Really glad I don’t have to take that exam again! Four months of study and eight hours of testing. Eighteen years since I graduated from OU with that BS in Mechanical Engineering, and 10 since I graduated from TAMU with a MS also in mechanical, I knuckled down and learned in less than four months all I needed to know to pass the civil engineering professional engineer exam.
As promised (to myself, at least), here’s how I did it:
I started by reading all of the pertinent chapters of Michael Lindeburg’s Civil Engineering Reference Manual (10th Edition, published before they reformatted the exam, but still up to the task.) I made copious notes of equations and concepts. None of which I used after I started studying in earnest and never brought in to the exam anyway. But, what that did was get me thinking academically again, remembering the few cross-over topics from mechanical to civil that I had long ago forgotten, and it gave me an overview of the 85% subject matter that I had never seen. Oh, I’ve been around civil engineering for the 18 years since undergrad, but not in a design capacity, and certainly not from a actual calculation perspective. Other people did that – I just reviewed drawings for constructibility and common sense (which unfortunately is sometimes lost on architects and engineers).
Anyway, I was struggling for a month with the balance of adding a different self-discipline to my life and trying to (re)learn all of this material. Then, as noted in my PE Preps…the saga continues post, I stumbled on a tip from a woman who had failed twice but passed on the third try. She said that she didn’t bother studying the material, because she’d have to look it up anyway when she didn’t know how to solve a problem. Brilliant! Economy of time! Why spend all that time studying things that may not be on the exam?
So I started on the problem solving. Depressing at first (can’t I solve any of these without having to look at the answer?), but slowly the lights started coming on as I got more familiar with the texts and resources. I worked through Six Minute Solutions problem sets (“typical” problems as might be seen on the test – yeah, right!) for Water Resources, Transportation, Geotechnical, eventually Structural and Environmental (which is now grouped in with Water Resources in one section). That’s where I learned the equations needed, the concepts covered and the methods of solution.
I transcribed every problem I did to a blank page and after solving it on scrap paper, transcribed the solution. Along the way, as I kept doing them and saw what worked and what didn’t, I changed my system:
– Important equations I wrote in green ink,
– Where I found the material in red ink, and since I used more than one resource, I wrote each in the margin, because rarely are actual problems worded the same as the samples
– The rest of the solution I wrote in blue ink to stand apart from the equations and the references.
I also used Indranil Goswami’s “Civil Engineering All-In-One PE Exam Guide: Breadth and Depth”.
It was not as comprehensive as Lindeburg, but it was organized into the five disciplines, and it was broken out into the subject areas identified on the NCEES syllabus.
As such, it seemed to focus more on what the exam really covered.
And it had a few sections that explained things better than Lindeburg. Lindeburg was still the text I went to the most on the exam, with Goswami second, my worked problems third, and the specialized sources (Transportation related…things I never use in my daily, professional life!)
As the exam date got closer, Andrea would shake her head when I’d come down after four or five hours of study and declare I’d just finished re-indexing. “Seems like you’re always indexing.” Well, I discovered as I progressed through my studies that as time is at a premium (six minutes average per problem, remember?), and that I don’t have an eidetic memory, I had to economize on the frantic page flipping. I copied the indexes for each of Lindeburg and Goswami, as well as the Highway Capacity Manual and the Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (both of which are poor!) and put them in a three ring binder. Easier to flip a few pages than flop a book back and forth.
Then I got the idea to tab the pages with the alphabet – less time to find the pages I want. And then I got the even better idea to re-tab the pages dictionary style, which I truly believe shaved precious time off of the flipping as I simply slid a fingernail under the tab I wanted (ingeniously lettered on the front and back, and taped down for durability!)
The one thing I would change if I had to take this again would be to highlight the line I looked up in the indexes when I worked the problems, as it’s a safe bet I’d need to look it up again for the exam. Drawing the eye to key entries instead of scanning down the page searching would save even more time. I did do that for a few things toward the very end, but not nearly as much as I would have liked.
I also wrote my own indexes for the problems I worked and put in a big binder. I numbered each page and then made tables of contents for each section with (too) brief descriptions of problem types, which problems were like them and as much as possible included the reference source again in red.
“Too” brief, I say because during the actual exam, I fumbled these indexes more than the others. I knew what problems I had worked, but under the gun…
Still, the exercise in organization helped pinpoint the resources. As it turns out, I did not use my worked problems as much as I thought I would, but I still think the prep time quite valuable.
The most valuable prep time was spent tabbing Lindeburg and Goswami. On one of the forums I used folks kept talking about the “Scooby” method. I found “Scooby’s” post (a mechanical engineer!) and liked how he tabbed his pages. I had been using post-its, but those were clearly not very efficient.
Color coding by section was the key, with chapters tabbed on the side, appendices across the top, and special tabs on the bottom. (That was a brilliant suggestion by someone on one of the forums – with the book lying flat on the table, I needed to see the most important flags without having to lift it up the pounds of book!)
And I tabbed the Goswami book the same way, with the same color code scheme.
The tabs and the indexes were the biggest help on game day.
I mentioned some websites I used in earlier posts, but here are the ones that helped the most:
Civil PE Prep – where I found the tip to focus on the problems and not the study
Engineer Boards, PE Exam Prep Forum had LOTS of tips, questions and answers…an excellent resource!
The Yahoo group TexasPEExam kept me informed as to the status of the results posting, and did provide a couple answers to questions I had on the use of pens, etc.
Texas A&M still has 40 some hours of old video lectures as part of a review course it did for Fort Hood many (at least ten) years ago available on line here. I listened to a couple, but they got down way deeper into the weeds and spent too much time on non-exam topics in my opinion.
So…that’s what worked for me. I think I put in 300-400 hours of study. Was there any doubt? Hell yeah! You should have seen me at 12:30 after the morning session! I thought “Crap! Four months wasted!” I felt better after the afternoon session, and better and better as time dragged on and on until the results were posted today. But there was still doubt.
Not any more!