PE Preps: Part the Second

For those reading on Facebook, this is posted on my WordPress blog (

I have 111 study days left as of this writing for the October 29th exam date. I got an email yesterday that my application had been received and was being reviewed, and Andrea forwarded me another email today that I had been approved to sit for the exam. Quick turnaround, but then I had already been approved in 2007 to take the exam, so it was a simple matter to consider the additional experience.

So my plan thus far has been to read Lindeberg’s Civil Engineering Reference Manual for the PE Exam, going over the major topics of each section. I have to say, civil engineering is a lot easier than mechanical. Well, it would be if I were taking the classes over four years. I just got another book, Indranil Goswami’s “Civil Engineering All-In-One PE Exam Guide” that I’ve glanced at while looking over the Lindeberg material, but I haven’t gotten deep into it yet. I think Lindeberg’s is very comprehensive and has more than the test will cover (okay, serious understatement that), but I’m teaching myself the fundamentals of Construction, Geotechnical (soils and foundations), Structural (beams et al), Transportation (road and highway design, capacity, etc), and Water Resources and Environmental. Of the five, Water Resources is most like my mechanical background. I took several courses in structural analyses as an undergrad in 1991/2, but wasn’t a big fan. Geotech and Transportation are totally new. Construction is actually new to the exam (since 2008) and there aren’t a lot of resources to help one prepare. Given most of my experience has been in the construction field, that would seem the logical choice to take in the afternoon, but again, there aren’t a lot of resources, so I have little idea of what kind of questions they can ask. I’m thinking not.

A note on the exam format for folks unfamiliar: open book – almost any book, but you shouldn’t bring things that you really haven’t used, certain restrictions on what format your personal notes can take (no stapled or ring binder loose pages) and what calculators you can use, four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon (40 multiple choice questions each). The morning is considered the Breadth portion and covers the five sections roughly equally (to make sure the engineer has enough knowledge of the fundamentals of the discipline). The afternoon is focused on one topic in Depth. Up until this October, the examinee was given all five and could choose which to do, but only one was graded. The powers that be changed the rules for this next round – I have to pick which to take when I register and only that one will be given to me. I guess the reasoning for the old way was “whoa, this is tougher than I thought…I’d better switch”, losing time, of course. This way forces the study focus, so I had better choose right.

Four hours, 40 questions means six minutes per question. And you usually have to choose the best answer…meaning that your answer and the four they give may not match, so you have to use your best engineering judgment! Say the question has to do with capacity; well the best answer may be the rounded up one to make sure that you’ve designed it well enough. Now, if it has to do with a safety factor, you might have to choose the one that is below the maximum you have calculated.

All the tips out there say to know the index and know the material. Just about everyone in the Civil Engineer Corps who took the PE I talked to said Transportation is the easiest as long as you have the references. Sure – if you took the courses! It does seem rather easy, but I’m trying to learn in less than a month. I already decided that I’m not going to take the Construction Depth, so I think I’m going to focus on the Water Resources and Environmental, because that seems easiest to me. Easy being relative, of course.

Anyway, my plan:

  1. read and learn everything by the end of July…so far, well, so far…
  2. re-read everything again if I “finish” early (I’m actually ahead of where I thought I’d be)
  3. start running through problems in August (I have several problem books with solutions, and some actually have the reasons why the wrong answers are wrong. I’ve not started working many problems yet because I need the material to sink in to a “yeah, I recognize that” level and know at least where to go to find the references in the books)
  4. focus in earnest in September on the Depth section while still reviewing the Breadth
  5. really focus on the Depth and weak points in October

There’s not enough caffeine in even how I make my coffee to sustain me. Must supplement.

(I’m already resigned to having a minimalist Halloween this year. It usually takes me a solid two weeks to set everything up and then I tweak for a week more. Bummer)

…to be continued…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s