20% Off Holiday Savings Sale Ends Today!* Use Promo Code: DECEMBER20 *Restrictions apply. 

How Difficult is the PE Civil Exam?

  • 03 September, 2021

You've finally reached the ultimate test of your civil engineering knowledge: the PE Civil exam. You have the work experience required and all your application material to sit for the exam has been approved. You might find yourself wondering: how hard is this exam going to be? What will I find myself up against when I take it? Well, I can tell you- this test is no joke because it not only covers the broad range of topics related to civil engineering (breadth) but also your chosen specific discipline (depth). Although exam difficulty can vary depending on your discipline, there are some similarities between the various exams out there that are good to know! I am going to break down and describe the two sections to give you a better understanding of what to expect come exam day.

1. General Exam Format

For the overall exam, you are given eight hours to answer approximately 80 questions. The questions and time are divided evenly between the morning and afternoon portions at four hours and 40 questions apiece, which works out to approximately ten minutes a question. Now that you know the general format of the exam, let's dive into the content!

2. The PE Civil Exam Morning Portion - Breadth

The morning portion of the exam will remind you of when you took your FE exam, as this portion will include questions on more general topics such as fluid mechanics, statics, and soil mechanics. Within these topics, the questions will vary in difficulty between simple equations, which only require a few minutes to solve, and some more complex problems, which involve in-depth analysis. The name of the game here is to answer the questions you are confident on as quickly as possible and save time for the more difficult problems designed to trip people up. It is also important to be aware of these potentially "tricky" problems. That doesn't mean that the problems are intended to be trick questions, instead, it means that the initial wording in the problem statement should be analyzed carefully so that the methodology used to solve the equation is correct and accurate. Take your time to thoroughly read each problem statement and skip the question if you don't know how to answer. It will be better to spend your valuable time on problems you will be able to solve.

How Difficult is the PE Civil Exam?

3. The PE Civil Exam Afternoon Portion - Depth

The afternoon portion focuses on the specific subjects related to your chosen discipline. Some questions or topics will feel somewhat familiar from the morning portion, but it's safe to expect an overall difficulty increase. Another aspect of the afternoon portion of the exam that you won't want to overlook is mental fatigue. In the morning portion, you will feel alert and ready to tackle all the questions thrown at you. But four hours and one lunch break later, you'll begin to get worn down mentally. Again, this is where time management can help you. By choosing which questions to solve early and which ones to skip, you can help prolong the fatigue.

4. Conclusion

There you have it. Two sections, eight hours, and a lot of mental exhaustion later, the exam is over. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it passable? Absolutely. Even though the problems themselves are challenging and can get harder as the day progresses, there are still plenty of opportunities to knock this test out of the park. If you need some guidance or help getting started, consider taking an exam review course with the School of PE. Their expert course instructors and comprehensive study materials provide the tools you need to succeed!
About the Author: Eric Lawrence

Eric is a professional engineer with over 5 years of experience in the civil and stormwater industry. Prior to obtaining his master's degree from Colorado School of Mines, Eric attended Georgia State University where he played on the men's soccer team for four years. When Eric is not practicing engineering, he still enjoys kicking the soccer ball as well as hiking and traveling.

Blogs you might also like

Copied to clipboard

Notification Banner