Engineering.PEExamStrategies History

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Study Methods

  1. Get to know your materials inside and out. They will be the source of many lifesavers during the exam. Valuable time can be saved knowing the general location of a problem in a book. The CERM is the perfect example (almost every AM question can be solved by knowing your CERM well enough).
March 10, 2011 by penotes -
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Feel free to add you own exam strategy by contacting us and letting us know your own story or recommendations.

Before the Exam

This is all about getting psyched for the big day.. It's like a wedding on steroids so be prepared to go through a full spectrum of emotions (2 weeks before the exam i almost ripped a page out of the CERM and ate it).

Preparing for Exam Day

  1. Arrive to the exam location a day early to make sure you can find it (especially if you've never been) or arrive an hour early even if you've been there before. Bring breakfast with you and relax at the exam site while you eat.
  2. Make sure you have everything you need to take with you to the exam (references, admission slip, identification, etc.) in a secure location the night before the exam ready to pick up and take with you the following morning.
  3. Do not try to study or learn more material the night before the exam. Use the time to make sure all of your references are organized and tabbed (if you do that) and check through your accumulated materials and hand-written notes to ensure they are in order.
  4. Get a great night's sleep before the exam. Do your best to remain relaxed and calm.
  5. Eat brain foods the day before the exam (but only if you're accustomed to them... nothing worse than getting sick the day of the exam). Will it help? Maybe not. But if you believe they will, they likely will.

What it Takes to Pass

Conventional wisdom says you need to answer about 70% of the questions correct to pass - that's 56 out of the 80 questions. So 28 correct answers in each of the morning and afternoon sessions is good enough to pass. However, given that the breadth questions are often easier and less-involved, you may shoot for 35 correct in the morning session, leaving just 23 for the afternoon session. Of course, you might also shoot to become extremely proficient in your depth area and shoot for 35 correct in the afternoon session, leaving just 23 for the morning session. The bottom line: you can do poorly in one session or the other and still pass.

During the Exam

The Do's and Don'ts while taking the exam...


  1. Do read the entire problem and write in big letters the required units for the solution. You'd be surprised how easy it is to solve the problem for the wrong units and (hopefully) spend extra minutes figuring out why your solution isn't listed. Some people believe if you don't make any errors in units, you are almost certain to pass the exam.
  2. Do spend some time making sure you have ALL of the information necessary to solve the problem. Quickly eliminate any distractors that may be present in the problem statement as well as idenitifying any parameters that are missing from the problem statement. Determine if there is enough information in the problem statement to look-up or calculate any missing parameters or if you can use best engineering judgement to make an educated guess.
  3. Do spend up to a minute (some suggest just 30 seconds) on each problem before deciding to, either
    • Move on because you've already solved it.
    • Decide you can finish the problem in another two to three minutes and continue working.
    • Stop working the problem, grade it as either 1 (you know how to solve it but it will take some time), 2 (you think you have an idea on how to approach the problem, but the process isn't yet clear), or 3 (you have no idea how to solve the problem)
  4. Do finish all the "1" problems before moving on to the "2s" and then on to the "3s. Using this strategy will maximize your chances of getting the most questions absolutely correct and it should allow you to work the uncertain problems with greater calm knowing you've already made good progress towards the magic 56 correct and you'll have more than six minutes (probably more than ten minutes!) to answer the 2s and 3s. At first, it is helpful to rate the questions, but don't spend much time thinking about a question after reading it. You can sometimes even assess the difficulty without reading the problem. Diagrams and more than one line of "problem" means work. Skip those for the problems that will get you definite points and build up your "time bank" for those longer problems that take more than 6 minutes to work.
  5. Do bring an extra calculator (from the approved list of calculators) ... or at least bring extra batteries. The last thing in the world you want is to be sitting at Question #60 with a dead calculator.
  6. Do keep track of the time as you are working through your problem sets. Take note of the half-way point (2 hrs) into the exam and make a quick assessment of your progress so far and either maintain your problem solving strategy or revise it based on your progress. Repeat the quick assessment when you have one-hour left for taking the exam. Once you reach the point of only having 30-minutes remaining to take the exam you should be approaching a point of completeness. If you have not gotten as far as you would have liked DO NOT PANIC! Focus on the things you KNOW for each unanswered question and try to eliminate one or two potential answers. USE a timing device if your state will allow (this will automatically do the "assessment" for you and save that time for answering questions. There are devices made especially for these types of exams, which I was allowed to use, but not keep ON my desk (I had it on top of my crate, which was on the floor). The timer is set with the number of minutes for the exam and the number of questions. Then, it calculates your minutes per question. You press a button as you answer questions and it recalulates your minutes per question. When you answer the easy questions first, your minutes per question goes up drastically and you see that without having to take any precious exam time to calculate that. I found this the single most beneficial thing I brought with me to the exam aside from the CERM and my formula sheet. Shaper Image carries the device I used.
  7. Do make sure you enter an educated guess for EACH question before time runs out for taking the exam. Give yourself at least 5-minutes at the end of the exam period to ensure all of the questions have a bubbled-in answer.
  8. Do bring snacks and a lunch -- you may not have time to go somewhere between AM and PM.
  9. Do bring extra clothing to keep warm .
  10. Do be prepared for less than suitable exam conditions. (My exam room had VERY inadequate lighting -- deal with it and PASS anyway).
  11. Do be familiar with the calculator you choose to use. Too many people get used to a new calculator right before the exam. Old habits die hard, and if you are used to another calculator you will make mistakes, inadvertantly, and you won't even realize it until you get a wrong answer (with any luck that wrong one won't be one of the choices). At that point you'd become frustrated. SO, get used to your calculator way before the exam. I started using my calculator exclusively at work 6 months before the exam and got to know it very well.

