a lot of estimating with the software called XactAnalysis. And it's like a tool that's pretty standard in the insurance industry for property loss. So I've got to develop some skills, estimating things. But it just wasn't my passion. I was more interested in the forensic side. Fortunately, I didn't get to experience a whole lot of that. But I knew I wanted to develop more technical skills and learn more about structural engineering. So that's kind of how I made it to where I am now.
Isaac Oakeson: Well, it's always fun to hear people's journey, how they got into civil engineering, you know, and what you're doing. Everyone's path is a little bit different and it sounds totally like you're going in the direction you want to head. So that's exciting. Now let's dive into, like, the PE exam. I know you're a recent test-taker of that, you recently found out the results, and you've been able to pass it. Can you tell us your experience with the PE exam and maybe even touch on what you thought was most difficult?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. Well, the PE exam is no joke. It's tough, but if you prepare for it, you can get through. But yeah. I took it, this was my third time. So I mean, I'm a repeat taker. Three people, I like to call it.
Isaac Oakeson: Uhum. Hey, I'm there with you.
Daniel Reyes: I think just having that exam experience prior, you know, not passing the first two times, I really buckled down and I found the areas that I needed to focus on. They send you the diagnostics telling you where you need to focus more efforts on. So it's a good tool to use. And I think the toughest part was just making the time to study and just studying the right way. Making sure you're doing the right problems and not getting inundated with, you know, things you're probably not going to see, like really long problems. You know, they may be good. I think the key is to find those problems that are more geared towards the PE exam. Like, there's great practice problems that I found on your website, Civil Engineering Academy, which was really helpful. You know, especially for the morning portion. And I think you've put it -- You said it [inaudible] well here on your website, you get to the morning, you want to crush it, all right? Get as much as you can correct, because it makes the afternoon that much more [inaudible], or at least less -- You know, I guess less intense. You can miss a few more in the afternoon than the morning. I guess that's what I'm trying to say.
Isaac Oakeson: Hey, you got it, right. Yeah. We're always preaching that. You got to crush that morning portion because it is so much easier for you than the afternoon. And if you can do that, then it's going to lift a huge weight off your shoulders. Now, you don't realize that when you're in the exam, but I'm just telling you after you get those results sometimes and you're thinking, "How did I pass?" Like, "What? Because I totally screwed that afternoon up."
Daniel Reyes: I agree.
Isaac Oakeson: And then you're like, "Wow, I did really well in the morning."
Daniel Reyes: Right. Right. And you know, there's a lot of qualitative questions too, not just quantitative. And those are tricky, especially in the morning. So I think it's just -- You know, Civil Engineering Reference Manual was very helpful. You know, just tabbing that up going through it, and all the topics that are listed on the exam specifications on [inaudible] website. So using that reading sort of reference material and just doing practice problems. I mean, I think that was the biggest thing for me. It was just problems and problems.
Isaac Oakeson: Daniel, what was your depth section?
Daniel Reyes: My depth section was structural.
Isaac Oakeson: Historically the guys taking structural, bring in a lot of books, a lot of reference material. What is your advice around that? Did you look at all the references you brought? Because people are going to ask this same question that are going to take -- You know, people that are taking the structural depth exam always bring this up. And so I'm curious what your experiences with the amount of resources you brought in, the time of the exam, and dealing with all that.
Daniel Reyes: Right. Well, I had a suitcase full of books, all more geared towards the afternoon. So yes. I brought all of them, including the very thick AASHTO book, which I don't know much about. So my background is more of building structural engineering, not bridge. But yes, I did bring that. Honestly, I didn't really use probably half of the references I brought for the afternoon. You know, there's a list of them, but I use probably maybe four or five of them. So you have your masonry code, you have your concrete code, you have your AISC steel code, and the wood code. Those were probably the main ones that I used.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. I have a follow-up question to you on that.
Daniel Reyes: Okay.
Isaac Oakeson: So the spec will always list all those references and codes and standards. Was it that you just had a lot of the standards memorized when you were plugging through a problem and you noticed they just had to reference that because they, you know, they included as part of the problem, or was it just not even asked, do you think?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. Some of the references I brought, I brought just in case, beause they can ask anything from any code. But when you're reviewing, or studying, I should say, you recognize problems, even though it's pretty obvious, like, there'll be one on wood. And sometimes it's as simple as looking up a reference in a table, sometimes it's an equation. But they don't try and disguise it. It's pretty obviously what they're asking for. I mean, they are known to be a little tricky, but for the most part, you'll know if it's a concrete question, you'll know if it's a steel question. You'll know if it's based on, for example, the ASCE-7, which has minimum design loads for structures. Those type of questions, you'll know right off the bat. But it just depends on what they want from that particular code. So, I really know -- You need to be familiar with those codes, at least tabbing it up, knowing the tables to look for, especially in the wood code. You know, you have different species and different grades, lumber, glulam, and all that.
