The civil engineering PE exam is a tough exam, there's no question about it, and sometimes you just need extra help in order to pass. Today I'm going to break down what the civil PE exam is all about and what the best civil PE review courses are available for you to explore so you can ace this exam the first time (or fifth!).
Because this post is so long I've dropped a Table of Contents below for you so you can jump to any section you want to read up on.
Facts About the Civil PE Exam
What is the PE Exam?
The civil engineering PE exam is officially titled The Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. It is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying® (NCEES) organization.
By their definition, "The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam tests for a minimum level of competency in a particular engineering discipline. It is designed for engineers who have gained a minimum of four years’ post-college work experience in their chosen engineering discipline."
I consider earning a PE license a MUST if you are a civil engineer. This will be the springboard to the rest of your working career and will launch you into areas of engineer success you've never been before.
If you're considering the benefits of the license check out this video I made awhile ago about it. It might help you know how important it is for you to earn!
How Many Questions are There?
The exam itself is a 80 question paper and pencil based exam comprised of a AM and PM section. The AM or Breadth Section is the same for all civil engineers testing you on a variety of subjects from the five major disciplines. The PM or Depth section is another 40 questions that are specifically designed for the depth exam of your choice. This could be construction, geotechnical, structural, transportation, and water resources. You chose the exam upon registration with the NCEES.
How is the Exam Scored?
This is a question that get's often asked. In fact many wonder What Score Do I Need to Pass the PE Exam? The NCEES has a massive description to how they score and factor things into what a passing score should be.
Here's what they say:
After each pencil-and-paper exam administration, every exam undergoes extensive statistical analysis to determine the minimum level of performance required for entry into the profession. This rigorous process helps ensure an equitable licensure system for examinees while upholding the standards of the profession. The steps are as follows:
1. All answer sheets are scanned as they are received from the exam sites. Scanners are calibrated before and during scoring.
2. A psychometric analysis is performed on a sample of answer sheets from each multiplechoice exam to identify any questions with unusual statistics. These questions are flagged for review.
3. At least two subject-matter experts, who are licensed engineers or surveyors, review the flagged items. In addition, the subject-matter experts consider examinee comments about specific exam questions. If the reviews confirm an error in a question, credit may be given for more than one answer.
4. When the analyses and reviews are completed, NCEES changes the answer keys as necessary. The passing score and final correct answers for each exam are then used to score all answer sheets. A percentage of the answer sheets are manually verified, and the results are compared to the machine score to ensure accuracy.
5. NCEES releases the results to the licensing boards and testing agencies, who in turn report the results to examinees
The actual results are simply reported as a pass or a fail. So you can imagine the elation of getting a pass and the crushing results of a fail in your inbox. They do however provide you with a diagnostic report that breaks down what areas you did well at what areas you sucked at, er, I mean, didn't score as high on. It's at least helpful in letting you know of areas to boost your study efforts.
Here's an example of one:
Based on experience you should have to get 56/80 correct on the exam. If you can score close to 70% on this exam then you've got it aced. In fact, one of the main secrets is Crushing the AM Portion of the Exam. If you want to know other secrets I've got on passing the PE then give our podcast CEA 38 - Top PE Exam Tips and Strategies a listen.
When Can I Take the PE Exam?
Every civil engineer is anxious to get the PE exam done and passed. The question about when you can take the exam comes up often. Most states require that you have at least 4 years of engineering experience (working under a licensed PE) to earn your PE license. Some states require less so you really need to look into your own state's division of professional licensing (DOPL) and figure that part out before you take the exam.
This also affects where you might like to be employed because you need to work under a licensed PE to qualify for the experience.
Many states are de-coupling the exam from the experience. So, what the heck does that mean? It means that you can take the test earlier than the experience required to earn the PE. It means you can take the PE really soon after graduating and then earn your experience later. After you've earned your experience then you can apply and presto, you've got your license. De-coupling is becoming more popular but you'll still need to check with your own state to see what the qualifications are.
