By Sidney May
The breadth section of the PE Civil exam is taken in the morning and, typically, sets the tone for the afternoon depth section. If you weren’t successful, didn’t feel confident, or struggled through the breadth section, your performance on the depth section may mirror that. It is extremely important to begin the breadth section of the exam with confidence, knowledge, vigor, fortitude, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills that are necessary for success on the exam.
Test-taking experts say that being well rested is the key to success on exams. I tend to believe this is a true statement. Preparing, performing on, and passing the PE Civil exam is equivalent to training and running a marathon. Marathon runners incorporate the proper rest and relaxation techniques that are necessary for strength and endurance on the day of the run. Similar techniques should be incorporated when preparing for the PE Civil exam. Exam candidates should not study 2-3 days before the exam. This gives candidates a mental break, especially if they’ve followed an exam study schedule several weeks or months before the exam. This puts exam candidates at ease and reduces test anxiety.
It also goes without saying that examinees must practice. Several weeks or months before the exam, candidates should practice problems and become familiar with specific exam concepts. Before studying and practicing problems, exam candidates should read through the PE Civil Exam Specifications from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The breadth portion of the exam tests general knowledge including Project Planning, Means and Methods, Soil Mechanics, Structural Mechanics, Hydraulics and Hydrology, Geometrics, Materials, and Site Development. Each of the previously mentioned subjects has a detailed list of the concepts within the subject matter that the candidate will be tested on along with the number of questions.
Candidates should perform self-assessments to determine what subjects they are most comfortable with and if there are any deficiencies. A study schedule should be developed accordingly to reflect more time being spent on subjects with which candidates aren’t as comfortable. The study material should include relevant breadth manuals, School of PE refresher notes that are tabbed, and any textbook or publication that can help supplement the subject matter.
Another useful tool is having a Professional Mentor. Entry-level to Junior Engineers and beyond should always find a Professional Mentor. Professional Mentors are not only useful for hands-on experience, but they can also provide oversight and guidance when preparing for the breadth portion of the PE Civil exam. This is especially true for subjects with which candidates are not as familiar. If Professional Mentors are not available, exam candidates should seek the help of tutors.
Candidates should read the entire PE Civil breadth portion thoroughly and solve the problems in order of level of difficulty as opposed to chronologically during the exam. Exam candidates should plan to arrive at the facility early and be prepared for success!