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Does Passing the CA Surveying Exam Make You a Licensed Surveyor?

Aug 24, 2020

The short answer is no. Despite passing a licensing exam commonly referred to as the "surveying exam," you are only taking this exam to complete civil engineering licensure, not a surveying licensure.

This applies to the current day, but it's good to know that civil engineers registered before January 1, 1982 are, for all intents and purposes, considered licensed surveyors.

So, what can you do? You can:

  • Create and use topographic maps
  • Set construction stakes after control points are established
  • Create contour surveys using photogrammetry
  • Become a city engineer
  • Create a tentative map (a preliminary subdivision or parcel map)
  • Prepare civil plans
  • Use ALTA (American Land Title Surveys) to create grading plans

What can you not do? You cannot:

  • Set and relocate monuments or control points
  • Re-establish benchmark elevations
  • Replace lost corners
  • Prepare legal descriptions
  • Prepare parcel or subdivision maps
  • Prepare boundary/property surveys
  • Perform boundary line adjustments
  • Perform geodetic surveying
  • Replace lost corners
  • Establish easements
  • Create right-of-way maps

These "cans" and "cannots" are outlined in several acts, the two most predominant being the Subdivision Map Act and the Civil Engineers Act. For the Civil Engineers Act, Article 3 outlines the "authority to offer to practice or procure land surveying." This is the most important section of the Act when it comes to what you can and cannot do.

Because of all of these restrictions, it is frequently questioned by many civil engineers why this test is required or worthwhile. My answer is that you, as a civil engineer, need to be able to interpret surveying documents that are presented to you. In design structural engineering, in particular, you'll be presented with documents from several disciplines (civil, landscaping, architectural, electrical, mechanical, etc.) and each of those documents will influence your design. If you misinterpret surveying information on the civil grading plans, for example, your design may not have factored in some critical loading information.

While passing this exam doesn't grant you all the rights of a licensed surveyor, it is important for us to recognize the role that we play, and the importance of competency on the subject.

School of PE offers comprehensive exam review courses for the CA Seismic and CA Surveying exams. Visit our website to register for a prep class that best fits your schedule.
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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