What You Need to Know about The PE Exam (Updated for CBT)

This is the 2nd blog post in the Path to PE Licensure series! If you are looking to learn about the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, please see the following blog post linked below. The FE Exam is generally your first step in the process of becoming a professional licensed engineer and the PE Exam is the next major step that is typically taken 4 years after you received your EIT certification (this does vary by state).

The PE Civil Exam is now administered exclusively via computer at approved Pearson-Vue testing centers. To find a test center near you, you can go to https://ncees.org/exams/test-center-locations. For more information on what you can expect on exam day, check out the following playlist on YouTube by NCEES Media: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLiZ0hjHNi9jzR8RW69ndkjIgH8bzj0ew- .

There are currently 5 different Civil PE Exam Depths that you can choose from: Water Resources and Environmental, Transportation, Geotechnical, Structural, and Construction. Generally speaking, the topics from the 2nd half of the FE Civil Exam become the topics for the 1st half of all the Civil PE Exams. I just recently took the PE Exam and wanted to share my experience with you. Earning your P.E. license is one of the most pivotal steps in your career as a Civil Engineer, so please feel free to reach out to me with any questions about my experience.

Dani’s PE Study Setup – including notebook, NCEES-approved calculator, and writing materials

PE Exam Preparation

In terms of time, I started studying in February 2022 starting with a few hours a week to 15+ hours as I got closer to my exam date. I first started by looking at my specifications and making a checklist of those topics. Beyond the technical studying, I also took time to learn how to use key calculator functions like num-solv on my TI-36x Pro.

In terms of my exam preparation, I have compiled the following tips:

  • Use the NCEES CBT Exam specifications to decide which depth you want to take. While most of my work has been on bridge design, I elected to take Transportation over Structural as I was more familiar with the Transporation Depth topics than the Structural Depth topics that most building engineers would be more familiar with.
  • Do a lot of practice problems – Completing practice problems from different sources was a good portion of my studying! I personally bought PPI PE Civil Practice Problems, 16th Edition By Michael R. Lindeburg, PE for my studying, but there are many other resources (free and for a cost) where you can get practice problems and I have linked to many at the end of this article! Topics for the PE Civil Exam range from Soil Mechanics to Materials to Site Development, and you can view the approximate number of questions breakdown on the NCEES website here: https://ncees.org/engineering/pe/
  • Use the PE reference book – When you are completing practice problems, use the PE reference book to get family with the different sections and what equations they provide.
  • Check that your current calculator is on the list of approved calculators – You can check the current list at https://ncees.org/exams/calculator. Similar to the FE Exam, I personally used the TI-36X Pro model.
  • Establish an accountability partner – If someone else is studying for the exam at the same time and you do well studying with others, ask if they want to be your study buddy! You can set up weekly Zoom events to review problems. If there isn’t someone else you know that is studying for the exam or you study better independently, establishing someone who will keep you accountable to study is helpful. Personally, my partner kept me accountable and I would walk him through problems I was having trouble with to solidfy my understanding of them.

Week before Exam

  • Print out your exam authorization email – Read through this material and check the date, location, and time of your test. Most often, your exam time will be 8 AM and it is mentioned to arrive 30 minutes prior to this time.
  • Conduct a test run – Know where the test site is and how to get there (print directions if needed). Consider booking a hotel room or getting to the test location early on test day. If you are driving, make sure you understand parking and bring money (cash) for parking if applicable.
  • Buy a backup calculator if you don’t already have one. Both must be from NCEES approved list!
  • Figure out what you will be bringing for your 50-minute lunch break. I personally brought an Uncrustable PB&J sandwich, some snacks, water, and a soda for my exam.
  • If you are able to, take a few days off work before the exam, I definitely recommend that you do.

