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Which PE Civil Exam to Choose?

  • 01 April, 2021

Passing the Civil PE exam takes planning and strategy, there's no doubt about it. Part of that strategy is choosing which Civil exam to take.

The Civil PE exam is made up of two sections. A morning section (breadth) which consists of questions from all disciplines of civil engineering. These include transportation, structural, geotechnical, construction management, etc. The questions in the morning are often more general in nature and you may find you can solve them more quickly. This is good because the wide range of topics may mean you are flipping through several different reference books. Many people use an all-encompassing reference book like the PE Civil Exam Review Guide: Breadth book. Printed material from your PE prep course is also a great resource for the breadth section (just make sure it's bound in a way that it's allowable in the exam).

The afternoon, or depth, section consists of questions in a specific discipline of civil engineering. It's your choice when you register which depth section you will take. It would be really nice if there was a depth section that was easier than all the others, and it would be a great strategy for passing the exam.

The truth is the easiest PE Civil exam to pass is the one you're most experienced in. I took the Transportation Civil exam. I had over a dozen reference books with me in the exam and had to take them in using a hand cart and milk crates. By contrast, the Construction Civil exam has far fewer reference books. I was tempted to take the Construction Civil exam but heard some great advice: just because there are less books doesn't mean the exam is easier. In fact, because I am not nearly as familiar with construction as transportation, I believe it's a safe bet that passing the Construction exam would have been much harder.

Which PE Civil Exam to Choose?

Another approach is to choose the depth section based on what you are most interested in. Hopefully, your experience and your interests are the same (i.e., you're working in the field you're most interested in) but if not, consider this: you're going to spend hundreds of hours studying for the PE exam (I spent on average two hours per day for over 4 months, plus three 8-hour practice exams). You will enjoy studying much more if it's something you're interested in. This means you will be more motivated to study. This means that the long hours will be more enjoyable, and you'll likely retain much more of what you learn and believe me you're going to learn a lot.

Studying for the PE Civil exam is like a crash course of all the time you spent in college. You're going to gain a lot of knowledge and remember those things you learned but haven't touched in over four years. You won't be able to help learning new knowledge and remembering forgotten knowledge. There is no one exam that's easier than the rest for everyone. Your safest bet for passing the PE Civil exam is to choose a depth section that you're either most familiar with, most interested in, or if they're the same, both. That's the easiest PE Civil exam for you to choose and pass.

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