Isaac Oakeson: So don't not bring them. Have them available.
Daniel Reyes: Exactly.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay.
Daniel Reyes: Honestly, I would stress to bring all the reference material. Yes, it's a lot. Yes, you're going to bring a suitcase and maybe a backpack like I did. But I'd rather have it and not need it than not have it and need it. Because then at that point you're just guessing. And you don't want to gues, unless it's a couple problems usually. I have no idea, like, that was on AASHTO. There was a bridge problem I said, "I'm not sure". I narrowed it down to two and I said [inaudible].
Isaac Oakeson: That's what you got to do sometimes.
Daniel Reyes: Exactly.
Isaac Oakeson: I mean, I think that really helps people understand, like, the volume of stuff you're bringing in and what they really need. And I specifically remember at the time I did the geo-tech depth exam, and they didn't list the ASCE-7 at the time as a code book that you needed to bring in. But I remember they asked something about factor loads. And so you had to remember, you know, "1.2 dead + 1.6 live", but that was just something you had in your mind, you know what I mean? They've now listed that as a spec, but it's always helpful to bring those things in whether you got stuff memorized or not. I think it's still good advice. I think what you said is spot on. How surprising was these theory questions? It usually takes people off guard. Did you feel like that was a big challenge on the exam?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah! Excuse me. I think, especially in the morning portion, the breadth exam, I had probably a handful of qualitative theory type questions, and a couple of them were geotech. And I was able to kind of narrow it down to a couple. Like, I can eliminate two of the four, and then I said, "Okay, I'm going to come back to that". And I was a little surprised, but not overwhelmed by it because there were quantitative questions, you know, calculation- based. And those I felt a little more comfortable with because I had prepared, and I've seen it two times prior or so. The question is same, but you know, those qualitative ones can really trip you up on the exam. And I think, as an examinee, when you're preparing to take it, I would say not to get stuck on those. If you don't know what they want or what it is, if you can narrow it down to two possible answer choices, start highlight it, come back to it later. Don't get stuck on it. Because I think you said it too, Isaac, the exam is also about speed, and some questions take maybe 30 seconds to a minute. Great. Those are the gimmies.
Daniel Reyes: But then there's some that take a little longer, you have to really think about it. So it just depends on the exam and what they decide to put on it. But you will see qualitative questions, you will see quantitative. Probably more quantitative, calculation-based than qualitative. But if you see those qualitative, theory-based ones, they can trip you up because you're like, "Oh, this is a calculation. Oh no, it's not. Or maybe it is, but it's not asking for a number". So I think it's important to recognize that as well. I see you're laughing, so you know what I'm talking about?
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. Well, another common question I get, and maybe you can help me answer it, is do you feel like the exam is tricky at all? Do they purposely try to mess with you?
Daniel Reyes: Well, I will say, in the morning portion, it can be a little tricky because they may ask for something that you've seen before, but in a different way, or they may put a factor there, or something that could just kind of throw you off. But if you read the question carefully and really read what it's asking for -- I mean, talk word for word, underline, if you can, the key components of that question and see really what are they asking for. That's one.
Daniel Reyes: The afternoon, at least for structural, I would say, it can be tricky because there's so many references, tables, and the codes. Like, for wood, the wood code has so many footnotes under the tables. And if you don't read those notes carefully, it'll bite you. And the ACI 318, ASCE-7 seven, I mean, they're just -- It's not intentionally clear in those codes, so you have to really read and interpret it correctly. And I think that's where experience comes in, because that's why they require, in any discipline, but they require at least a four-year minimum requirement to sit.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah. And I also think sometimes, you know, they might throw some additional information in there that's not really needed to solve the problem. So like you're saying, read through that. I always like to write down all the things they gave me before I started solving it, right? So write down, you know, the volume or what -- You know, write down all the things they're giving you, and then see what they're asking for and really see if it plugs into what you need to solve for. You know, and sometimes they might have most commonly solve for things in there too, as an answer selection. And off you go and you missed some sort of conversion, and it's there and you're like "Yes!" and that's really wrong. So watch out for that stuff.
Daniel Reyes: Exactly. I agree. Watch out for that.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay. Well Daniel, what advice would you have for someone repeating the exam? I mean, most people check out these NCEES pass rates and then see as repeat takers it's heartbreaking. Because first time takers is like 65 to 70%. Repeat takers is half of that. So what advice would you give to people that are repeating this exam?
