Saturday, March 30, 2013

Test Taking Tips

These are tips on how to do well on any exam. I placed at state level in many academic competitions throughout my grade school and high school years. These test taking tips will improve your scores. This article has little to do with study. It focuses primarily on other aspects of life which can affect test taking performance.

1. Confidence is second only to ability. Be sure to prepare using equal mixes of the material. Studying just the material you have not yet mastered can be discouraging. Mix in material you feel you already know in order to build confidence.

2. Return to material you have already covered in study. Quiz yourself. On most tests, 90% is recall and 10% is novel application of the material. Realize this: The exam tests your ability to recall formulas and how to use them. In a self quiz, you actually practice for a test by mimicking test conditions.

These test taking tips helping you so far? I tutored math, calculus, trigonometry, algebra and the sciences in college. People requested me by name. This is because these tools brought people with D averages up to B averages- many scoring A grades on exams! Keep reading, there's more:

3. Sleep right. Go to bed at 11 or before. Do not eat for at least one hour before going to sleep. Best is to not eat 3 hours before sleeping, and to not drink 60 minutes before going to bed. Have you heard of the "freshman fifteen"? This refers to young women who enter college and gain 15 pounds. When I was in college at SJSU in 1992, it was just the freshman ten.

Hormones are produced during sleep. Formally, science believed hormones were produced equally all through the night, at a steady rate per hour. More recently, this notion has been replaced. The body produces hormones according to a priority list. It produces several hormones at once, until optimal levels are attained. Then, it ceases a hormone which has reached capacity and begins production on another hormone.

The hormones that limit fat production are one of the last produced. When you begin to lose sleep, fat production suffers. We can reasonably extrapolate that other functions, not just fat production, also suffer from poor, irregular, and insufficient sleep.How much of youthful energy results from an early bed time and sleeping as late as the body wants?

The body is like an organic machine. Care for it. Provide the proper maintenance, and it will operate efficiently and effectively for you.

4. Get regular exercise each week. Three times weekly with about 30 minutes each time makes a big difference. This increases blood flow throughout the entire body and increases the capacity of the cardiovascular system to uptake and transport oxygen- which is rocket fuel for the brain. Did you know that 80% of matriculants to Ivy League schools jog regularly? It makes a difference!

5. Stretch out once in a while. If you are someone who wakes in the morning with a stiff back or other stiff muscles, stretching is for you. This improves circulation and will benefit not just the brain, but the entire body as well. There is a reason airlines recommend stretching before long flights.

6. Quit drinking soda and never drink it ever again in your lifetime. The body operates at a preferred pH balance of about 7.2 to 7.4 (normal saliva ranges 6.0 to 7.4). Just one 12 oz. can of soda drops system pH and it takes the body a full week to recover back to normal pH. Again, treat the organic machine with respect, and it will operate according to the way God designed it. Abuse it and pour in the wrong fuel, and it will first begin to lose slight degrees of efficiency, and then begin to break down.

Did you know that cancer patients have very low pH? It is true. One more reason to never drink cola- it creates an environment favorable to cancer (which is really just fungus, research this.)

Artificial products gunk up the works.
7. This is not just a test taking tip, it's a life tip. Avoid or totally eliminate artificial colors and artificial flavors. One study on grade school children tested their grade level performance, then eliminated artificial colors and flavors for 3 months. At the end of the period during which these fake ingredients were eliminated at school, (but not at home), researchers retested the children. The average test performance improvement was 3 grade levels!

8. Dress to impress. Above, I mentioned confidence. Another factor that boosts self-confidence is a sharp appearance. Impact the room when you enter, and you will impact yourself as well. Wear nice suits even to study. A pressed shirt and tie will prevent you from taking a nap and doesn't feel right slumped into the couch with the remote in one hand.

9. Drink plenty of water. Again: organic machine. Water lubricates, cleanses, and freshens everything inside you.

10. Respect visual stimulants. Classical conditioning is at work all the time. Use this to your advantage. For every unique activity in your life, your body responds by producing what it needs. For example, the site of the gym will cause the body to produce simple sugars to fuel muscles. It has been conditioned to expect this. Even the site of gym clothes, your gym bag, gym membership card, and running shoes will start production of energy.

Your body will develop similar visual stimulators for mental work. Your calculator will definitely be one of these. So will reference books and other study materials. If you can, keep the most powerful icons of study in view during your exam.

