Passing the PE Exam and becoming a licensed Professional Engineer is one of my greatest accomplishments. It took a lot of work, including learning from failing the PE Exam once.
That experience, and what I had to do to pass, taught me a lot of things that I wish I had known before I started studying.
Here are just three things that I wish I’d known before taking the PE Exam that might have made it go a little more smoothly.
1. Working Problems Isn’t the Only Way to Study
I want to be careful here because I still believe that doing practice problems and exams should be your #1 focus when studying for the PE Exam.
What I mean by this is that it’s important to take some time to understand why you got certain practice problems wrong. That might mean diving into old textbooks, or even better, purchasing a course to help you.
The first time I took the PE Exam, I worked over 300 practice problems and felt pretty prepared. But I failed because ultimately, I was trying to understand the ones I got wrong just by my own study, rather than having someone else to teach me and deepen my understanding.
A course is the best way to fix this because you get to learn from instructors that focus on teaching you what you need to know, letting you practice, then clearly explaining the answers to practice problems. I’ll get to this more in a minute.
You could also learn by getting a tutor or studying with a friend or coworker. Really anything that gives you outside perspective and experience is best because you might think you have something figured out, but the test will ultimately show you whether or not that’s true.
You might as well be fully prepared and test your knowledge by having someone else to study with you or an instructor teach you!
Focus on practice problems as you study, but don’t be afraid to pause that and make sure you understand key concepts as well.
2. You Probably Won’t Sleep Well the Night Before the Exam, But That’s Okay
This is really specific but it’s important because I really wish I could have anticipated how nervous I would be and how it would affect my routines. If I had known this would be an issue, I would have been able to let it go and relax a lot better on test day.
That being said, I still did get a decent night’s sleep, but I was nervous so it wasn’t the best. Eating was also tough because of this, and I had to force myself to eat breakfast so that I wouldn’t get hungry during the exam.
The point in saying this is that it’s normal to be nervous, and you don’t need to try to fight it. Worry gets worse when we try to avoid it, so by accepting and even embracing it, we make things easier on ourselves.
A great way I learned to get through this is to turn your nervousness into excitement. That may seem strange, but it worked really well for me.
I just thought about how excited I was to show my knowledge, be done with the exam, find out I passed it, and get licensed. This calmed my nerves a lot more than trying to fight nervousness, and I was able to actually kind of enjoy taking the exam!
You also needn’t worry about this so much because as long as you get great sleep in the week before the exam, you’ll be fine. Sleep debt piles up and you can’t compensate for it with just one or even a few good sleeps.
But if you’ve instead prepared by going to bed early and sleeping long enough in the days and even weeks before the exam, you don’t need to worry about how well you sleep the night before the test.
3. If You Want to Almost Guarantee That You’ll Pass, You Need to Take a Course
As I mentioned before, for my first attempt at the PE Exam I was on my own for studying. My coworkers had told me that they didn’t think those expensive courses were worth it, but I wish I had listened better to my gut instead of them.
The truth is, those coworkers were a lot smarter than me so they could pass just fine without a course. I struggled to understand some concepts in college and it took me a while before I fully got them. If I had anticipated this better, I probably wouldn’t have failed on my first attempt.
I learned from my mistakes, though, and invested in myself by purchasing School of PE’s course. It was a lot of money for me at the time, but the fear of wasting that, combined with knowing how much money I’d lose if I failed again, pushed me to work super hard.
I learned and practiced all I could and ended up with a couple hundred more hours of study and over 600 additional practice problems worked.
When I went in to take the PE Exam the second time, it felt easy because School of PE had prepared me so well. I remember telling people the morning portion felt really easy. The afternoon was still tough, but I know I got a lot more right than I had on my first attempt.
I was so excited a few weeks later when I discovered that I had passed, and I knew that investing in myself was worth it.
I really needed to pass when I did, and I’m confident that it would not have happened were it not for School of PE.
You can read my in-depth review of their course right here if you want to learn more about it specifically. I highly recommend them first though because their pass rate is around 90% and they let you retake the course if you fail!
There’s also ppi2pass and Civil Engineering Academy if you want some other options for good courses and study materials. You can buy the full courses or just certain components of what they have, like practice problems.
I want to reiterate how important taking a course is because if I would have done it sooner, I would have saved myself a whole six months of studying and all the other expenses with having to take the PE a second time.
If you need to pass the PE immediately, or if you struggled to understand engineering concepts in college and lack confidence, you should definitely take a course to help you pass.
I hope that these few things that I wish I’d known before taking the PE Exam will help you prepare so that you can pass on your first attempt.
If you prepare wisely by understanding practice problems, anticipate nervousness and embrace it, and purchase a course, I’m confident that your chances of passing the PE Exam will be very high!