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After years and years of work, school, studying and the unfortunate mix of all three, the final boss appears: The Professional Engineering Exam. The Professional Engineering Exam (or, PE) is administered under a licensure organization dedicated to procuring the standards and qualifications that dictate a licensed engineer. It requires both practical and theoretical expertise in a given field, and is eight hours long (excluding the structural exam) broken up into two 4 hour sections. And while that may seem like a lot to handle, it is worth the uphill battle! The PE certification is not only impressive on any resume or business card, but validates your expertise in the area —– setting you far ahead of the curve.
Now, the P.E. test is no one headed adversary, it is broken up into 17 different categories that all fall under the domain of ‘Professional Engineering’. Below, they’re all listed and linked to the corresponding website for further information on your specific branch, so it is recommended you first acquaint yourself with The PE exam is administered on the state level, so some requirements may fluctuate based on the region or state you will be taking it in.
Click here to get a full listing of requirements by state, posted by the NCEES.
First and foremost: don’t get into your own head! Whether that means looking at the pass/fail rate and already admitting personal defeat, or looking at the study books and feeling you cannot get through it all, don’t psyche yourself out before the test has even started! Everyone studies differently, focuses differently, and learns differently so go about this in a way you know you can handle.
Now with that being said, let’s get into the more practical tips and tricks of tackling the PE exam:
The PE exam has quite a few pre-requisites that need to be met before applying. The NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) specifies that you must have a degree in engineering and at the minimum four years of experience underneath a professional engineer to even register for the exam. If these requirements apply to you, then apply as early as possible! This will not only provide you with an adequate amount of time to prepare for the exam, but will secure your spot in a high demand area. This exam is only offered twice a year: once in April, and once in October so the demand is extremely high.
That doesn’t mean to lock yourself up from the outside world like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but rather to encourage you to refresh a few topics every day. The recommended start date for prep is technically six months before the exam, but most people can get away with 3 months. That being said, if you study with more days, then you can study less everyday, but again, to each their own.
Yes, this is an open book exam! But don’t let that fool you, it is no easier than if it were just you & your pencils in the room. Sometimes test takers will make the mistake of bringing in the entire engineering library, but that just means you’ll be flipping through books that won’t necessarily point you in the right direction, and thus waste valuable time. Bring the books you know best, and the time it takes to find the answer will significantly reduce. In the same thread: tab your book! If there is something important that you’re fairly certain you’ll need on the exam, then create a shortcut to get to it, and reduce your in-test stress!
They’re as close as you’ll get to the real deal! Overall, there have been more stated similarities between the NCESS practice test and the real PE exam, but trying your hand at the PE reference book practice exam does more to help you than to hurt—- so try both. Especially focus on any subjects or calculations that show up numerous times because those are likely to appear on your exam. Also, practice by hand! On the real exam a lot of the calculations will be just you and your abilities, so don’t solely rely on apps, websites, or further examples to solve it for you.
The best actual account of what you’re up against comes from those with experience. Whether that be passing or failing, you can learn from both. Talk to people who have taken the exam and figure out what to really expect, and how to go about it both before and during. There is no resource quite like experience, so ask your mentors, friends, professors, etc. for some practical advice on how to handle the PE exam.
This sounds simple, but is perhaps one of the most integral parts! Be extra prepared and bring a calculator, a spare calculator, a change of batteries, and a watch! Not every testing room will have a clock, so don’t assume you can measure time with the tools given to you by the administrators. Similarly, know exactly where you are taking the test. You don’t want to be wandering the halls to figure out where the room is with only 5 minutes to test time. You may still find it in time, but starting off your test on a stressed note isn’t exactly listed in the recipe for success.
Finally, the last piece of advice given from test takers across almost every field: don’t let stress dictate your score! Have confidence in yourself and your abilities, and always maintain a positive attitude! You’ve made it this far, even through times you possibly thought you wouldn’t, so have faith in yourself and study accordingly. You’ll have that little ‘PE’ on your business card in no time!
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