Do Not's

  1. Don't change depth areas in the afternoon after starting.
  2. Don't get worried if you aren't making progress on one or many problems. Keep calm and move on. You may only start worrying when you have less than 30 minutes left and you've only answered 10 problems! You won't need to answer every problem; some questions will be too hard (requiring much more than six minutes) to answer. Remember, this test is not about being 100% right, it is just about being 100% right at least 70% of the time -- that means 28 correct in each of the AM and PM. Keep track of those that you KNOW you got right (the really easy ones) and you will gain confidence that some of the hard ones are not important.
  3. Don't be arrogant about "look up" questions. Even if you "know" the answer out-of-hand, if it is a quick look up, it will still take less than 1 minute to make sure you have it 100% correct (and with having looked it up, you will KNOW 100% you got it right). It is tragic to find an answer in the CERM after the exam and find out you chose the wrong answer that you thought you "nailed." Look up the "known" answer to confirm what you already know. It will make you feel like you got a freebie.
  4. Don't spend a lot of time on completing iterative solutions. If you've settled on the governing equation, try each of the four listed answers until you find one that fits.
  5. Don't write more than you need to... don't rewrite drawings, rewrite equations, etc.
  6. Don't get kicked out of the exam... leave all electronic devices and writing instruments in your car and stop writing when time is called.
  7. Don't forget to bring a watch with you so you can keep track of time! Don't expect the exam room to have a clock or the proctors to keep track of the time for you.
  8. Don't discuss how you thought the morning went with other people during lunch. In addition to the agreement you signed, even hearing that somebody thought it was "cake" when you thought it was tough might psyche you out for the afternoon.

After the Exam

  1. If you're certain you passed, it doesn't matter what you do after the exam... but you wouldn't be the first who thought you aced it only to get a second (or subsequent) chance.
  2. If you're certain you failed, don't get discouraged... you wouldn't be the first who thought you bombed it only to get a congratulations notice.
  3. Make a note of which areas you felt comfortable with and which areas were especially difficult. This may come in handy if you're unfortunate enough to get a diagnostics summary.
  4. Forget about the exam until you get your results. Put all your study material out-of-sight. While it's easier said than done, you may need this "recharge" period to help re-energize your studying in three months. Regardless, you (and your family) deserve the rest!
  5. Do not spend a lot of time second-guessing your effort. You spent time preparing and did the best you could! Obsessing over that one question that you could have gotten right if you just had a different reference isn't going to help much at this point.
  6. Visit with friends or other examinees ( has a fantastic post test countdown to allow you to talk with others about how slow states are at grading scantrons) to commiserate with the other examinees during the waiting and join in the thrill of victory for those who have passed while providing encouraging words for those who will retake the exam.
  7. If you've been helped by a significant other (boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister, etc.) get them a nice gift for all the help.
  8. Do a little research on what PE's are paid in the area's you work to see if a raise can be expected (in this economy this has become tough to do)



Electrical Engineering


General Engineering




Water Resources


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