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Experience Taking the PE Civil Exam

  • 15 February, 2021

My Civil Engineering PE exam experience began almost a full year before I took the test. Exam applications were due to the state board several months prior to the test and required a full engineering work history. Past and current supervising professional engineers needed to complete and submit recommendation forms. Once I was able to submit the application, it went through a review process with the state board.

Experience Taking the PE Civil Exam

After approval by the state board and registration through NCEES, I researched review courses. Many options were available including both in-person, Live Online, and Ondemand courses. I chose School of PE's Ondemand course with a transportation depth. I also began making a list of reference material I would need for studying and during the test, then began purchasing the material.

Studying started several months before the exam date. It took place before work for at least an hour almost every weekday, and many nights before bed. Once I completed the online prep course, I took practice tests for 3-4 weekends prior to the exam.

Several days before the exam I made sure all the reference material was ready to take into the exam, and that I had a means to transport over a dozen books and binders into the test room (my solution was milk crates used as bookshelves strapped to a hand cart). I made sure I had two approved calculators and a standard digital watch. I also took a water bottle and ear plugs.

The night before the exam I stayed in a hotel near the exam site. A good night's sleep didn't happen. After a couple cups of coffee, I arrived at the test site about two hours before the exam began. After check-in, we were seated in a very large room with two people at each table. I had enough room on the table for one open book, my calculator and pencil, and the exam booklet.

The test began promptly at 8 AM, and for four hours I worked silently through the Civil breadth questions. I first went quickly through all the questions, ranking them from quickest to longest. I went back and completed the questions starting with the quickest to solve. The breadth questions required me to use most of the reference books that I had brought. Time management was especially important when selecting which book to use. The questions were general in nature and were often solved quickly once I found the topic in the reference book.

Once the breadth section was complete, we had an hour for lunch. The depth section began promptly at 1pm. Although the same format as the breadth section, the afternoon questions could be solved using only two or three reference books. I used the same strategy of ranking questions by time required, solving the quickest questions first. The depth questions required much more calculation and were more nuanced than the breadth questions. As time was getting shorter, I found myself needing to take educated guesses on the last handful of questions.

After the exam I felt mentally and physically drained, but relieved that it was over. I knew test results wouldn't be posted for several weeks, but that didn't stop me from checking frequently. The preparation paid off, and a few days before Christmas I found out I passed. By starting early, finding a good prep course, and investing the time required you can confidently take the PE exam and pass.

My employer, like many, reimbursed my costs associated with the exam including application, prep course, and reference books contingent on me passing the exam. Be sure to talk to your employer about financial assistance for the PE exam.

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