Failing the FE or PE Exam has been an unfortunate reality for many civil engineers who today are successfully practicing as licensed Professional Engineers. While this is an unwanted detour in our career. I wanted to share with you my experience with this and some tips on how to prepare for your next attempt to successfully pass the FE or PE Exam.
First, I think it is a good idea for everyone who takes the FE or PE exam (regardless of how you feel about your performance on the exam) to spend some time, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes, within 24 hours of taking the exam to write down the topics he or she struggled with or found challenging during the exam. I think this is a beneficial strategy for a few reasons. First, regardless of passing the exam or not, it helps you identify knowledge gaps and where your weak points are as a civil engineer, and which areas you should review material that will make you more knowledgeable and competent in your daily work in your career. Second, once the results are released you find out you will need to retake the exam, this list can provide you with a good starting point for what topics you should focus on for your next round of studying. If you have failed the PE Exam, NCEES provides you with a diagnostic report that will show your performance across all subject areas on your exam attempt. You can compare your list of weak points to the diagnostic report and use this to form a study plan to move forward in preparing for your next attempt.
If you find out that you failed the PE Exam, you need to evaluate your study strategy, your time allotted, and your study quality. Let’s dive into this evaluation process a bit more. First, you need to evaluate your study strategy. For example, when I first prepared for the PE Exam I focused a lot on theory and when I took the exam, I quickly realized I did not cover enough practice problems. Covering the theory in as much detail as I did is appropriate for a college course but not for preparation for the FE or PE Exam. The majority of your exam preparation should be spent practicing problems. Admittedly, I used another test prep company in preparation for my first attempt, and after coming to this realization, I enrolled in Civil Engineering Academy Breadth and Depth Courses after discovering their free practice problems on YouTube. Second, you need to evaluate how you allocated your time to studying.
Were you in the middle of a big project at work with tight deadlines that consumed more time of your work day than usual? Was the majority of your exam prep in the middle of the busy holiday season with family visiting, and attending parties, and events? Were major life events, such as getting married, having a child, a death or divorce, consuming your time and mental energy during your exam preparation period? All of these stressors are normal facets of our lives and can consume our time and energy distracting us from studying but it is important that we manage these challenges as they will also affect our careers as civil engineers. Ideally, you should spend about 3 months and practice with the material 2-3 hours per day on the weekday and 4-5 hours each weekend day. I realized that my study sessions were too long and that long duration negatively affected my retention of the material and the associated practice problems. You also need to evaluate the quality of the study time.
For example, it does not matter how long you sit at your desk with the study material if you are distracted by social media, 17 other tabs open in your browser, kids need attention or want to play, and your dog barking. Also, consider that you may need to physically change your study space to avoid distractions – maybe go to a local library or spend additional time at your office after work if you think it would be a quiet study space. One technique I found helpful during my own exam preparation was to set a timer on my phone for 1 hour and focus solely on exam-related content for 1 hour, once the alarm went off after an hour, allow myself 10 minutes to get up from my desk, walk around, use the restroom. Get a snack, etc… Then repeat the process for another hour and continue to do this for the entire study time period.
3. Sign Back Up!
I think the most important thing that you can do if you fail either the FE or PE Exams is to sign up and register to retake the exam immediately! Momentum is a powerful tool in your test preparation. You have already spent considerable time preparing for your first attempt, and you need to build upon that knowledge as a foundation for the next time – otherwise, you will forget much of the knowledge you already have gained. Registering for the exam as soon as possible provides you with a day on the calendar to set your goal and plan your exam preparation. I found out I failed the PE Exam around 10 am on a Wednesday morning, and by 2 pm that afternoon I was already enrolled for my next attempt (which I passed following these strategic tips!).
Once you're registered again, map your study plan using the realization that you have found in the reflection and evaluation processes discussed earlier and start working on practice problems. Check out the Civil Engineering Academy YouTube Page for free practice problems and consider Civil Engineering Academy Breadth and Depth courses for more practice problems and content review. Another great resource provided in the Breadth Course is The Ultimate Homework Planner, which breaks down test preparation topics by the week to help keep you on course. So what are you waiting for? Head over to https://civilengineeringacademy.com/review-courses/ and check it out!
We’ll see you there!
Author: Matt Fanghella
Website – https://civilengineeringacademy.com
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