How to Study for the PE Exam

Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam Prep

The Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam is the final test in the process of earning an engineering license. There is a different PE Exam for each subfield of engineering, but regardless of which exam you take, you can apply these tips to get the most out of your study time and pass the PE Exam on your first try.

First, contact your licensing board to find out which PE Exam(s) you need to take. Once you have a list of exams, visit the website of the NCEES for the detailed specifications of each exam.

For each PE discipline exam the NCEES administers, there is a detailed description of the exam's content, topics covered, and question types. Since the NCEES has made test contents available to all licensing candidates, you can more easily focus your studies and avoid wasting time on obscure topics that won't be tested.

One of the most crucial steps is to learn the format of the exam. Each PE Exam is 6-8 hours long with 80-100 multiple-choice questions. The only exception is the PE Structural II exam, in which you must answer 4 out of 8 essay questions. Knowing the structure and format of the actual exam will help you create realistic testing conditions when you take sample tests at home.

Keep in mind that all exams are open book, though each jurisdiction's licensing board may impose some restrictions. This means that you can bring textbooks, study guides, formula sheets, and notes with you into the testing center.

If you are taking the PE Civil, or PE Structural Exams, you will need to bring a copy of the Design Standards. The exam proctors will not provide you with this guidebook on test day, so you must print it beforehand from the NCEES website. Read the booklet several times before test day so that you can find information quickly on exam day.

The NCEES publishes study guides for several of the PE Exams, including Chemical, Civil, Electrical and Computer, Environmental, Mechanical, and Structural I and II. If you are taking one of these exams, you're in luck. If the NCEES does not publish a guide for your PE Exam, don't worry. The NCEES maintains a list of sponsoring organizations that offer exam prep books for the other PE Exams.

Once you have found PE Exam materials, make a study schedule that you can stick to. Set aside 1 or 2 hours each week when you can work uninterrupted. Practice under time constraints so you learn how to pace yourself for the real exam. For the multiple choice PE Exams, you have 4-5 minutes per question.

Work out sample PE problems in detail, write up the solutions, and add them to your reference materials. Since you can only bring printed materials into the exam room, these notes can help you answer the difficult questions that require multi-step computations.

A few days before the PE Exam, gather all the books and notes you wish to bring with you. Bring books you are familiar with so that you don't waste valuable time flipping through pages looking for an answer.

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