How to Pass the PE Exam: Tips to Pass on the First Try
If you want to pass the PE on the first try, read all these tips. You likely have never heard many of these! These tips are shared with the NCEES PE exam in mind, but will apply to the California state specific seismic exam, the civil surveying exam, and any other exam as well.
1. Schedule an appropriate time frame to study.
2. Sacrifice something you don’t need to make time for studies.
3. Make study a scheduled priority.
4. Practice exams are more effective for learning than just working problems.
5. Adjust your study schedule according to exam results.
6. Using practice test results: study your strengths first, weaknesses second.
7. Purchase the Civil Engineering Reference Manual as soon as possible. Practice using it as a reference.
Above are the main aspects of preparing for the NCEES and state specific exams to receive a professional engineering license. Below, more detailed explanations are provided- for those who really want to gain an advantage.
PE Exam Tips -Expanded Explanation
1. Time: Give yourself as much time as you can. Most who pass say they invested more than 300 hours of study. Be sure to start with a full practice exam. Know where you stand in each subject. Allot the appropriate amount of study time to each subject.
2. Sacrifice: Prior to implementing your review course, each day before today was filled with some activities: work, sleep, eating, and optional activities. Some of these optional activities must make way to provide the time you need to study, take review courses, familiarize yourself with reference books, and to learn your NCEES approved calculator.
3. Regularity: The mind-body system responds well to routine. It likes it. Capitalize on this. I recommend taking a full 8-hour practice exam every Saturday (and Sunday, if you live in California and will take the seismic and surveying exams). If you have Fridays free, take your practice exams on Friday. Duplicate the actual conditions of test day as closely as you are able.
Find a test area similar to the situation of the test room. Arrive for your practice exam at the time you need to be seated in the exam room. (For example, in some states you must be seated at 7:40 when the instructions begin to be read. NCEES policy does not allow examinees to enter after this time.) Begin the exam exactly at the time scheduled in your state. Give yourself a 1-hour break between each 4-hour test.
Between taking practice tests, set a regular study time. An hour and a half after a reasonable dinner is a good time. For example, if you eat your evening meal at 6:30, study from 8 to 9 Monday through Thursday. Give yourself Friday off. On the Saturday between practice exam Saturdays, I got to my desk by 8 and studied for at least 4 hours.
4. PE Practice Exams: Take these regularly. I studied for three months. I took a practice exam every other Saturday. If you live in California, you may also want to take a seismic practice exam and a surveying practice exam the following day. Practice exams familiarize you with the material, and also with time management, reference materials, and the process of moving your reference books, exam, and other materials around in your test area. (I had half of a folding table in Sacramento. It was 5 or 6 feet long by 2’6′, I think). Regardless of how well you studied or did not study between exams, be sure to take the exams according to schedule. I was surprised to find I did much better on my third practice test than on the previous two- despite a weak study performance the preceding two weeks. Chunking, reference book familiarization, and time management had all improved, which affected my score. Also, an 8-hour exam requires some mental training, some mental conditioning. By my third practice exam, I already was achieving better than 70% correct overall. I attribute this rapid improvement to this strategy. (On my first exam, I scored 43%.)
5. Develop Strength: Analyze your results by type of problem (Exam Cafe online test exams do this automatically for you). What percent did you correctly answer in Chemistry? In Environmental? In Structural?
6. Strengths & Weaknesses: The test you completed included questions from all main areas of the PE exam. However, it could not possibly represent every area of every subject. However, the subjects in which you scored best represent the areas in which you are most likely to score points on your exam date. So: practice heavily in the one or two subjects in which you scored highest. Also: look at your two lowest subject matter scores. Read material in these subjects (the CERM is good for this) and work practice problems. Exam cafe is an excellent source of subject-specific questions and self-administered mini quizzes. Study these four subjects for the next two weeks, until the next scheduled NCEES practice exam on your schedule. In my early practice exams, my strengths and weaknesses were not the same. By studying in my strong areas, those areas began to produce optimal points for me in later exams.
7. Buy the Civil Engineering Reference Manual as soon as you can. Mark the index with tabs that don’t fall out if you shake the book. Use this book for your practice exams. Familiarize yourself with it. I learned to open the index, write down the page numbers indexed to my topic, and then check each in turn until I found the solution process needed.
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