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10 California Engineering Surveying Studying Tips

Aug 31, 2020

1. Buy a graphing calculator

A graphing calculator will save you so much time on the California Surveying Exam (CSE) in converting from Degrees Minutes Seconds to a decimal form of Degrees. The calculator requirements for this exam are different than others, so be sure to check them and invest wisely!

2. Focus on the curves

Vertical- and horizontal-curve questions are the most important thing to study. They come up often on the exam and can be tricky. Being able to identify locations in the problem statement/diagram as terms in the curve equations will be key to your success.

3. Don't underestimate the difficulty of "scale" questions

"Scaling" may seem like an easy concept, but trust me, it can be harder than it seems in the pressure of an exam. There are several ways this can go: a scale given in length, and the exam asking about an area; two scales being compared and needing to know which is "larger"; needing to know what scale to use based on a given a distance and the size of a paper; or asking for a real distance given the measured distance and scale factor. Be sure to have experience with each of these!

4. Memorize conversions

I don't think I'll ever forget the conversion from 1 square foot to 1 acre: 43560! Memorize some key conversions like this to save time on the exam. Also, have them written somewhere in case the exam stress makes you want to triple check!

5. Obtain a "surveying" dictionary

I really think this was a lifesaver for me on the exam when there were definition questions-and trust me there will be! With different types of maps, surveying techniques, equipment, etc., the dictionary is your friend on this exam.

6. Do as many practice problems as you can get your hands on

I can't say this enough, but for this exam, in particular, practice, practice, practice!

7. Don't get overwhelmed by big words like "photogrammetry"

The CSE really focuses on basic surveying techniques, geometry, and conversions. Your time is better spent doing practice problems, getting familiar with terms and equations, and memorizing definitions than getting swept up in fancy technology. Know about it, but don't dwell on it.

8. Zeniths and Bearings will be in (almost) every question-make sure you know the difference and are comfortable with them

Zeniths and Bearings are a fancy way of stating the slope of a line. If you think this exam is about anything other than determining the angles and distances of objects and curves, you're mistaken. Be able to identify these problems, be comfortable with them, and you'll go far with this exam.

9. Have area formulas handy

These can be a pain to memorize (and honestly probably too much to hold in your brain) while also memorizing terms and formulas. Still, you should have area formulas handy to quickly skim and determine the best formula to use.

10. Get into it!

A LOT of engineers seem to think this is the "least interesting" exam or wonder why certain types of civil engineers need to take it. Trust me, this whole studying and exam-taking process will be a lot easier and more enjoyable if you get rid of that little voice in your head and find this stuff interesting!
About the Author: Erin E. Kelly

Ms. Kelly is an experienced structural engineer with a focus on seismic risk. She has extensive experience in structural failure investigations, seismic structural design, and seismic risk assessments. Through the School of P.E., she has taught a 32-hour course for the California Seismic P.E. Exam, authored several blog posts, and contributed to other review products. She has a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Johns Hopkins University and a Masters of Engineering in Structural Engineering from Lehigh University.

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