Saturday, April 23, 2011

Calculator Policy for California State Specific Seismic and Surveying Principles Exam:

The head proctor of the Seismic Principles Exam (April, 2011) surprised me when she said, "You can have any calculator, as long as it does not have QWERTY." Basically, they don't allow a calculator into which you can type-enter the questions.

It is still best to practice on the calculator you will use during the exam. Buy a compliant model as soon as possible in your preparation period. I used the Casio fx-115W. It is solar. This prevented any concern about dead batteries.

fx-115w - Allowed in PE Exam
Visit the page for the California Board of Professional Engineers. They specifically state,
"It should be noted that the Board's calculator policy for its state-specific examinations varies significantly from the NCEES calculator policy for the national examinations."
So, if you have a favorite calculator that NCEES disallowed, you can bring it to the California state-specific exams, as long as it is not one of the following "strictly prohibited" types (June 6, 2012):

1. anything with a QWERTY keyboard
2. palmtop
3. laptop
4. handheld or desktop computers
5. data banks
6. data collectors
7. personal data assistants
8. organizers

Calculators with other (non-QWERTY) alphanumeric keypads are acceptable.

Some of the strictly verboten calculators are listed on the bpels site. These are not allowed on the NCEES exam, but are permitted on California state-specific seismic and survey exams:

... the HP 39 series; the HP 41 series; the HP42S; the HP 48 series; the HP 49 series; the HP 50 series; the TI 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86, 89 series; the Casio CFX 9850; the Casio FX 7400; the Casio FX 9750; and the Casio FX 2.0.

Best Engineering Calculators

BPELS Calculator Policy 

Select the best engineering calculator, and price shop on one page. 

Starting in October, 2011, NCEES administration services will administer and proctor California State special seismic and surveying exams. Be sure to check the BPELSG site, and take an allowable calculator. 

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

ATC 20 - To Buy or Not to Buy?

Is ATC 20 Worth the Investment?

ATC 20 is titled “Procedures for Postearthquake Safety Evaluation of Buildings”. The Applied Technology Council produced this 152-page book in 1989. It is an analysis of safety evaluation procedures following an earthquake. It details methods of evaluation, ratings of evaluated buildings, and provides excellent sketches and photos of earthquake damage.

Will you need this during the exam? After my seismic test, a young lady next to me said she had been told at her firm (a traffic engineering agency) that she needed only “the Hiner book”. She felt she had done well. However, she seemed a teeny-bit surprised when I told her I had answered three questions using the ATC books.

There are three ATC 20 books: ATC 20, ATC 20-1, and ATC 20-2. ATC 20-1 is a small pamphlet, a “Field Manual”. Just 4.25” x 7.25”, it is hand held and designed to be used to quickly translate visible damage during rapid assessment into ratings of “SAFE”, “Potentially UNSAFE”, or “UNSAFE”.

In today’s world of tilting earth, shifting magnetic fields, plate tectonic weapons like HAARP, and massive earthquakes like Sichuan, Haiti, Chili, Indonesia, and Japan, we engineers need to be ready to provide emergency services. Safe buildings can reopen for business. Safe homes can provide shelter. In addition to engineers, city inspectors are permitted to perform inspections. However, the engineering profession should step up and meet the responsibility as best as possible. You will need this book on your shelf.

Unlike the young examinee next to me, it is appropriate to seek advice beyond the people in your office. Go directly to the exam website and write down titles of the required references and books. Use the link below. Find the exam you will take, download the exam criteria (a pdf), and scroll down for the list of required texts:

There are 55 questions on the California State Specific Seismic Exam (2.5 hours = less than 3 minutes per question). If you can answer 3 questions using the ATC 20 books, that is 3/50, or 6% of the available questions. (Note: 5 questions do not count toward your score. Those are new questions under trial, being calibrated for future exams.) Passing is set by a cut score. This means it is a competition. You need to perform better than the majority of the others testing with you. Typically, (according to various unofficial sources) 70% is expected to be a passing score. 3/(.7x50) = 8.6%. Basically, you are given an 8.6% advantage over your fellow examinees if you will:

  1. Buy the ATC 20 series.
  2. Review all three publications when they arrive.
  3. Bring them with you to the exam.
That is a significant benefit. The questions I answered could have been reasoned with basic engineering knowledge to eliminate (maybe) one option in just one of those three. You need these books, and you need to be familiar with their contents.

I did not read every page. I spent about two hours reviewing all the material, reading the main passages, and writing a few summary notes in white space (Use ink for this, not pencil). During the exam, I was able to recognize I needed the ATC books, and knew what I needed. I flipped through until I found the sections I needed to answer the questions (easy with so many sketches and photos).

