Sunday, July 19, 2015

10 Tips to Pass the PE Exam

After writing and researching the PE exam, and how to pass it on the first try, for several years, I realized this: Every examinee needs a basic scaffold upon which to prepare their plan to pass the PE exam. So, here are 10 tips to pass the PE:

1. Carefully calculate when you first qualify to sit for the exam. Plan to apply as soon as possible. Every state has unique requirements. There are also many exceptions, and most states have appeals boards. So, don't listen to a colleague's advice. Go read your state's site. If it is confusing, just phone them. They're engineers like you, and the engineering community is self-supportive. Call if you need an answer.

2. Choose your emphasis, your afternoon module concentration, quickly. Topics for Civil Engineering:

3. Find the NCEES list of reference books used to prepare the exam for your specialty. Be sure to have all these books, or to have access for study and to bring with you to your exam site. For your convenience, her is a link to the NCEES site page with links to the design standards and specifications used to create the modules. The distant end page has links for all exam types, not just civil.

4. Research the professional study books for the PE exam. Find a list of books that are well reviewed, current, and relate to your afternoon module.

5. Cut down your books and buy just the ones you need. Too many books can bog down study, and can clutter up your limited work space in the exam room on examination day. If you purchase poorly written books, or books with errors, this can deplete your study efforts.

6. Choose your calculator or calculators. Buy two. Here is an excellent overview of the Best Calculator for the PE Exam.

7. Create a study plan. For this, Pass the PE Like a Pro has three good example study plans; a discussion of the strategies used to answer questions for time economy; and a few unique tips for improving your score. You must also choose a place where you won't be disturbed. Bring your spouse into the planning. He or she will need to sacrifice and cover some of your daily responsibilities. You need a schedule, some time, a place, and some quiet.

8. Choose something to give up to make room for your study plan. Your life is full now. Every day is spent in one activity or another. Decide what you will sacrifice, and make a commitment to do it. Suggestions: television, weekend trip to the movies, or even working off the clock. Maybe arrange to use the thousand hours of comp time you've built up. 

9. Take lots of practice exams. Absolutely buy the NCEES practice PE exam for your specialty.

10. Have a plan and a PE exam day checklist. Plan everything, even what to eat for lunch during the PE exam, where you will park, what you will wear, if you will drive in the morning, or stay in a hotel nearby.

And, say a prayer.

And, remember, no matter how many times it takes to pass, once you pass, you're a licensed engineer.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Structural Depth Practice Exams

Structural Depth Practice Exams
    How do you prepare for the structural depth exam? How much time should you allot to review for the structural PE exam?
    The structural depth exam is the toughest option for the PE exam. You will want to acquire and take as many structural depth practice exams as you can before the date of your PE exam. The following are the best options, according to reviews by other exam takers.
    One of the first things you want to do is to take a practice exam. Set aside the full amount of time you will need to complete the exam. Be sure to choose your question answering system. The e-book Pass the PE like a Pro explains the two main strategies (lion or fox) and why one is greatly superior to the other and will almost certainly make a positive difference in your final score.
    The first practice test will provide a baseline for your strengths and weaknesses. The areas of the Structural Depth module are:
The following paragraph is taken from a review on Amazon: 

So I set the CERM companion aside and started working from this sample exam, and it was a world of difference! These are much more representative of the problems one should expect to see on the PE. The majority of problems are easily solved within 6 minutes and there are no multi-part problems, just as the exam is formatted. This book restored the confidence that the CERM companion stole. –A. Henley (on Amazon)

    Henley is correct. The best, most representative questions will be found in the NCEES Structural Sample Questions and Solutions book. So, this is the first book you want. It is the first sample exam you want to take. This book has 40 questions from the morning breadth and 40 questions in the afternoon structural format. 

    You can take only the afternoon portion, if you are hard pressed for time. But, you really should take the full 8-hour exam. Taking the full exam requires 9 hours; lunch takes one hour between the two portions of the exam. Here is the format: 

8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon- 40 breadth questions covering all topics.
12:00 to 12:55 p.m. – Lunch (and a quick nap if you have time and a reliable phone or watch alarm.)
12:55 to 1:00 – Sit in your chair inside the exam room waiting for the afternoon structural depth portion.
1:00 to 5:00 – Afternoon structural depth problems

    Once you complete it, you will have a feel for the quality of the kind of questions you will find on the exam. You will understand how you need to study. And, you will have a score to compete against, to improve upon, while studying. The reason you should take the full 9-hour format is fatigue. The mind, like muscles, depends on the body system to provide what it needs to operate. It can fatigue. So, the afternoon portion includes a level of tiredness which you should build into your study program. If you take the afternoon portion alone, without working the morning problems first, your score will be slightly inflated. But, it will show your strengths and weaknesses either way.
    Every person is competitive. Something to beat provides inspiration. Schedule a second practice exam for two weeks later. This forces you to keep your scheduled study sessions. Knowing you will have another practice exam will keep you honest. You will want to show improvement; this will be motivating and increase confidence.

