Talk to any licensed Professional Engineer (PE) and you are sure to hear him or her mention the Civil Engineering Reference Manual, or, as it is more commonly known, the “CERM.” The CERM is a reference manual written by Michael J. Lindeburg, PE, and published by PPI and contains multiple formulas, conversion factors, and facts and standards for all disciplines of civil engineering. The CERM has become the industry standard and is on the desktops or bookshelves of the majority of practicing engineers working in the industry today.
Many of these professional engineers will also share their experiences using the CERM as the primary reference resource when they took their PE exams. With NCEES transition to the computer-based testing (CBT) format in January 2022, all outside reference materials (including the CERM) are no longer allowed as a resource during testing and the only reference material allowed is the NCEES Professional Engineer Reference Handbook (PERH) which is displayed in the electronic, searchable format during the entire duration of the exam. This throws a wrench in many test prep strategies and appears to be an obstacle as the CERM used to be the cornerstone of PE exam preparation and the premier resource during the exam. I would like to stress to you the importance of realizing that while the CERM is no longer an allowed resource during the exam, it remains a critical resource to your success during test preparation.
I passed my PE Exam on the second attempt. During my test preparation prior to the first attempt, I disregarded the CERM. Honestly, I was discouraged that the CERM was no longer allowed, and equally baffled and frustrated that the 3-inch thick CERM had been distilled down into an approximately 400-page PDF document. Many test preparation resources still referenced the CERM with equations that were not featured in the new PERH, which compounded my frustrations. Reflecting back on the first preparation period, I can now see that ignoring the value of the CERM as a study tool was a serious mistake.
During the preparation period for my second attempt, I used the CERM as a study resource. I realized the fact that while it was no longer allowed during the actual test, the test specifications published by NCEES had not changed since 2015, hence the same material would be covered on the exam that is covered in the recent versions of the CERM. I used the CERM as a study resource and a bank for practice questions and a supplementary reference for civil engineering concepts. (Which by the way acing the concept questions is crucial to successfully pass the PE Exam!).
Also the Civil Engineering Academy Ultimate Breadth Course provides The Ultimate Homework Planner which breaks down a 15-week review period into weekly topics and provides associated homework problems from the CERM to gain additional practice and exposure to the topics covered by that specific week’s subject. The practice problems from the CERM were crucial to my success on my second exam attempt. I also used the CERM to read about the topic that I was studying that week. I found there were a lot of hidden nuggets of conceptual information about the week’s topic and much of this information helped to solve the problem completely or eliminate some of the answer choices presented in the conceptual problems that I encountered on practice tests during the exam preparation as well as on the concept problems during the actual exam.
At the end of the day, it is important to realize that the CERM still has incredible value in your exam preparation journey and you should use it as a study tool to master concepts for the breadth portion and as an additional resource for practice questions.
Author: Matt Fanghella
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