I myself tried taking the exam in Arizona after only two years of experience (all they required) but I failed the first time so I decided to wait it out until I have my four years of experience (what Utah requires) and then take it. Taking and re-taking the exam can be expensive to find out all you can from your own state's DOPL and learn when you can take it the PE exam and when you can earn your PE license.
The exam itself is offered every April and October (unless you get hit by COVID, and then they cancel them on you - which really sucks). Eventually the exam will become computer based, or as the NCEES calls it, CBT or computer-based-testing. When this happens it will be offered year round similar to the fundamentals of engineering (FE Exam).
When Do I Get My Results?
Based off experience it typically takes 10 weeks to get results back. They use to be mailed to you but now they just post the result in your NCEES account and shoot you an email. So if you take the exam in April you can expect results back around July and if you take the exam in October then you can expect a nice Christmas present to arrive in your inbox (it could be the best present you'll ever receive or the worst!).
Here's what the NCEES has to say about it, "Typically, NCEES releases results to licensing boards 8–10 weeks after the exam date. How and when examinees receive their results varies by state. Some boards use NCEES Exam Administration Services to release the results directly to examinees; some release them through another testing service such as PCS; and other boards release the results themselves. In addition, some state boards must validate the results at a board meeting before they can release them to examinees."
A List of All PE Review Courses Available
Let's dive into why you came here in the first place - what courses are available and how good are they? Are they worth it? We'll, there are quite a few and they ALL range in what they offer so we'll try our best to break this down and give you our own rating of each course. Having said that, some links are affiliate links below and at no cost to you we make a small kick-back for sharing the course with you. At the end of the day, we are trying to be very transparent about what's out there for you so you can make the best informed decision.
Let's begin by sharing a comprehensive list of ALL the civil PE review courses we could find including our very own and highlighting the top three. Below this list we have a link and a quick description of each course if you want to check them out. We've placed them in our ranking system for you so you don't have to dig for what is best. Also, if you know of more then shoot us an email and we'll add it to the list!
1. The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course $397 - $997
This PE course was developed by Isaac Oakeson from the trenches of experience. It provides great material, amazing support and is very cost effective. They also recently launched depth courses that can accommodate your breadth material. You can check that out here. The course is based on the NCEES specs and gives you just what you need to pass. Are we biased? Probably. Do students love us? Yes they do. A full review is given below.
2. PPI2PASS $195 - $3,067
PPI is a massive company that has helped engineers from what seems like the beginning of the PE licensure. They recently changed ownership from Michael Lindeburg (author of the CERM) to Kaplan. There's been some trade offs with that, but they offer amazing content to study from and also have courses to help. They are taught by a variety of instructors and have been the go to source for all civil PE material. A full review can be seen below.
3. School of PE $1,190 - $1,890
Since 2004, School of PE (SOPE) has provided PE exam review courses to help exam applicants prepare for and pass their chosen NCEES PE exam. Their courses are taught by engineers who have both industry and teaching experience. Their instructors’ main objective is to help you pass your PE exam, and because of that, they prepare comprehensive lectures that will cover the topics specified on the NCEES exam.
4. Engineering Education and Training (EET) $550 - $650
5. Dr. Tom's Classroom $750 - $950
6. TestMasters $1499 - $1599
7. Capstone Learning Associates $699
8. Illinois Institute of Technology $1200
9. Cognistar MGI
10. UMBC Training Centers
If you know of any other courses that you've run across let us know in the comments or feel free to email me at [email protected] so we can add them!
A Review of The Top 5 PE Courses in 2020
#1 The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course
The course we personally built to help you ace this exam is always ranked one of the highest. Check out testing.org and verify for yourself! The course comes with a lot of content, plenty of problems, a cost that is affordable, and amazing support.