Here is a graph of results from one examinee who took and passed the structural afternoon exam:

The score you will need to pass will depend upon how difficult the particular exam you sat for was. A team of professionals “fine tunes the passing score based on the exam’s difficulty.” However, most sources that mention a percentage (few do) say that approximately 60% is a passing score. However, because of statistical variance, set the bar higher. You want to score 70% correct on a practice exam before your actual exam date. 

    Here are additional options for the structural depth exam: 

1.   Structural Depth Practice Exams for the Civil PE Exam. (May 6, 2014). This 96-page book contains two afternoon exams. These contain afternoon structural depth exam problems. There is no morning portion. But, you can supplement one of these with Mike’s Civil PE Exam Guide: Morning Session to create one full exam. The second practice exam you can take in an evening and score and review during the next few days.
2.   Six-Minute Solutions for Civil PE Exam Structural Problems. (July 15, 2014). Review rating: 4 stars. 108 pages. 80 structural depth problems and another 20 thrown in for the morning breadth portion.
3.   Structural Engineering Reference Manual. (May 15, 2014). This is not a practice exam. But, as it is cousin to the Civil Engineering Reference Manual. It has an average 4.6 star review on Amazon. This is very high for an engineering review book. Anything better than 3.2 is good. Anything over 4.0 is gold.
4.   Steel Design for the Civil PE and Structural SE Exams. (March, 2012). Contains 50 examples and 35 practice problems. These focus on steel design and connections. If you are weak in this area, this is a must-have.
5.   Structural Engineering Solved Problems. (November, 2011). 100 structural practice problems. Note: uses AISC 13th edition (one edition stale, but not that big a deal with the Steel Manual); uses LRFD Bridge Design 2010. But, it covers bridge design, which is somewhat lacking in other options.
6. AASHTO LRFD Bridge Design Specifications. (2012). This is a spiral bound version of the standard for the design and evaluation of bridges.

Monday, February 2, 2015

PE Exam Sample Question, Structural

How to Calculate the Compression Capacity of a Steel Column 

... the easy way.

Examinees lose the most points in the structural questions. Here is a tip for answering structural questions. Many questions can be answered using tables in AISC 360, the "Steel Construction Manual."
For example, look at Table 4-22. For any section, convert to KL/r (L in inches) and then use the table to find the maximum axial compressive load (Fcr in ksi). Multiply Fcr by the cross sectional area of the column and that is the capacity.
Column = HSS 6x6x1/4
Material = A500 Grade B, Fy = 46 ksi
Column Height = 18 feet, no bracing
K = 0.8
Maximum axial capacity in compression

1.) Look up the r value in Table 1-12 of AISC. r = 2.34 inches. Also note the area of the cross section for later. A = 5.24 square inches. (page 1-93 of the steel manual)
2.) Calculate KL/r = (0.8)(18ft x 12"/ft) / (2.34) = 73.8
3.) Use Table 4-22 (page 4-323). Find the column for Fy = 46 ksi. Within that column, find the sub-column for KL/r on the left. Follow the KL/r column down to the value closest to 73.8, which is 74. Now, follow the row to the right. You will see two values. The ASD value is 19.1 ksi (highlighted green in the 14th edition) and the LRFD value is 28.6 ksi.
4.) Multiply Fcr x A = 19.1 x 5.24 = 100,100 pounds maximum capacity in axial compression.

* Linear interpolation within the table is permitted. (But, the precision of the answer choices on the exam will not likely require it.)
* If you use Euler's equation, there are several checks you would have to calculate rather than the two simple ones in this procedure.
* This example uses a bi-symmetric section. The X-X and Y-Y axes have the same r value. If you had a Wide Flange or other section, you must check both axes and use the lower r value.
* L is the least braced length and can differ from one axis to the other.
* 35 ksi: railing (A53, Grade B carbon steel)
* 36 ksi: pipe, angles, channels (A36)
* 42 ksi: round HSS (A500 Grade B)
* 46 ksi: square and rectangular HSS (A500 Grade C)
* 50 ksi: W shapes, WT shapes (A572, A992)
* Notice that omega-o and phi-sub-c are already applied to the values for Fcr. Do not apply these reductions a second time. 
* Tables 4-1 to 4-12 can be used for specific sections of plain steel. 
* Tables 4-13 to 4-15 can be used for axial compression capacity of concrete-filled hollow sections. 
* Share this with your friends!