I predict that a study using visual stimulants for study periods of specific topics which use different areas of the brain, will produce better results using the conditioned visual stimulators. For example: wearing a gold ring and using a specific pencil to study history, vs. wearing a blue shirt, a gemstone ring, and using a very different pencil to study chemistry.

Most drug addicts develop a tolerance to drugs. Their body becomes conditioned to produce drug-disabling hormones. Visual stimulants, like their dealer's street corner, a syringe, or crack spoon set off their bodies defense works. Most drug overdoses are total rookies who have no system built up, or veterans who took their usual amount in a new place- like a toilet stall in a club, where no visual stimulants facilitated their body pre-producing what it needed to negate portions of the drug. 

11. Don't eat anything spicy the day before, or the morning of, an exam. Don't eat at a "greasy spoon", either. Generally, avoid food with the ability to upset your gastrointestinal system. This goes double for people who tend to be nervous at the beginning of exams. Exception: If you eat spicy food every day, don't change a thing.

12. Arrive to your exam seat as soon as you can. Get comfortable with the environment. This is more important for regional competitions and national exams like the ASVAB, SAT, and professional licensing exams- places you have never before seen.

13. Within 15 minutes prior to beginning your exam, get 5 minutes of exercise. Run from your car to the test building, run around your classroom, or do push ups on some grass or against a bench. Also, drink a half cup of coffee. Each of these strategies, independently, increases blood flow to the brain. And, this has been shown to improve test scores an average of 5%. The day I took my exam, I also excused myself to the men's room and jogged there and jogged back to increase the flow of blood.

14. Stop drinking Fluoridated water and use toothpaste without Fluoride. U.S. studies show Fluoride drops IQs by 10 points. Chinese studies show 20 points lost where Fluoride was added to water.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

PE Exam Materials

Buy PE Exam study materials as early as you can. Here are 7 savings tips and motivational bullet points:

1. Once you pass the PE exam, your income potential goes way up. That is a no-brainer. Not guaranteed, but certainly most likely. (It did for me. Thank you, Jesus.)

2. The books will give you an economy of study and make your investment of time more effective. This is more true if you are getting a late start, or have a busy life.

3. Materials for professional advancement are tax deductible. In the year's accounting, it is less expensive than it looks at first glance. Each year, I claim my new reference and professional educational books under "office supplies."

4. The books you purchase today will remain on your book shelf. You will learn the contents of these PE exam study materials very well. In the future, when you encounter a rare engineering calculation, you will recall, "I saw that in my Civil Construction PE exam review book." You will use these books for more than just studying for the NCEES exam.

5. Most engineers have time at a premium. You really only need to search two sources: First, for books in general. Second,, the Civil Engineering Reference Manual and every other book as well, tend to be cheaper on Amazon. On Amazon, you can often get it for $220 or less, and qualify for free shipping. Click here to check Amazon prices: CERM. Be sure to compare total cost. Shipping on ppi's site is much higher than you might expect. On Amazon, the threshold for free shipping is much lower. Last check, Amazon is free shipping after $35 and PPI charges shipping all the way up to $300.

6. On Amazon, be sure to look at "all buying options." Third party sellers can sometimes be selling used books for substantial savings. You can also find new books from third party sellers. The trade-off is the risk the seller might ship a few days slower. Or, the seller might not pack your books the best way.

7. Be wary of package deals. Package deals are sometimes used by publishers to unload titles that are not otherwise moving. In other words, if you save 30% on the 2 books you really wanted, and then buy two more, also at 30% discount, you still pay more. For example, suppose each book costs $100. Without discount, you receive the 2 you want and spend $200. With a package deal, you pay $280. So, you still get the two you wanted for the $200.... and, in all the excitement of making a deal, you bought two books you were not going to buy at all, and for $40 each.

Is there a package deal anywhere that is really a deal? 

What are the best PE exam study materials? 

 If you use Amazon, you will get some recommendations. "People who bought the Civil Engineering Reference Manual also bought..."

The very best PE Exam Books and DVDs have been compiled here: PE Exam Study Materials

Monday, March 4, 2013

Six-Week NCEES PE Exam Study Guide

You Need a Plan
Six weeks until the PE exam. Have you organized your study plan? If not, here is one I put together for future examinees, already registered, six weeks out from their PE date (next exam date: April 17, 2015).

