This section of the site is to give detailed study processes on how people passed. Hopefully it will help those studying for the test so that they can learn from others. If you'd like to submit how you studied for (and subsequently passed) the PE, please send us an email and we'll put it up on the site.

Success Stories


Exam Type: Civil with an emphasis in Structural

State: CA (which included the specialty seismic and surveying courses)

Times to Pass: Just one thank goodness.

Study Time: All told, around 250 hrs would be my best guess

My studying process:

  • I took a review course to reteach me what I had forgotten (and i wasn't very far out of school; how much could I have forgotten you may ask, well a lot). Some teachers weren't so awesome, some I really enjoyed. All in all i didn't do any geotech or transportation problems b/c they taught the subject so well I figured I'd have a good shot for those sections.
  • I read most of the CERM and highlighted important stuff (well at least what I thought would be important). And also tabbed the main sections that I felt would be useful. That is mainly how I studied for the morning portion of the exam. I didn't go through and do all the problems for every section. But don't think that this will be a weekend activity. That book is huge.
  • I bought two problem book sets (Lindeburg's 600 problems, and the structural 6 min. solutions). I only did the problems for my emphasis (structural). I heard that the first half of the test was much easier than the second so I studied mainly on my emphasis.
  • I spent most of my days after work driving straight to the library and doing problems for 2 hours or so, and also spending 6 hours or so every weekend that I had free.
  • I had a fantastic GF who helped me with meals and what not (trust me after working for 12 hours and studying for 2 the last thing you want to do is cook for yourself). I did have to buy her a really nice present when I finished it all but it was totally worth it.
  • Total time wise I spent about 10 weeks studying for the national test (i'd say close to 200 hours) then about 24 hours studying for each of the other tests (surveying and seismic). I used the Hiner book for seismic, and Cuomo for surveying (nothing aside from those two books). Oh, actually I read Hiner next to the AISC and IBC so I could cross reference which helped.

Hopefully this can help the others!

My recommendations:

  • Study the general portion enough to be able to flip through the book and find things quickly (which is a great help with CERM's index). But a majority of studying should be done on your emphasis. The afternoon section in my mind was much more difficult than the general morning section.
  • Regarding your emphasis, problems problems problems, do as many as you can get your hands on. I guarantee there will be quite a few that leave you scratching your head. And from this you learn how to work the equations.
  • Don't be afraid to not study a section that would not be worth the cost in time it would take you to learn. For the afternoon structural section I decided against buying the AASHTO manual for bridge design. My reasons were: I had never used it, and the cost in time it would have taken me to look over it.
  • Check you state board rules, but if you can, bring in food and water. 8 hours of testing is exhausting and you'll need a pick-me-up
  • Bring a sweater to the test (you won't want to be shivering if they have the a/c blasting.
  • I brought a little hand-held dictionary. There were two times where they used a word that I had to look up.

~admingineer July 14, 2009

Construction PE

Exam Type: Civil with an emphasis in Construction

Times to Pass: One

Regular girl- passed the exam the first try (than you, God!!) and would like to share what I learned. Hopefully it will help those of you starting to study. I wish I knew this stuff from the get go...

