By Sidney May
Taking and passing the PE Civil exam is quite the accomplishment for Civil Engineers. On the opposite end of the spectrum, not taking the PE Civil exam can present the Engineer with many challenges that include limited project oversight, lack of promotional opportunities, and/or not being the responsible charge over projects during their career. This is certainly not to say that Civil Engineers who do not pass their PE exam will not have rewarding careers, but there are definitely some limitations. If you have decided to pursue professional licensure as a Civil Engineer, here are some guidelines that will make it easier to prepare for—and hopefully pass—the exam.
Civil Engineers pursuing professional licensure should first check with their state licensing boards to ensure they have met the minimum qualifications. Each state board is different; however, the general requirements state that exam candidates must attend an ABET-accredited institution and successfully pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Candidates who meet these minimum criteria, along with other application requirements, are permitted to sit for the PE exam. However, they are not able to apply for professional licensure with their respective boards until they have the required years of qualifying experience (typically 4 years). In some situations, qualifying experience will suffice for candidates who did not obtain a degree from an accredited institution (typically 8-12 years minimum).
Currently, the PE Civil exam is offered twice per year in April and October. Prior to studying, candidates should consult with the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) for exam dates, guidelines, and exam specifications. Typically, it takes 4-6 months to thoroughly prepare for the PE Civil exam. This time varies depending on life circumstances and is not meant to say that candidates who have shorter time periods to study will not be successful. Candidates should develop a study routine by taking the exam specifications and developing a dedicated schedule with dates and times to study.
Candidates should select their PE Civil depth subject, review the specifications, and obtain the required depth manuals. A great number of depth exam problems come from the required manuals and publications. Candidates should also utilize exam review courses like those offered by School of PE. These courses give students hands-on opportunities to review important concepts, ask questions, get tutoring, practice problems, and become familiar with depth manuals and exam material. Depth manuals should be reviewed independently, and candidates should familiarize themselves with the manuals and tab them. This saves time during the exam and helps candidates remain focused.
Candidates should take timed practice tests at least 2-4 weeks before the exam. This gives a final assessment and shows exactly where last-minute deficiencies are. The last few days prior to the exam should be rest days where candidates relax from the material, so they are refreshed and ready the day of the exam. A relaxed candidate is better equipped to think clearly, be thorough, avoid “exam tripwires,” and better at problem-solving during the exam.