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By Erin E. Kelly 

1. Use a graphing calculator 
You can use a graphing calculator on this exam, and you’re going to want to. This will make the conversion of Degrees Minutes Seconds to Degrees so easy! 

2. Get a clear, flexible ruler 
A lot of the diagrams on the exam will be to scale, and guess what? That means you can literally measure the screen and multiply to get your answer! Forget the distance formula on these and save some crucial time. 

3. Take a surveying dictionary into the exam 
Definitions are huge on this test, and there are more terms than you can possibly take notes on in a review course. A surveying dictionary is the best way to ensure you have all the knowledge you could possibly need on this exam. 

4. Make a cheat sheet 
Making a cheat sheet is the best way to have all the info you need for calculations in one place. This should include the formulas for curves, formulas for differential leveling, unit conversions, and area formulas (at least)! Just make sure it’s “bound” in a notebook or binder so you can take it into the exam room, loose paper is not allowed. 

5. Do as many practice problems as you can
Practice makes perfect, and you’ll want to do a lot of practice problems for this exam. There may not be too many topics, but the topics can be tested in many ways, so be sure you’re prepared. 

Strategies to Pass CA Surveying Exam

6. Focus on the important topics 
In my opinion, the best way to do this is to take a review course or do some online research before you start studying. There are a lot of topics (looking at you, photogrammetry!) that you need to be familiar with but shouldn’t spend a week on intensive studying. I found it hard on this exam, in particular, to know what was important and what wasn’t, so a prep course would be a good idea. 

7. Know how to recognize “errors” 
Error questions are common on the exam. There can be errors in so much of surveying and you need to be able to apply a “correction factor,” know how to “close the transverse,” or calculate the “ratio of error.” Make sure you don’t skip the error sections when you’re studying. 

8. Be comfortable with sign conventions 
These can be so tricky on the exam, especially if you’re stressed and pressed for time. Knowing your positives and negatives for cut/fill problems, magnetic declination, or even taping corrections will be really important for getting those problems right. 

9. Watch your units! 
Beyond the obvious conversions, one super common “trick” is to give you a scale in length and ask for a scaled area. You need to apply the scale factor twice for the change from distance to area. 

10. Be invested 
I know this test isn’t very popular among many engineers. It differs from the bulk of what we learned in undergrad and do in our professional lives, but if you can get excited about learning something new and leaning in to the material in whichever way suits you, this process will be a lot more enjoyable and effective!

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.