Daniel Reyes: Well, I'd say stay determined. I know it's tough because, Isaac, I actually reached out to you after I took the October exam. So I took it in October 2020 of last year, and I thought I did better the first time -- Excuse me. And that wasn't the case. I didn't pass and I was just completely at a loss. You know, put in the time and effort, the money, and just to find out that you missed it, and you just didn't pass. And I tell you, it was devastating. Perhaps to my wife though, because she's been very supportive and she said, "You know what? Why don't you just take it in April? Just take the next exam. I think you could get through it". And I think that was the important thing. I think it was one of the greatest decisions, I say she made it, because I was really hesitant. But she said, "You know, take it in April, and then we'll see how it goes". And I think that was an important thing because it was still fresh in my head. I had just taken it. Everything was still fresh in my head. I had all my references. I think I just needed to, you know, do a few more problems, just expose myself to more problems and just really focus and hone in. "Okay, what didn't I do well on?", and focus on those areas.
Daniel Reyes: But, yeah. It's tough, but you know, stay determined. Don't let the numbers -- You know, don't let that distract you. Don't let that hinder you pursuing the exam. I mean, it's a huge goal. It's something that I think all engineers should get, especially if you want to be successful in your career. And it's easier said than done. But you really have to have that motivation, determination, persist forward. And I was able to do it. Yes, it took me three times, but anybody can do it. You just have to have the right mindset, stay focused, stay determined, use resources, just do problems, and depending on what depth you're taking, make sure you have those codes, make sure you have the references that they call out. You don't want to be caught without them. That's all I have.
Isaac Oakeson: That's great advice, man. You've brought up a couple things there. One of them I'm hearing is that you really need a good support system, and your wife helped push you. It always surprises me how his exam affects other people, not just the exam taker. But it's like, it can be a drag on the whole family, you know what I mean? And if your mental attitude is not right, it can really drag the rest of your circle down a little bit. And they want to be there to help you, they want you to succeed. So you know, they know it's important to you and, you know, it's important to them too, and it's going to be a springboard to everything you're doing in life. And that's awesome that you had that support there. So don't give up. I can't remember what I said when you reached out to me, but if anybody -- I'm always around and I really do appreciate when people reach out to me, because I love just chatting with them about what happened and just trying to be a springboard to help them realize that, you know, you're not alone in this.
Isaac Oakeson: We've had many people come through our courses that are repeat takers, and there's no problem with that. I just want to help people get over that hurdle because I was a repeat taker and I understand the challenges of that, and the mental hurdles, and you beat yourself up, and all of a sudden you're going to the exam with a crappy attitude, and you've already failed if you're doing that. So I think you had some good points there.
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. Exactly.
Isaac Oakeson: So, yeah. I appreciate you reaching out to me. Anyway, what's some books or resources that you have found very helpful? I know you mentioned our resources, Civil Engineering Academy, and we'll definitely link that up. But are there some other resources outside of Civil Engineering Academy you found helpful?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. Actually PPI has some really good practice exams, at least for structural. There's two full 40-question afternoon depth exams, which they were challenging, but they were really good to just kind of referencing your codes. Yeah. Just, you know, getting used to those type of questions and just tabbing through your code books and know where to look. Problem recognition, that was key. Like we were talking about earlier, you really want to know what the question type is and, at least for structural, what's it asking for, what code is being referenced. So those were good. And then they also have six-minute solutions as well that I found helpful for the afternoon as well. So I think those were two great references. I've read online that people say six-minute solutions are not practical because they're really long. They're not really six minutes long. But it's good practice because it really gets you focused. It helps hone in on most types of questions, just knowing where to look and, you know, it helped me. It helped me a lot. I did, I think, the whole all hundred and some problems.
Isaac Oakeson: Even if they're way difficult, it's still giving you exposure to problems. And you know, they might not ask that whole thing, but a portion of it they could definitely ask. So, yeah. Definitely good advice there.
Daniel Reyes: And then I also used some of the Civil Engineering Academy. You made some good YouTube videos for the morning portion for the different morning topics. So I actually went through those again and those really helped kind of freshen up the morning stuff for me as well. And just tabbing up my Civil Engineering Reference Manual. So that was really helpful as well, just to kind of -- You know, they're quick problems, but they're good problems. I think it kind of helped expose me to like some of the various depth questions, such as geotech, water resources, and construction too, because I had some trouble with the construction portion because those can get tricky.
Isaac Oakeson: That's awesome. So you used our YouTube channel. You also used some of our coursework, is that correct?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. I signed up for the Ultimate Review Course, which I thought was nice, and that helped, you know, just -- I really liked how you had like all depth modules available. You can buy one but you get all of them. So yeah, if you're focused on geo-tech or construction, you could focus on that, but you also have the other topics you could use if you want, hammer out some more problems, like if there's a specific depth or breadth portion that. For example, you know, water resources. You know, you can maybe do a few of those problems, the ones in the afternoon would be a little more involved, but I think those will still help kind of keep things fresh and help you, you know, maybe pick up a few things you weren't too sure on.
