Saturday, January 19, 2013

PE Exam Strategy

Which is the better strategy for answering questions on the NCEES professional engineer exam?

Strategy #1, The Bull: Push through each question, sequentially, answering within 6 minutes, only moving on to the next question after answering or reaching 9 or 10 minutes.

Strategy #2, The Fox: Examine each question in turn. If it looks complicated or time consuming, skip it entirely. Work all the problems you can. Return to skipped problems after reaching the end of the test.

Strategy #1 is highly recommended for geniuses, brutes, obdurate mules, and those generally prone to stubbornness.

Strategy #2 is recommended for examinees of excellent character who are taking the exam with an intent to pass.

Ribbing aside, while a genius who has also invested a substantial amount of time may be able to push through the professional engineer exam question by question, most people benefit from working questions with which they are most familiar, and whose solution process is evident. There are some corollaries to strategy #2:

  1. If you begin a question, and don't have both formulas and a solution method to solve it, move on. 
  2. If you derive an answer, and it looks nothing like the choices, check your units, then your work. If the answer isn't obvious, move on. 
  3. Keep a list of questions you skipped on a page you dog-eared, or just put a large circle around those you skip. This makes locating them easier after you reach the end of the exam. 
  4. After skipping a question, be sure you are marking the correct location on your answer form. If you skip number 5, and calculate the answer for number 6, be sure not to fill in 6's answer in 5's answer line. 
Additional Strategies that save time:
  1. Transcribe answers in batches. For example, work answers on both faces of two pages. Circle the correct answer, then transcribe all these to the Scantron form before turning the page to the next two page faces. This saves time because you must move the Scantron and any open reference books and the exam itself around to mark the Scantron. 
  2. If you skip a question you can work, because it is obviously a time-consuming solution, circle it and add another annotation, like a "+".
So, you must decide if you want to be the Bull or the Fox. The bull charges without any real strategy. The fox plans his moves carefully. The strategy presented here is very valuable. It may seem evident now, but you will not really appreciate how powerful this wisdom is until you take practice exams utilizing both techniques. Take one like the bull, then take another like the Fox. Or, take one practice exam, and use the Bull on half of the morning session, using half the time (2 hours), then use the Fox on the second half, using the remaining 2 hours. Repeat for the afternoon practice exam.
Analyze your results. How did the strategies work for you? If the Bull won out, there's a good chance you are a genius.

Take Practice Exams to Solidify your Strategy:

Taking practice professional engineer exams will reveal your test-taking faults, and your weak subject areas. You need to take many practice exams. This way, you immediately recognize where you need to work. You should use at least two practice exams. My own PE exam strategy included six practice exams. I was scoring almost 80% correct by the time I reached my exam date (raw score, not scaled.)

Here are resources for practice exams:
  1. Best PE Exam Review Materials, 4th Edition (1 morning exam + 1 each all 5 afternoon exams)
  2. Mike's Civil PE - A highly reviewed sample problems book. Reviewers say between 12 and 14 problems in this one were similar to actual exam problems.
  3. PE Sample Exams (a comparison of the most popular PE Sample exams)
  4. PE Sample Exam Store (a compilation of PE exams- filtered for current and well-reviewed titles)

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