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Pass the PE Civil Exam on Your First Try

  • 12 April, 2021

Preparing for and taking the PE Civil Exam is a big investment. It usually takes several days or weeks for the application and registration process (depending on your state) and can take many months to study for the exam. The financial cost is usually several hundred dollars to apply for and register for the test. Purchasing review courses and reference books can really add up. Because of the time and money investment, your goal is to pass the Civil PE Exam on your first try!

My advice is to treat earning your PE license like a serious project. Your job likely requires you to participate in engineering projects where you must consider budget, schedule, and resources. You may even be in charge of managing these projects. The first step is to start early and scope your project. Find out in your particular state when you are eligible to take your PE exam (this may be different than when you're eligible to gain your PE license). Take the PE exam as soon as you're eligible. By doing this you take advantage of what you've learned in college. The longer you wait after school, the more you'll forget of the topics you don't use at your job.

Determine all the requirements for registering for the PE exam. In some states, this may be as simple as registering with NCEES. In other states, you may need to get an application approved through your state board of licensure. State applications could take several weeks to complete on your end, and several weeks for approval by the state board. Register for a PE exam date that will allow you at least 4 months of studying. Part of the registration process is selecting your specific Civil PE Depth topic. There is a lot of sound advice for selecting a specific PE Depth topic. I recommend choosing whatever depth topic you are most familiar with (either what you do daily at your job or if you have been in school recently, whatever your focus was in college).

Pass the PE Civil Exam on Your First Try

Select a PE Civil prep course which fits your schedule and life circumstances. School of PE has many options including Live, Ondemand, and in-person live courses. Plan to study both the breadth and depth topics using the same reference books you'll take into the exam. Spend time highlighting and tabbing pages in your reference books. I blocked out between 1 and 2 hours per day to study for about 4 months prior to the exam.

About a month before the exam and once you've completed the review course, take 2 or 3 practice exams. Treat them like the real exam (timed breadth and depth sections using the same reference books, calculator, etc. as you will in the exam), and score yourself afterward. Review the questions you missed.

Many people must travel several hours to take the exam. I recommend spending the night prior to the exam in a hotel near the exam site. This will let you get an uninterrupted night's sleep and wake up in plenty of time to get to the exam site.

Time management during the exam is very important. It's also worth noting that all questions on the exam are weighted the same and you're not penalized for wrong answers. With this in mind, I recommend quickly reading through every question at the beginning of the exam. Mark questions 1 through 4, 1 being the quickest to answer and 4 being the longest. Answer all the number 1 questions first, working your way to the number 4 questions. If you are running out of time with unanswered questions, make sure you answer each question even if you have to quickly guess. This strategy will allow you to maximize your right answers and provide an answer on every question.

With an early start and plenty of preparation, passing the PE Civil Exam on your first try is not only possible but also the likely outcome.

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