Isaac Oakeson: Yeah, I think that's awesome. Yeah. So I think that's kind of one of the things that distinguish us from a lot of other stuff is that we give you all of them in one course. So, you know, take it if you need it, if you don't need it, then don't touch it. I'm always surprised that some of the emails you get, because people are sometimes like, "I just want the structural one only". And I'm like, "Yeah, but you get them all. So if you don't want them, just don't use them". But if you want to brush up on something, you know, like you said, it's there for you if you want it. And that's taught by Andy Richardson. We are actually right in the middle of -- Really close to updating all of that content. So it's going to look really good here very soon. So I'm excited to share that with people as we do that. But I'm glad that helped you a lot, and Andy is a good guy and he does a good job as well. So definitely check that out if you want to. It's at civilengineeringacademy.com, if you want to grab that. So what are your plans now, Daniel? Now that you've passed, what does the future look like? How do you think this is going to help you?
Daniel Reyes: That's a good question. I think where I'm at right now, my current company, it's a good spot to be in for me. [inaudible] up. I'm still learning. Yeah, I passed the exam, I got my PE, but you know, any engineering field you're always going to continue to learn because things are changing and you'll never know at all. Just don't be arrogant and realize that that's just how it is. But I think just the experience that you gain over the years, that's really what sets you apart from other engineers or maybe the younger ones, because then you can kind of be the mentor. So I think that's what I want to do. I want to continue to hone in on my technical skills, learn more building design, you know, really develop that, and at some point maybe become a mentor, you know? Help some of the younger engineers, those who are getting their EITs, those who are, you know, getting ready to sit for the PE.
Daniel Reyes: Maybe be like a guide for them to help them out, because I think if I can share my knowledge and pass it on to someone else, I think that's one of the most rewarding things you can do as an engineer in my opinion. Openly help your generation, you know? And I think that's a goal of mine. Also I don't know if I'll do consulting for the rest of my life. I think I'll do for the foreseeable future. We'll see where the road takes me. And I may take a step back and do something that's still in the engineering field but maybe even not as technical, calculation-heavy. Maybe something a little less intensive as I get older. And who knows, maybe I'll start a side hustle or start my own little consulting firm. Who knows?
Isaac Oakeson: Who knows? Well, it opens the doors to a lot of different things. And sometimes you don't know what you don't know until you get some experience under your belt. And you'll see areas that you maybe want to dip your toe in, whether it's project management, or management, or entrepreneurship, or ownership, or mentorship, like you mentioned. Like there's just a lot of different things you can dive into that either can take you more into engineering and calculations or, you know, allow this to reach different levels that you haven't even thought about. So I think you've got a good plan there. So that's good news.
Daniel Reyes: Thanks!
Isaac Oakeson: Well Daniel, I appreciate you jumping on the show today. This has been really fun for me to hear your experience, where you've come from, where you're going, how you got through the exam. And I think it's definitely going to inspire other people that listen to this as they go through this and kind of struggle as well. So I think being a repeat taker is nothing to shy away from. I wish more people would own that because a lot of people don't. And you know, it doesn't mean you're a horrible engineer. It's just a stepping stone. You know, these testing centers, testing processes are just things sometimes you have to learn how they do that. And that's a separate thing. So anyway, I appreciate it. Daniel, what's the best way for people to get ahold of you if they wanted to reach out to you, maybe ask you questions or further the conversation?
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. You can find me on LinkedIn. My name's Daniel Reyes, so you can look me up on there. I'm also available by email, personal email. I can send it to you, if you want.
Isaac Oakeson: Sure. I mean, if you want it in show notes, we can put it in show notes.
Daniel Reyes: Okay. We could do that. I mean, I'm still part of the Facebook group within the Civil Engineering Academy, so I can be found on there. And you know, Facebook. I'm also on Facebook. So you can shoot me a message on messenger. And yeah, I can be reached pretty easily. Again, I encourage people, if they have questions and they want to ask me, I'm more than willing to help. I could share my experience, even some of the reference material. I have some practice exams and stuff that I think could really help. Even if it's just for the morning portion. If they're a structural major or going to take that depth exam, you know, I'm available to help if I can. So feel free to reach out.
Isaac Oakeson: Okay, we'll go ahead and link that. And just so people are aware, we do have communities built for helping people that are going through this. And one of them is totally free to you. So if you go to ceacommunity.com, it'll take you to the main Civil Engineering Academy free community. We also have community specifically built for our course members. So whether you're taking the FE or the PE, and you get lifetime access to those private groups. So if you do want to be a mentor and help others, I've noticed that many of our previous course students will jump in there and try to help people that are going through the next round of exams, which is always nice to see. Anyway, Daniel. Thanks for jumping on. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and I'll see you next time.
Daniel Reyes: Yeah. Thanks, Isaac. I appreciate it. Thanks for having me on.
Isaac Oakeson: All right. See you.
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