Becoming a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) is the ultimate goal for most people graduating with an engineering degree. You put in four years (or more!) at school, another four years working under a PE. Then it’s time to draw on all that knowledge and experience and hopefully make it official by passing the PE exam. I just passed the PE last October, and I remember how daunting the exam felt as it got closer. I found it wasn’t just like studying for a big test in college. I could focus then – I mean my job was basically going to school. But while preparing for the PE exam I was working full time and had a newborn son at home. Preparing for this test was going to require a strategy, and I ultimately found a few key things to be helpful. If you are in the next round of hopefuls taking the exam this fall, consider this advice from a recent survivor.
Start preparing early: It is always less stressful to start preparing for a test (or anything, really) early because it ultimately lets you cover more material. I took the test in October and started reviewing for it in August. Like I said, you’re probably busier with more time demands at this point in life. You do not have time to cram for something like you did back in college.
Use a structured review program: I used School of PE to review for the exam. They offer live review webinars that you can also view later as a recording. I definitely recommend trying to commit to watching the reviews live. Otherwise, you risk getting back logged on videos and having to watch several in a row on the weekends – not fun or very conducive to retaining that information.
Don’t get bogged down: If you focused on transportation engineering in school, do not get bogged down in learning all the ins and outs of structural engineering. Review enough to refresh your overall understanding and move on. You do not have time to waste learning specific details for the first time.
Bank on what you know: Thoroughly review your area of focus because it’s your best chance to do well. I did a structural focus in college, so I reviewed that section more thoroughly for the Civil Breadth (morning) portion of the exam. It sounds counter-intuitive, and though I hadn’t used much of that knowledge since graduating, I already had a good foundation there and knew it was a big chance to shore up a lot of correct answers. I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything in an area that should be easy for me.
Manage your time: This one has to do with actually taking the exam. The whole exam is designed to be completed in a certain amount of time, meaning each question should take no longer than 6 minutes. If you read a question and think it’s going to take longer, then you’re probably over thinking it. I recommend going through the whole test and first answering everything you know right off the bat. If you read a question that will take more time, consider which code manual (like MUTCD) you’ll need to refer to and mark that next to the question. After you’ve answered everything you can easily, go back and answer all the questions from one manual, even if it means skipping around the test a little. This will save you time from flipping back and forth between different codes and keep you in the same frame of mind. When those are done, move on to the next manual until you’re done.
Passing the PE exam is definitely a huge milestone in my career. It is also not the endgame. Every PE has to earn a certain number of continuing education credits each year to maintain his/her license, and I think that is a good thing. Reviewing all the information before I took the exam has definitely renewed my interest in keeping up with industry trends and advancements. While the PE exam may seem like all that matters when you are preparing for it, the real test is the quality of work you provide for your clients every day.
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