Buy AISC 360, 14th edition Steel Construction Manual

Structural Engineering Exam SE Practice Problems books

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pass the PE like a Pro

The best overall guide to the non-academic parts of the PE process:
    Pass the PE, PE exam, NCEES exam, how to pass the PE, best pe review
    How to Pass the PE

  • determining which kinds of books you will need
  • the best titles for the subjects you want to review
  • how to avoid poor-quality materials
  • preparing an effective study plan
  • How to increase your score 5% in 10 minutes
  • How to get discounts on some of the best books
  • the best calculator for the PE exam
  • + more!
Pass the PE like a Pro compiles the very best material from this blog into one easy professional engineering exam study guide. With a free Kindle app, you can view this on a PC, iphone, ipad, Mac, or any Android device.

In the end of the book, I have a links reference list. Many of these links provide valuable information.

This is a tool to save you time in your exam preparation, which requires more than just working problems. Additionally, I list several tips I've learned over more than 30 years in academic competitions, winning Marine of the Year in 1988, learning foreign languages, and -of course- passing the FE and PE exams.

At just $2.99, you can't afford not to buy this one. See book now: Pass the PE like a Pro

This low price for this professional engineering exam study guide is an introductory price to increase sales and push the book up in Amazon's listings. (When you search, the highest selling books appear first.) Update: Now #20 in Kindle Civil Engineering books. Thanks for the support!

  No risk- as with all Kindle books, Amazon offers a 7-day return policy.

No Kindle? No problem! Download Kindle viewer free:

Kindle for PC

Kindle for Mac

Kindle for Ipad, Ipod, Ipod Touch 

Friday, August 30, 2013

Best PE Exam Review Materials

PE exam study, professional engineer exam, civil PE exam, PE exam review
Snapshot of PE Exam Materials Store
Today, I finally completed a massive review of the available PE exam study materials. Phew! I learned there are some good books, some real worthless garbage, and some absolute "must have" materials.

In short, I compiled lists of the best PE review books for each topic: mechanical,  industrial, chemical, et al, and each of the five civil engineering afternoon topics: structural, geotechnical, environmental and water resources, transportation, and construction; as well as the California civil engineering surveying, and California civil seismic exams.

I put it all together in special pages on Amazon. The first page is a list of my top recommendations, the "must have" list. You'll need to click around to see other lists. Most of the lists have multiple pages.

PE Exam Study Materials

One thing that stunned me: I found a lot of unique material from this blog in other writers' content. I checked and confirmed- I published first. Wow. They say copying is the highest compliment. Well, I am blushing!

You, of course, are reading this material for FREE. You're welcome. Look in the right margin for more great articles that are sure to make it into more books "by others."

When it comes to the Civil and Mechanical exams, a good book of engineering unit conversions will prove valuable. The best title I have identified is Engineering Unit Conversions, by Michael Lindeburg. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Best Surveying Book for CA PE Exam

What is the best surveying review book to prepare for the California Engineering Surveying exam? This is a complete list of the available books. There are not too many options!

Here, I list the books that don't make people pull their hair out. By this, I mean they have better than 50% reviewer ratings.

The California Engineering Surveying exam has a lower pass rate than either of the NCEES morning or afternoon exams. The first thing you need to do is understand what is on the exam. To do this, visit the website's 7-page description of the five content areas covered in the Engineering Surveying exam:

Engineering Surveying Exam PE CaliforniaI. Standards of Practice (6%)

II. Equipment and Uses (8%)

III. Field Measurements (28%)

IV. Calculations (33%)

V. Data Application Procedures (25%)

Part I, Standards and Practice, is kind of a "gimme", like the ethics questions of the FE exam. If you read the material twice, you're sure to answer all these correctly. Read this article, and print out the 37 pages and take them with you in a binder: Engineering and Land Surveying for Public Officials

The second part of part I of the five content areas for the civil surveying exam is the Professional Engineer's Act. Reading this is required to complete the take-home exam portion of the PE exam, so you most likely already know this material. Review the 33 pages anyway, and print it if you want: Professional Engineers Act

Personally, I went to the public library and checked out an intro-to-surveying text book. I did this less than a week before my exam date. I gave it a full day. I reviewed all the chapters, and worked the easy problems in each section.

California Engineering Surveying Exam Test-Taking Strategy

Total, I prepared 10 hours for this exam. Most of this was to familiarize myself with the book. During the exam, I answered all the questions I could do with my head knowledge.