I took the April, 2010 seismic exam without these. I never knew I needed the books (I did not have them.) I took the April, 2011 exam with them, and I am sure I answered those three questions correctly.

Buy ATC 20!

See costs of all the Seismic Principles exam reference books and where to get the best buy. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Checklist for Day Prior to Leaving for PE Exam:

Here is a checklist for you to use the day prior to your PE exam:

NCEES examinee letter with examinee ID number.
Read the NCEES Candidate Agreement
Set out comfortable clothes. Include a heavy sweater or light jacket. (Hoods not allowed.)
Fill tank with gas.
Compile all books together.
Find a box to use as a bookshelf.
Print directions to test site.
Set alarm (two, if you got ‘em.)
Calculator. Double check against NCEES list, and the California state calculator policy, if you are taking the PE exam in the Golden State. The lists are not the same!
Reserve Calculator.
Add any loose papers to a binder. Organize and tab sections.
Gatorade or G2 Perform.
Bring old NCEES mechanical pencils.
Money for parking..
Go to bed on time.

Some explanations: 

Box: the box can be set on top of your table. This allows you to easily look up from your exam, see the reference you need, and grab it. Once finished, you can easily replace it to your instant book shelf. This keeps less important books out of your work area. You also will not have to rummage around in a wheeled carry-on bag sitting on the floor. This equates to time saved and frustration avoided.

The image is the box I used to carry my books into the exam. It then becomes a very convenient book shelf.

Binder: This is a place for any vocabulary list you may have printed out. These can be valuable in the NCEES PE exam morning session, as well as the afternoon exam. Also include any problems you have worked and reworked. In my exam-day binder, I printed several problems from my practice tests. Three of them were very similar to actual test problems. Having the problems in my binder saved me time and mental energy. 

Fill ‘er up: You do not want to pull over to fill your gas tank early in the morning. You want to drive straight to the exam site and stay focused on one thing- your exam. So, stop by the petrol station the Thursday before your exam date.

Pack Books: In the morning, some unexpected thing may cause you to rush. Rushing can create room for omissions and errors. Line up your books and double check to ensure you have it all. Before Seismic Exam day, I left my Kaplan “Civil & Structural Engineering Seismic Design Review for the PE Exam” book on the floor in the bathroom. I had searched my desk and book shelf for all the references and books I planned to take. I almost missed this book! It played an important part in my exam, too. So, double check your books.

Gatorade and G2 Perform: Your brain uses the body’s resources just like physical labor uses them. Prepping for activity is just as relevant for mental competitors as it is for physical competitors.

NCEES Letter: The young woman who sat to my right printed out only her confirmation email. She somehow overlooked the attachment. This was caught at 8:43. The chief proctor sent her to the “Help Desk”. She returned several minutes later with her letter and took the exam. They allowed her to open her email, and print out the attachment on the email from NCEES. It worked out for her. But, better to bring your letter in the first place. 

Mechanical Pencils: In case they run out of pencils. You will only have one of these if you previously took an exam and are re-taking any part of the exam series. (I retook the California State Specific Seismic Principles Exam, so I had one from the previous exam.) I read the testimony of an examinee whose exam group started late because the proctors ran out of mechanical pencils. Proctors drove to the store to purchase more.

Reserve Calculator: You're only allowed one on the desktop. But, you are permitted a back up. There is an excellent PE Exam Calculator Review to help you select a second unit (If you're reading this well ahead of time, the best deals are online. If the actual day before, take a trip to the local office supply. Fill your tank on the way!)

Get to bed on time: Mental exercise actually requires more rest than physical labor. Charge up with a good rest. Actually, because of the way the body compensates with hormones, sleep on Tuesday and Wednesday nights will have more impact on your performance than will sleep on Thursday. All-nighters, of course are a mistake. Better to be fresh for an 8-hour comprehensive exam than to splurge 6 hours sleep for 6 hours' review time.

NCEES Candidate Agreement: Be sure to read this brief, two-page explanation of what can get you kicked out of the exam. For example, a cell phone or a non-NCEES pencil are grounds for an early departure and/or invalidation of your exam.

Money for Parking: The cost to park at the Sacramento, California PE exam site was $5, cash only. I previously took my FE exam there. When I didn't have cash on the FE date, the cashier told me I could park across the street, and walk over, which I did. So, be sure to have some cash for 9 or 10 hours of parking.

Did I leave something off this list? Post a comment!