By Sidney May
We’ve all heard the phrase “failure is not an option.” This was my resounding statement to myself each time I received my exam notification results that I had failed yet again. I have always been very smart, intuitive, and at the top of my class for most of my life, but I could not score high enough to pass the PE Civil exam. Many candidates find themselves in the same boat. If you are like me, it can be the most frustrating and discouraging experience of your career. The first thing I’ll say is that you are not alone. Many candidates find themselves failing the exam multiple times and ready to discontinue the pursuit of becoming a licensed Professional Engineer. Here are some strategies to overcome failure and press forward toward passing the exam:
First, exam candidates should develop the mindset to stay and endure the journey. This can be way easier said than done, but if your ultimate dream is to become a professionally licensed Engineer, then you should do just that. Exam candidates can sometimes feel the mental pressure from their employers and colleagues to pass the exam. This can certainly compound the issue because now you are expected to pass for reasons outside of yourself. Try to stay focused on your mental health, well-being, and ultimate goals. Also know that the PE exam is the most challenging exam of an Engineer’s career and it takes time to understand the concepts and apply them in a timed exam.
Candidates should think long-term when they are preparing to take the PE Civil exam for the first time as well as any subsequent times. Thinking long-term means devoting time and putting forth the effort to understand the concepts and problems of the exam while striving for continuous improvement and a passing score. According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the PE Civil exam is a pencil-and-paper test in which results are scored and mailed to the candidate when he or she has failed. This diagnostic can be used to help candidates as they prepare to retake the exam. Candidates should be especially attentive to subjects at which they were not as successful.
The PE Civil exam contains “exam tripwires,” which are set to test the candidate’s aptitude, agility, and understanding of the particular subject matter. Candidates who have thought they failed during the exam because of a “curveball” could very well be experiencing “exam tripwires.” If you’ve failed because of this, you should look to strengthen your understanding of that specific subject by reading, researching, interpreting, utilizing other resources such as tutoring or refresher courses, and practicing problems. This can definitely make you better prepared for your next attempt at passing. Having a thorough understanding of the subject matter will more than likely mitigate the likelihood of being subject to “exam tripwires.”