Then, I returned to the problems I recognized from the library text book. I had circled the numbers of these exam problems in the test booklet. This way, you don't have to re-read the problems to recognize the ones you knew you could do- but with time-burning equation retrieval from a reference.

I found the equations I needed. I found them quickly because I had familiarized myself with my book. Then, I answered those questions as well.

If you have never surveyed, or have little experience surveying or working with survey data, you will require more review and more preparation. I worked 5 years as a technician during which I regularly surveyed and processed the data.

If you have experience calculating angles, distances, inverts, slopes, and curves, you have an advantage on this exam. I felt it was very practical.The problems on the exam were the kinds of calculations and reasoning I used performing surveys and drafting plans from survey data.

Best Surveying Book for the CA PE Exam

The good news is: You don't have too many resources to consider. The bad news is: Most of the options are disappointing.

If you know of a book which should be on this list, please, leave a comment.
1.  Surveying for the California Civil PE License, by Shahin Mansour. Mr. Mansour is a veteran PE exam prep instructor. He only created a seller account online in early 2015. So, this is a great book and is only recently available. Before, former students sold copies at inflated rates... and they sold out.

2.  Surveying Principles, by Paul A. Cuomo $74, average rating on Amazon: 2.8 of 5 stars.

2. 120 Solved Surveying Problems, by Peter Boniface $75, 2.8 of 5 stars.

The next options are actually geared toward the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exams. But, their ratings are epic compared to the products above, which focus on the California Civil Engineering Surveying Exam. 
3. Surveyor Reference Manual, by George M. Cole, PhD, $170 (newer edition available for $217). Average rating on Amazon: 4.0 of 5 stars.

4. 1001 Solved Surveying Fundamentals Problems, by Jan Van Sickle $100 used, $200 new: 4.8 of 5 stars.

5. Surveying Solved Problems, by Jan Van Sickle $95, 4.7 of 5 stars.

6. Surveying Practice Problems, by Timothy Nelson $18, 4 of 5 stars (just one review.)

7. The FREE NCEES PS Reference Handbook: 130 pages of surveying equations.This has far more than you need for the Civil Surveying exam. However, pick through and take what you want. Put it into a section of your Quick Reference folder.

More options to prepare for the California Engineering Surveying Exam: 

8. PES Surveying for the California Civil PE. This is a DVD set selling for $350, by Shahin Mansour. Mr. Mansour also offers his services at

9. Surveying Practice Exams and Solutions, $139, also offered by Shahin Mansour.

Further Reading: 

Six Week NCEES PE Exam Study Guide

PE Exam Study Materials - a dedicated, pre-filtered store containing only current, well-reviewed PE exam review and preparation materials: books, DVDs, course notes, and more.

PE Review Course List and Comparison - PE exam review courses, what is provided, and the cost. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Win a Free PE Sample Exam or a Copy of Pass the PE like a Pro!

This free giveaway ends November 19, 2013. 1st prize is a copy of the NCEES Sample PE Exam, produced by NCEES. Second prize is an ebook: Pass the PE like a Pro.
The previous winner returned a few times and made multiple entries- smart move. He won a copy of the Civil Engineering Reference Manual

Winner for September announced, see below.

The raffle ends November 19, 2013. You gain additional entries by sharing the contest with friends. When they enter, you are automatically entered again. 

There are a few varieties of the NCEES book. Each has a morning breadth and afternoon depth sample exam. I will email you to ask which you want.

The rafflecopter tool will select the winner from the total entry pool using input from You may enter multiple times by tweeting, Google +1'ing and providing feedback to the blog.

Everyone else: You can get 5% off PE exam study books (any other book published by PPI) by using a ppi2pass discount code.

The most popular articles on this blog are:

Six Week NCEES PE Exam Study Plan

Test Taking Tips

and PE Review Course List and Comparison

Be sure to enter the raffle (see right margin.). I'm committed to giving away two excellent books. Only 11 days remaining, and only 30 entries. Those are great odds.Sixth day: there were only 14 entries. These are fabulous odds. Someone is going to win. It may as well be you. In this raffle, you can enter multiple times, return each day, and enter the raffle again! 

Congratulations to the September winner: 
    W. Tang won 13th Edition Civil Engineering Reference Manual by Michael R. Lindeburg a Rafflecopter giveaway People, I am really giving away free PE sample exam books. I've done it before, and I am going to keep on doing it. Why? Because, to enter, you have an option of sharing this blog with others. It's advertising.

Mr. Lee won November.

December: No winner because nobody entered. The only 10 entries were all me. Those were my test actions to ensure everything was operating correctly. Very funny!