  1. I first started trying to read the CERM book like a novel. DON'T do this (at least not at the beginning). It is frustrating. Too in depth (which I originally thought would be a good thing) but all it did was make me almost want to quit studying a couple of times and give up on the PE all together. The CERM is a good reference (a GREAT reference) actually, but not a good Teaching tool.
  2. Instead, go to this website from Texas A&M university:
    • They have free videos for you to watch on all of the disciplines. They are a bit old, but bear with them, they are VERY worth the time invested. So what I did is print out the PDFs for the videos. I watched the video for one of the disciplines, for example Geotech. It would take me a couple of days to get through the video. Stop the video, work the problems out step by step along with the instructor, continue until you have completed the video. Then I would spend the rest of the week working through sample problems of that discipline. I had about 3 books of practice problems (one form Lindeburg, one for Kaplan, one directly from NCEES etc). Work as many problems as you can that week for that discipline. Keep the CERM book next to you the whole time. Every table you use, tab it. Keep working more problems until the end of the week. If a problem is ridiculously hard, skip it. You can use your time better by covering more problems first. At the end of your review months you can always come back to do hard problems if you have time. Next week, Monday & Tuesday spend watching a video on Hydraulics for example. Work Hydro problems the rest of the week. Continue until you have finished all the videos and you will have covered the morning material well (for free!!!).
  3. Next move into your afternoon depth portion. For me it was Construction. If this is yours, start with the Rajapakse review book (otherwise skip this step 3). Read this one like a novel, cover to cover. This book is very frustrating because it has lots of grammar mistakes, the drawings look like a kid drew them on the "paint" program, etc. Stick with it though. Try to overlook the little mistakes (which at the beginning will drive you NUTS). Keep going, and tab important formulas etc. This book is pretty easy to work through, and very informative. It will give you momentum on Construction if anything. Momentum is a great thing to have while studying.
  4. Then work the companion problems from the Rajapakse practice problem book. By now, you should have all your codes listed on the NCEES list. As you work through the practice problems for your afternoon section, tab your references.
  5. When you are done with your afternoon portion study of these books, I would take the "old" NCEES practice problems book (2008). They are much easier than any of the other problems: Lindeburg, kaplan, 6-minute solutions etc are all harder. Anyway, I would recommend to take the 2008 NCEES practice problems (treating it like an exam). Time yourself, make a homemade bubble sheet, whatever you can to make it as realistic as possible. Grade yourself. I got about a 60% on this first try (even after WEEKS of all that studying). That is OK. It just shows you where you need to improve.
  6. If you got an earthwork moving problem wrong, I went through a bunch of similar earthwork problems again... not just the one I got wrong. Reinforce the entire TYPE of problem. Continue until you have covered a lot of material for each of the problems you got wrong (as well as the ones you got right but guessed!!).
  7. Then take a print out of the NCEES outline and make sure you have covered every line item on it. If you haven't come across any work yet on a specific line item from the NCEES outline, THEN go to CERM book. This book covers it all. Read the section, work their problems.
  8. I found at this point in my study timeline that I needed more problems that were similar to the actual exam. I had a lot of problems left in the Lindenburg practice problems, about 20% of the Kaplan practice problems were still unanswered but it was a waste a time to go through those, because they are too hard. I needed more practice problems that were similar difficulty to the exam. I bought a School of PE pdf review. I did every problem on this PDF set. Work as many problems as you can as similar as possible to the NCEES books at this point.
  9. Lastly I took the last NCEES practice problems (the new 2011 book) as one final practice exam. Grade it also. Go through any problems you got wrong on this exam in depth
  10. Make sure all your references are tabbed. Make sure you get a good rest before the exam. And go in confidently. Try and stay relaxed and pray. That helped me tons and I passed on the first try.

A couple of other EXTREMELY HELPFUL notes for you:

  • I kept 3 ring binders of problems I worked. One for soils, one for structures, one for transpo etc. Every example you work, put it on a new sheet of paper. Stick it in the appropriate binder. Before long you will have a ton of solved transpo problems. Some on vertical curves, some on horizontal curves, some on traffic etc. Group all those problems and divide them with tabs. These binders were a great tool during the exam. I knew that if I got a horizontal curve problem on the exam, and if my mind went blank on what to do, I just had to go to the Transpo binder, the horizontal curve tab, find a similar problem and I would have procedures, formulas etc everything right there. I actually used this quite a bit during the exam. I also put printed out notes from the Texas A&M video PDFs at the front of each appropriate tab in my binders. Also, every formula I used in these solved problems, I put a CERM page number next to.
  • Another general note that helped me a lot in addition to my binders were my tabs. I made my own color code. For example, the structural binder was blue, and every tab in the CERM book (and in every other reference) that had a structural table, or a useful structural formula was also blue. Everything geotech was green. Everything construction was red. etc. So I ended up with a bunch of tabs on my references, but in the middle of the exam, if I needed to look something up, I knew I had to focus on only one "type" so instead of looking through 50 tabs, I was focused on the 10 blue tabs only. It gains you a lot of speed. Use whatever system works for you. But I highly recommend something like this.
  • take two of the same calculators with you. Odds are neither will fail, but it buys you peace of mind. This is priceless during the exam.
  • buy all the NCEES codes early. I wasn't sure if I would need all of them. So I bought some. As I kept studying some books referenced some codes I didn't have. Then I bought those also. Near the end of my prep time, I ended up with every code the NCEES had listed. But the ones I bought near the end, I hardly knew how to use. If it is on the NCEES list, it is for a reason. I think I used all but 1 of them during the exam. Studying for this thing is a huge investment of time and money. Don't cut your chances of passing because you wanted to save $100 bucks. I am so thankful I had everything with me. When you are done, you can always sell your books and make back about 80%.

Good luck to all of you!! This forum was a great help to me. I studied on my own (with no courses). The members here were awesome, and now it's my time to give back.

Good luck!



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