Note: NCEES changed the reference books for the 2015 exams. The correct books are listed on the bottom of the page on this article for Structural Engineering Exam Practice Problems

The first thing you want to do is take a full PE practice exam. You need to know where you stand. Even if you have not yet prepared a detailed plan of study, you have most likely been studying various topics and double checking your reference books.

Whatever you have done up to now, from nothing to a military-style study campaign, you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses. First, let's be sure you know which topics are covered on the PE exam.

PE exam morning session topics: 

Each of five topics receives equal emphasis:

Water Resources and Environmental

Afternoon Session Modules:

40 Questions in 4 hours. You will choose one module for the afternoon session. The module options match the morning session topics: Geotechnical, PE Civil Construction, Transportation, Structural, and Water Resources and Environmental.

Most important study topic: The module you select will become 60% of your exam. The afternoon section is 50% (obviously) and the morning portion of this topic accounts for another 10% (.20 x .50 = .10). Your study schedule and PE practice exams will need to emphasis the topic of your afternoon exam.


Best sample PE exam books

Week 1
Study 6 days and take 1 day off. If you don't schedule relaxation, you will steal it wherever you can. Trust me, when you know you have down time later, it is easier to focus during scheduled study sessions.
This first week, take a full 8-hour practice exam.

If you start on a Saturday or Sunday, take the full 8 hour exam in 9 hours. Start at 8 a.m., take a 1-hour lunch from noon to 1, and work the 4 hour afternoon Depth Exam from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Analyze Results of Your PE Practice Exam:
Tabulate your results topically. Generate a score for each of the 5 topics. Rank them 1 to 5, with #1 being your strongest subject and #5 being your weakest topic.

For the first week of study, emphasize #1 and #5. Forget the other topics for now.

Here is why: First, your brain needs to get back up to pace in intensity. Your brain actually requires increased blood flow to operate at increased levels. The PE exam tempo requires an increased level. You must slowly work your brain back up to the high performance levels required in college. Second, these two subjects have the greatest potential to produce a strong score on exam day.

Your strongest subject area score on the first practice exam may not remain strongest on future practice tests and self-quizzes. The reason is that each subject has a wide variety of subtopics. I took 6 full practice exams, at 2-week intervals, with moderate study in between. My score on each topic varied up and down test to test (but trended upward overall). The subtopics randomly presented in each PE practice exam will vary. And, your resultant score will also vary. This variance should be greater in subjects with the greatest number of subtopics- Structural has the most material (subtopics) and self-tests will produce results similar to statistical sampling. Variation of results will diminish as you progress along your study schedule.

However, if you score high in Environmental and low in Structural (common), it is because your mind likes the topic of environmental, or you work in environmental. For some reason, you and environmental just get along. Build your strength in this topic to ensure you continue to produce strong results in all practice exams- and on the day of your PE exam.

In your weakest area, there is the greatest room for improvement. You will rapidly improve in this subject. It is likely your low score is due to two factors, both easily corrected with a little time:
1. You need to become familiar with variables.
2. You need to become familiar with the reference materials (to find the necessary equations).

Study 4 hours each day, in the following format: 

Study the topics of the day for one hour. Next, take a 66-minute (maximum) self quiz. This is 7 problems. Take 4 questions from your strong area (#1), and 3 from your weak area (#5).

For the remainder of the time, review the solutions for the questions you chose. To create these practice quizzes, divide up a sample exam book. For example, using 80 morning questions:
  • Quiz #1: Numbers 1, 12, 23, 34, 45, 56, and 67
  • Quiz #2: Numbers 2, 13, 24, 35, 46, 57, and 68
  • etc.
That will create eleven 7-question quizzes. 

How many questions for a self-quiz? 
Create quizzes using 7 questions. This way, 5 correct gives you 71.4%, which you should expect to be a passing score.

Week 2
In a 3-month duration of study, I recommend taking a practice exam every other weekend. However, with a shorter timeline, you will benefit from taking more practice exams. As you experienced during the first week's quizzes, learning is more effective under the intensity of taking a test.

So, test yourself. You will find you performed much better on this second exam. Likely this is primarily attributed to having become accustomed to intense focus from taking quizzes, and more so due to familiarization with your reference books.

Between my first practice exam (40%) and my second exam (58%), I saw my greatest improvement. I attribute this to the two reasons mentioned above.

