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5 Tips to Crush Your PE Exam Prep

  • 24 June, 2022

In this blog post, I'm going to give you the top five tips to crush the PE exam preparation. Following these helpful tips prepared me to pass the PE Civil: Structural exam on my very first try. If you follow these five tips, I have no doubt that you will pass on your first try as well.

5 Tips to Crush Your PE Exam Prep

1. Tip 1: Create a personalized three-month, week-by-week study schedule.

Some people will tell you that you need to set aside six months to study before taking the PE exam. I've also met people on the other side of the spectrum who only give themselves one month to study (or in reality, cram). But let me tell you that both methods are risky. Chances are, if you start studying 6 months in advance, you will probably forget what you studied 6 months ago. And I get it, as a busy professional, you may feel like you don't have enough time in your day or year to prepare for one exam for a full three months. But trust me, cramming an eight-hour exam into one month is not a smart method as you will be overwhelmed with the sheer number of topics that need to be covered in such a short period. My advice is to create a three-month study schedule that outlines study topics on a week-by-week basis. Prior to setting up this schedule, make sure to review the topics that are covered in your PE exam on the NCEES website for both the breadth and depth sections for your chosen exam type, and include all topics in your study schedule. How you plan out the weeks is entirely up to you, whether you want to tackle breadth topics before tackling the depth ones or vice versa. Setting up a personalized study schedule will help you to eliminate procrastinating and account for any weeks that you know you will not be able to study; just make sure that if you find yourself falling behind on the set schedule, make it up to yourself to get yourself back on track quickly.

2. Tip 2: Make a personal budget for test preparation materials.

Preparing for the PE exam can be a very costly endeavor. Some people end up spending up to a couple thousand dollars just on test preparation materials or courses. And if you start to purchase materials one by one as studying progresses without a solid plan in place, you may not even realize how quickly costs will start to add up. To avoid such a surprise, I suggest you create a personal budget for all test preparation materials and courses before you start studying.

Your first line of action should be to check with your employer if they offer any reimbursements for professional exams and licensure. If they do, that is fantastic! This could give you a larger spending limit for purchasing study materials or prep courses. If your employer doesn't offer such benefits, that's even more reason to budget thoughtfully.

I'll also give you some practical advice when it comes to budgeting for the exam. Consider purchasing the official PE practice exam book from the NCEES website. This book will give you the best bang for your buck, and the problems are similar to the questions that you will find on the actual exam. Also, prioritize buying practice problems from publishers or authors with a good reputation, rather than selecting books based on their lower price tags. I found that the phrase "quality over quantity" is a very relevant and helpful rule of thumb for the PE exam. From personal experience, I noticed that the less reputable books I purchased either had a lot of errors in the solutions, or the level of difficulty in the problems was not on par with what the actual exam was like.

3. Tip 3: Simulate real tests on the last two to three weeks leading up to the exam.

Do not jump straight into taking practice exams when you first start studying. This will probably lead you to go straight to the solutions to solve the problem since you have not studied how to solve it yet, so this is not an effective method of preparing for the PE exam. Rather, follow your study schedule diligently and cover all test topics before taking any practice exams. Leave the last couple of weeks prior to your test date to take full-length practice exams in a simulation test environment. Remember to time yourself, skip the tough questions that are taking longer to solve, take a break between the breadth and depth sessions, and avoid flipping to the solutions section until after the entire exam is over. Don't forget to score yourself at the end of the exam to get a grasp of your understanding of the test materials and to revisit the difficult questions that you skipped over. If you don't do so well on your first simulation, don't panic. Just remember that you have a full two to three weeks left in your study schedule to take additional full-length tests, improve your score, and get yourself to a place where you feel comfortable that you will pass the exam.

Tip 4: Familiarize yourself with exam and center rules in advance.

Do not wait until the day before exam day to familiarize yourself with the test center and the exam! A week before the exam, get to know the test center and its rules. If you are able, you can even visit the test location to make sure you know the directions to the center, parking availability if applicable, and the exact location of the testing room. You should also familiarize yourself with what is allowed and not allowed at the exam center. For example, is a water bottle allowed in the testing room? A watch or cell phone perhaps? In the case that you accidentally bring prohibited items with you, does the facility have lockers where you will be able to store your belongings, or will you have to leave them in your car? And most importantly, are you allowed to bring any reference material or is your exam strictly computer-based? These are all important questions that you should have the answers to so that your test day can go smoothly without any surprises. Finding yourself flustered right before taking the exam is not the best way to start off the morning.

Tip 5: Get plenty of rest on the week leading up to the exam.

I advise you to get plenty of rest on the week of the exam (and don't forget to account for this week of rest in your study schedule!). Put your pencils down and put a hard stop to studying. You've studied hard for the last three months, so give your brain some time to relax and decompress. If you diligently followed your three-month study schedule, which should've included all exam topics, you should have finished all your exam preparation by the week before. So let yourself get enough rest and take a few days off work if you can! Test anxiety is real; don't mess up your sleep schedule by staying up studying or find that you can't fall asleep the night before the exam.

Looking to become a professional engineer? Consider partnering with School of PE to prepare for your PE exam! Our subject-matter expert instructors and comprehensive courses provide what you need to succeed on exam day-register now!
About the Author: Susie Hwang

Susie Hwang, P.E., is a licensed engineer in the State of California. She received her BS in Civil Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and her MS in Civil Engineering and Engineering Mechanics with a focus in structural engineering at Columbia University. Since attending graduate school in New York City, she has been living and working in the city, contributing to projects that helped shape the city's skyline. When she isn't designing concrete structures, she enjoys spending her time hiking with her dog Tori and watching the latest Netflix original shows.

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