COST $397 - $997
Pros and Cons of The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course
The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course offers your biggest bang for your buck. You get to chose which level of access you'd like depending on if you're a crammer or you need more preparation. Chose the one year option and you'll have the course for a full year of access just in case you need it. With a 15-day money back guarantee it's hard to pass this up.
PPI offers the most comprehensive course with the amount of material you can get. There seems to be an endless amount of options. Everyone uses the CERM so sometimes it makes sense to combine that with the a course. They are more on the expensive side but PPI is a proven company with good reputation.
COST $195/wk - $3067
Pros and Cons of PPI
PPI has been the industry leaders in PE prep for a very long time. They offer so much material in all disciplines of engineer that they might lack the personal touch of other companies. They offer all you'd want to take if you're willing to pay for it, but sometimes the cost is justified.
#3 School of PE
The School of PE offers great course options. In terms of overall value they are ranked very high. They have good content, their cost is in range of others and includes manuals and content. I haven't heard much of the support but I'm sure its fine too.
SOPE offers a variety of options to take a review course. Their PE Civil exam review course consists of 84 hours of comprehensive lectures and practice sessions. The course is divided into two parts. The first part includes 56 hours of fundamentals review, which covers the common topics of the breadth and depth exams. The second part includes 28 hours of discipline specific review. Their material is good and is often talked about as being the best part of the course.
#4 Engineering Education and Training (EET)
EET is relatively new to the PE review course market but they have popped up in forums and are gaining popularity. They provide good material and allow to to select what you need to study a la carte at about $600 per course.
The word on the street is the EET has a pretty good review course for your depth section of choice. Because they offer courses a la carte it's nice to just get what you need and run with it. They provide their own material and provide good value for the cost.
#5 Dr. Tom's Classroom
Dr. Tom's Classroom is relatively new to the civil engineering review course arena. His course costs look to be the least at this time as you get both breadth and depth review material wrapped up in one nice package.
COST $750 - $950
Dr. Tom's classroom looks like a fun course to take. The main owner is a retired professor that started helping mechanical engineers and now helps civil by enlisting a variety of instructors that are civil focused. His course costs are a bit cheaper now to celebrate 10 years of being open. He helps you quickly identify problems you are solving and calls it the Dr. Tom Method.
Conclusion and Final Thoughts
The truth with the courses that I've outlined and highlighted is that you can't go wrong with any of them. Each has pros and cons associated with it. The fact of the matter is that you get what you put into studying. If you can focus on practicing the problems and always find more to do then you'll be way ahead of the game and on the path to success. As one of my past students said - the devil is in the details! Courses provided structure and accountability to help you get back into school mode and force yourself to get serious about this massive milestone in your life. With that said, here are my final thoughts and awards for the top civil PE review courses (the others are decent too!):
Dr. Tom's Classroom - they are affordable and new. They weren't in the top five but they get the award! I'd say The Ultimate Civil PE Review Course is a close second.
PPI - they have THE most content you can find and have been around the block the longest. SOPE is a second place finisher as they give you some great content as well but nowhere near the options of PPI.
Additional Exam Material and Recommended Resources
If you are looking for other material you may consider getting our very own practice exams, The Ultimate Civil PE Breadth Exam Volume 1 and 2 in addition to our depth exams. They give you life-like exam experience. We also recommend grabbing a copy of the Civil Engineering Reference Manual from PPI and it's associated practice problems book - use our discount code of CIVAC to get 15% off your order.
The more problems you can get the better so load up on exams and problems to do! If you would like to check out more resources then check out our resources page.
Take a PE Assessment Quiz
Ready to quiz yourself and see how you're doing? Take this 5 question theory quiz and see where you're at!
Everyone and their dog has an opinion about courses and what they provide, didn't provided, etc. What do you think? Sound off in the comments below and let's hear it!
Want more great content delivered to your inbox? Join over 4000 other civil engineers like you and grab our Civil Engineering Academy Newsletter! Go here to sign up and get a free FE or PE resource!