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7 PE Exam Success Habits

  • 18 November, 2022

When I look back on my Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam experience, I sometimes reflect on achieving this milestone. There were seven (7) PE exam success habits that I utilized in my exam preparation. I am writing these habits for the PE exam because the process was more challenging than the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The FE exam application is simpler than the PE exam, so the FE process was overall easier. Now let's get to it!

7 PE Exam Success Habits

1. Success Habit #1: Find the Right Motivation

I originally started looking into the PE exam as just the next step. Graduate school was my focus for a while, since my schedule was the workplace on weekdays, class on weeknights, and homework on weekends. That may sound mundane, but graduate school was good for both my personal and professional growth. And I was also continuing to gain practical engineering experience at my job. So, it was productive all-around.

This growth and enrichment became my motivation. There was much knowledge circulating around me, and I realized that if I could learn more, I could become better, both personally and professionally. My recommendation is to find your own motivation, something other than just more money or some other kind of bonus. Yes, I received a small bonus for passing the PE exam, but there was so much more that I had gained than just the dollar amount.

2. Success Habit #2: Get Off to a Hot Start with Every Morning

Preparation is the most critical element needed to pass the PE exam. It is interesting how you spend hours on end studying for just the one exam day, but all the preparation is key when you truly need it the most. I am more of a morning person, so this is how the idea first came to me. I realized that oversleeping did not really benefit me, since I was wasting extra time by either just lying in bed or trying to fall back asleep.

When I first started waking up earlier and accomplishing tasks, I was feeling better about the day ahead. Everyone else is just waking up, but you have already set the tone for a good day. I would recommend completing errands first thing in the morning, then you have the rest of the day ahead for PE exam preparation. And since you have already completed your other checklist items, you are already a couple steps ahead of everyone else. As I write this blog post, I can tell you that I got off to a hot start this morning!

3. Success Habit #3: Select a Pre-Recorded Online Review Course

I would recommend a review course to help with your studying preparation. I am suggesting a pre-recorded online review course since this allows yourself the time to study and learn at your own pace. I took the PE Mechanical (Thermal and Fluids Systems) exam, and the pre-recorded course option offered by School of PE was instrumental towards my success. I was able to start and end the review sessions depending on my schedule and did not have to abide by the predetermined webinar schedule for taking breaks.

You should not rush yourself in trying to study a certain amount of content in a limited amount of time; rather, you should use the time that you need. You will probably find that some subjects require more studying than others. The PE exam format lists a range of a certain number of questions, so you must be sufficiently prepared in all the core subjects. I will say that I am not too big on studying in groups or live webinars. When studying in groups, I find that you can become distracted too easily and you may try to adopt another person's study habits which may not suit your own.

4. Success Habit #4: Enjoy Other Hobbies/Interests

Preparation for the PE exam requires time. I will be honest here; you will probably have less time for a social life and other activities (but I can also assure you that pursuing a PE license is certainly worthwhile). But you should still try to allocate some time for other hobbies and interests. Diversions are good since they can help you stay fresh, so you are not just staring at textbooks and notes all day. Also, if you dedicate ALL your spare time to passing the PE exam, you are placing excessive pressure on yourself. I had a friend that did not pass the PE exam on the first try and felt even worse because he was too lopsided on study time, neglecting other activities altogether. I studied much during summer 2018, but was still attending yoga classes, volunteering with my church, and improving my cooking skills (eating healthy helps with a hot start, and of course breakfast is the most important meal of the day!).

5. Success Habit #5: Close Your Mind to All Criticism and Self-Doubt

I do feel that one of the success habits should be about facing past moments that were not your best. We have all experienced failure at some point; maybe you did not receive approval to sit for the PE exam on your first application attempt, or maybe you did not pass the first time. But it is important to eliminate that self-doubt and close your mind to all criticisms. Usually, I would recommend keeping your eyes open to new activities and expanding your scope. But in the case of passing the PE exam, I would suggest having more of a "tunnel vision" where you have laser focus on the passing goal.

Do not worry about past workplace mistakes either. I have certainly made mistakes myself; it is okay to make mistakes, as you should always keep moving yourself forward. Even if you do not feel ready for the PE exam, you should still pursue it anyways. I only had the minimum four years work experience and briefly contemplated waiting another year. But I decided to go for it (and got it).

6. Success Habit #6: Exercise then Relax Before Exam Day

I took the PE exam on Friday but made sure to attend my martial arts class the night before. As I mentioned earlier, you should still engage in other interests to keep yourself fresh and in a healthy, positive mindset. Passing the PE exam is not a sprint; the preparation is a journey to success. It certainly does not happen overnight. But it is important to clear your head the night before, so you feel that final preparation overnight.

Exercising at my martial arts class was the final puzzle piece to get into that healthy mindset so I would be truly ready. The exercise helps you to destress so you have that Exam mentality. Knowing myself, I may have psyched myself out trying to review every topic last minute the night before. I would have probably stayed up later and missed out on the rest needed for a proper hot start.

7. Success Habit #7: Confront the Exam Head-On

The seventh and final success habit comes on exam day. You are going to feel different emotions; I was feeling mostly a combination of excitement and anxiety. There was some fear, but I was already in a positive mindset from exercising the night before (Habit #6). And I also got off to a hot start that morning with a healthy breakfast (Habit #2). You can see that I was putting it all together. When you arrive to your exam location, you will find that everyone else is feeling that same atmosphere (pressure will probably be 1 atm!). This is a good reason why you should not panic or lose composure.

When you first receive the PE exam, look through the test. I seldom do this, but I checked ahead this time. Some questions will require longer methodologies than other questions, so you should identify early on which questions are shorter than others. Remember, the PE exam is not a sprint. You have the time to take a few moments to assess the entire exam. It is okay to revisit questions later and certainly okay to answer some questions wrong (just not too many). During the exam break (after the morning session), I overheard other examination candidates voicing similar concerns. Never quit; keep pushing ahead and tackle that exam!


I do not believe you should assign a certain number of hours for studying and preparation. Everyone has different study habits. I am providing my own insights and observations, but you must ultimately decide on your best strategy. There is no true universal equation for success on the PE exam (I have already checked the different NCEES Reference Handbooks), so you may need to identify your own success habits. But you can certainly use these seven (7) success habits as a guide. And of course, be sure to check back with School of PE for more blog posts.

Interested in earning your professional engineering license? School of PE's comprehensive courses provide what you need to succeed when exam day arrives! Register today.
About the Author: Gregory Nicosia

Gregory Nicosia, PE is an engineer who has been practicing in the industry for eight years. His background includes natural gas, utilities, mechanical, and civil engineering. He earned his chemical engineering undergraduate degree at Drexel University (2014) and master's in business administration (MBA) from Penn State Harrisburg (2018). He received his EIT designation in 2014 and PE license in 2018. Mr. Nicosia firmly believes in continuing to grow his skillset to become a more well-rounded engineer and adapt to an ever-changing world.

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