This week, you also want to spend some time reviewing and familiarizing yourself with required reference books, and especially with the CERM.

Tab your index pages. I listed the best index tabs for this purpose at the other end of the preceding link-test. Or, you can pick some up at the local office supply. I bought some excellent tabs in Office Depot. Your local office supply should have the same. Be sure to find tabs with a clear sticky base. This way, once attached, they will not cover any text. I found several options like this, which have good widths and assorted colors, or with wider tabs. The multiple colors will help you locate your favorite sections quickly. I used a red tab to mark the structural section of the CERM, for example.

Also in Week 2, start a Quick Reference Folder. This is a binder you will create to hold all the most referenced tables, charts, and solutions you find valuable.

This week, study the #2 and #4 subjects from your Week1 practice PE exam. However, on the fourth day, study last week's topics. This forces you to recall the data, and to recall the location of formulas and tables in the reference material.

Strengthen Recall- a Key to Exam Success

No matter which exam you are taking, from grade school to college to professional life, during an exam, you must recall. Recollection is a specific ability of the mind. The more you recall something, the easier and faster it becomes. This is another reason taking practice quizzes and practice exams is a very effective study method.

Week 3

This week, take a break from the 8-hour exam. Instead of using a new exam to determine the two focus topics for this week, combine the results of the previous two tests, and make a judgment call about which topic to add to #3 from Week 1. #3 is the one topic you have not yet focused on.

Week 4

Practice test time! Hurray!

Make this week's quizzes comprehensive. By this time, you should receive a score of 70% or better. Most of these points will come in the Morning Breadth Exam. In my first practice exams, I scored double on the morning exams as I did on the afternoon portions. As I began to score higher, this ratio dropped. Don't worry where you earn the points. Just focus on the total.

In my own practice exams, I steadily improved, with less increase in later weeks. I always scored more in the morning section. I took the structural afternoon exam. I passed both NCEES exams on the first try using this system.

Week 5

Take another comprehensive exam. This may seem like a lot of practice exams. However, this is where the lion's share of your improvement will come. Psychological studies have proven that people forget lecture material like their minds are leaky buckets. But, put something on an exam, and they might remember it for years. The added stress increases recall. Effectively, testing yourself on practice exams and on quizzes is like amplifying your time investment.

Assessing the effectiveness of time invested into each topic, plan your study time accordingly. Do not stress your brain by studying more than 4 hours per day. Be sure to get to sleep on time (not later than 11 p.m.) to allow your body to refresh and restore and regenerate. People who work with their minds require more sleep than people who perform physical labor.

Force your Mind to Recall Previous Learning
Mix up your quizzes, but continue to emphasize topics each day,  no more than two per day. Review all the questions you miss on your quizzes. Because your mind was heightened when you looked at it the first time, there is a good anchor in your memory onto which you can attach the correct solution.

For questions you almost solved, or which you understand very well, but missed, write out the solution and add it to a section of your Quick Reference Folder. I solved three questions on my Structural Depth module using solutions in my quick reference binder.

Week 6

This Friday is PE exam day. The brain operates like a muscle. You have trained it up. Now, like professional athletes, you want to taper it down.

Take a practice exam on Tuesday. If you can't get the day off (comp time, maybe?), at least take a 4-hour morning or afternoon practice exam.

Study for 2 hours. Review problems from previous tests, especially the previous day's practice exam. Collect all your books into one place. Double check your exam day checklist for the PE.

Take a 1-hour practice quiz. Review your results. Relax. Get to bed on time.

Wake feeling refreshed. Stretch out. On the drive to your exam site, drink a half cup of coffee without sugar. Find a place before your exam to exercise for 5 minutes before entering the exam room. The coffee and exercise will increase your blood circulation. These two techniques have been shown to improve test results by 5%.

Don't forget: calculator, exam documents, photo ID

Before you begin your exam, give thanks to God for preparing you. Ask for calm, focus, wisdom, and understanding.

Concluding Notes: 

Many suggest a minimum of 300 hours study. I believe this can be decreased using the intensity of self-administered practice exams and quizzes. If you have just six weeks to study, this is my suggestion. If you are planning when to begin, I recommend 12 weeks. The longer time frame permits the brain to develop its capacity to meet the challenge.

For more great tips like this one, I recommend Pass the PE like a Pro. It is an e-book, available for instant download from

Best wishes for a successful career! Peace.