Day before Exam

Here are a few things I suggest doing the day before the exam:

  • Pack your bag – Organize and pack your exam day and study materials a day or two before test day. Here’s a sample checklist, feel free to add or use your own:
    • 2 NCEES-approved calculators
    • A photo ID that matches the information on your application
    • Official NCEES/BPELSG “exam day” information and exam authorization letter
    • Snacks, lunch, water bottle (I laid my empty lunch bag on top of this bag to make sure I remembered to pack my lunch that morning before I left.)
    • Glasses (if applicable)
    • Sweater/sweatshirt
    • Cough drops – these will need to be unwrapped before you bring them into the testing room.
  • If planning to drive: Make sure the car is fully charged or has a full tank of gas, check traffic, and research parking options. Bring money (cash) for parking, if applicable.
  • For those unfamiliar with the Pearson center procedures, I have linked below their YouTube playlist that goes through what you should expect on test day.
  • Lay out the clothes you plan to wear the next day. I elected to wear a t-shirt and leggings for maximum comfiness. I also brought a light jacket since you can bring that into the Pearson testing area. For those with long hair, you most likely will only be allowed a thin hair tie to tie back your hair as larger items like hair clips were not allowed.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. For any big event like this, I typically take 5 mg of melatonin right before bed to help me sleep.

PE Exam Day

Regardless of what PE Exam you choose, you will still have the same number of questions and timing of the exam. It is currently 80 questions total and you will have 9 hours to complete the exam. The 9-hour time includes a tutorial and an optional 50-minute break.

Keeping this in mind, we come to my tips for Exam Day:

  • Take a deep breath before you begin – With 480 minutes for the exam and 80 questions means approximately 6 minutes per problem. Taking a deep breath before you begin will help to calm you before you start this marathon of an exam.
  • If you aren’t sure how to address a problem immediately, use the “Flag for Review” button and leave it to the end – A perk of the computer-based PE Exam is the “Flag” feature. You will be able to review all of your answers before submitting each half of the exam. Both how to flag a question and the review screen are shown in the YouTube video by NCEES here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv7MUmuAT8I
  • The Search Tool is your friend – This is why I emphasized using the PE reference book during exam preparation as you can use search in the search feature for keywords or parts of words if there is a question you are struggling with. Also knowing where different equations are in the handbook, and the different variables used in the equations ahead of time also helped me to get through questions quicker.
  • Keep track of time – Personally, I used about 2.5-3 hours on the morning portion and the remaining time in the afternoon portion.

Resources:

Below I have compiled a list of the free and paid resources I have used during my PE Exam studying. Please let me know if you have any questions about any resource or if you would like me to add one to the list that you personally found beneficial.

Free Preparation Sources

My favorite free PE Exam Study Resources that I used to study for the PE Exam are below:

Supplemental Preparation Sources (Cost Associated)

My favorite PE Exam Study Resources that have a cost associated with them are as follows:

  • The Civil Engineering Academy’s Ultimate PE Civil Review Course – This was so helpful to review the technical topics. Isaac and his team break down each of the morning technical topics into easy-to-digest videos. I love that there are multiple videos within each module so that I can easily review a specific topic, rather than having to rewatch an entire multi-hour lecture to find that part again which is how other review courses are organized. So if you need to re-review storm characteristics, you can go directly to that video.
  • PPI Michael R. Lindeburg, PE’s PE Civil Practice Problems, 16th Edition (CEPP16) – This book included a bunch of great practice problems, so I highly recommend it. You can save 15% on PPI study products including this book by using the following link: https://ppi2pass.com/engineering?affiliate=5354454d505049 
  • Ultimate PE Study Guide: Learn Better, Faster. This guide has 3 modules, 10 lessons, and over 20,000 words of insightful content to help you pass the exam. More information on it here: https://www.luisfelipeduque.com/dani
  • If you are a member of ASCE, you have access to https://www.asce.org/accessengineering/ . You can search “PE Exam” on there for a number of resources.
  • Other physical resources that I used to study are linked here in my storefront: https://www.amazon.com/shop/danitheengineer/list/HA3MMH8BRGK4

NCEES Additional Resources

Do you have any other resources or tips that you think I should add to this post? Email me at danitheengineer.blog@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

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