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My Experience in Taking the PE Civil Exam

  • 21 January, 2021

Taking the PE Civil Exam is a big step in the career of any engineer. The experience will vary for each person depending on their timing, motivation, and experience as an engineer. I will share my experience here in hopes that it helps you prepare for the exam.

1. Timing

I took the PE Civil Exam in New York State, which requires (I believe) three years of professional experience in addition to a master's degree prior to application. As soon as I was eligible, I started working on the application. I will go into this more in another blog post, but I highly recommend taking the test as soon as you are able, so be sure to find out when that is in the state in which you are seeking licensure.

2. Acquiring the Resources

A major step in preparing for the exam is acquiring all the resources you need. This includes both the PE Civil Exam Review Guide: Breadth (CERG) and all the codes you can get your hands on. A list of codes required can be found online.

3. Preparation

First things first - make a schedule! I decided to study for the test for three months straight, so I made a schedule that included weekends designated to studying material in the CERM and two nights per week of doing problems on my own. I stuck to my schedule fairly rigidly, but I will say not all topics required the same amount of time studying, so I would adjust topics on each day as needed.

The three most important things I did were 1) problems, problems, problems. Do as many as you can! 2) tabbing my resources. Make sure all the info you need is handy during the test. 3) stopping studying new material two weeks before the test. This allows for your brain to recover so you can go into the exam feeling rested, and also for you to have time to do timed practice tests.

4. Final Preparation

As I mentioned above, in the last two weeks I took it semi-easy. I took a timed practice test two weeks before the test day. I actually went into my office on a Saturday and sat in a conference room and took a full eight-hour exam. I highly recommend doing this! That Sunday I reviewed my test. To be honest, I didn't pass with soaring colors, so if you too struggle on the practice test, don't fret! The experience is still worth it, and you probably learned some things from making those errors. The final weekend before the test, I packed my suitcase (yes, I took a suitcase to the test with all my resources) and got some rest.

My Experience in Taking the PE Civil Exam

5. Taking the Exam

The exam in New York City was in a part of Brooklyn that I had never been to before. I've seen several guides say to do a test drive to the exam location, etc. I will be honest, I did not. The morning of the exam I woke up, called an Uber, and headed out. It was raining when I arrived at the test site and the people running the exam room couldn't let us in early, so we all waited outside in the rain with our suitcases of books. Luckily, the rain dried up shortly, and we went in to take the test.

Now, here comes my horror story. I took the morning part of the exam and all went well. I turned in my answer sheet and left the room about thirty minutes early. I remember reading on the answer sheet to NOT sign the form until the VERY END. The signature validates that you answered everything without cheating or something, so you were supposed to wait. BUT, if you don't sign it, you won't pass. I didn't realize we would get a new answer sheet in the afternoon, so you had to sign it at the end of each session, not just the end of the day. When I went back after lunch, they handed out a new answer sheet and the blood drained out of my face. I was 99% sure that I had not signed that morning one. I called the proctor over and she said she couldn't remember if I had signed it, but she would go check. Next thing I know, someone was telling me that all the answer sheets had been boxed up and shipped to wherever they were going so they couldn't tell me if I had signed it, but assured me that if I didn't, I would fail. I almost threw in the towel right there. Tears formed in my eyes as I thought about the three months of studying I had put in to get to this point. I still to this day don't know if I signed it, but either I did or they made an exception because (spoiler alert) I passed.

I took the afternoon part of the exam and finished right before they said pencils down.

6. Immediate Reactions

After the exam, I met up with a coworker and a grad school friend who had both taken it that day. We decided to take an Uber back to Manhattan together. In the taxi, we all said that was a lot harder than we thought it would be, but that we didn't know how we could have prepared any better to do it again. I say this to let you know that it's ok to find the test really challenging. We all found it difficult and we all passed in the end.

The next morning, I was off on a plane to take a weeklong vacation in Florida. I worked for a company at the time who graciously gave us two days off for the PE. One day for the exam and one day to either study the day before or to recover the Monday after. I took the time after, and it was much needed after all those months of studying.

7. Passing the Exam

The day the results were released there was a buzz around the office. I knew a lot of people who had taken it and amazingly we all passed! I remember checking my results at the desk and FREAKING OUT!! I couldn't believe it! A few coworker friends and I went out for lunch to celebrate. It was such a relief.

I hope this story was helpful! Taking the PE is a journey I'll never forget.

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