Before I took the PE exam I remember having a ton of questions about it. One of the biggest was when I should start studying for it. After my own experience passing the PE I can tell you what worked for me. But I’ve also done some research to find out what other engineers say to get an average you can go by.
Most engineers begin studying for the PE exam 2-6 months before they take it. You will need about 200-300 hours of study time to pass, which comes out to an average of 2 hours every day for 4 months. If you study 2 hours every weekday and 8 hours each weekend then you can be ready in about 3 months.
There’s a little more to it than this though, such as finding out how to start early enough but not too early, so let’s get into the details!
Give Yourself Plenty of Time to Study
I’ve done a lot of research on how many hours to put in to pass and on when most engineers start studying. You can see the results of my findings on study hours in this article. To sum that up, most engineers who pass the PE exam will spend 200-300 hours studying.
You cannot pass the PE without studying, so the idea of little or no study hours shouldn’t even be in your head. I have seen people say that they’ve passed with only a few hours of study in the week before the exam, but I don’t trust it.
For one, a lot of the information on this comes from online forums where people are known to embellish the truth. Additionally, most of them are just guessing and are likely not remembering how long they actually spend studying.
But most of all, these people are outliers. Most of us normal engineers are going to need to start studying for the PE about 2-6 months before the test to get in the necessary 200-300 hours of study time required to pass.
The major takeaway here is that it’s much better to study too much than not enough.
Take my experience as an example. For my first attempt at the PE exam, I studied for only about 130 hours. I really thought that was enough and I don’t blame myself because I had never taken the exam before so I had no idea what to expect. But after taking it and failing I recognized that it was definitely not enough.
On my second attempt, I began studying about three months before the exam, just as I had done with my first. Buying a course helped me put the hours in because the price tag made me really motivated to get my money’s worth.
Plus, it was a lot easier to follow a study plan that was made for me by people who know this test way better than I did! You can see my review of the course I bought right here, by the way. It’s definitely the fastest and simplest way to pass the PE.
During that second attempt, I added another 200 hours or so to my study time for a total of over 300. I definitely needed all of those hours to pass, and to make that happen I had to start studying plenty of months in advance. But be careful to not start too soon, though.
Don’t Start Studying Too Early
It’s clear that you can start studying too late and run out of time. I found that to be true for me! If I had started studying 4-6 months before instead of just 3 then I may have passed on my first attempt. But even 6 months might be too early and I definitely wouldn’t recommend going any earlier than that.
You may be able to work a practice problem every day in the year leading up to the exam and that might help. But if you start your full-on studying plan earlier than 6 months before you take the PE, you’ll run into some problems:
- You’ll probably burn out and be pretty exhausted when it’s time to take the PE, which will make it harder to pass. Studying is hard on it’s own. Add a full-time job and possibly a family to that and it gets even more stressful. Your mind and body can only take so much of that and you’ll start to reach your limits if you begin studying too soon.
- You’re going to forget what you studied in the earlier months of your studies. Say you’re taking the Civil PE, which means you’ve got five sections to focus on. You might think that it’s a good idea to take one month to study each section and then use the last to practice. But you’ll almost certainly have a hard time remembering what you studied in months one and two when you get to months five and six.
- It’s easy to waste your time when you think you have all the time in the world. Think about how when you had a project due in school. Did you actually start working on it at the beginning of the semester like your professor recommended? No! At least not most of the time. It’s hard to imagine studying for six or seven months straight. Set up a dedicated study plan for 3-4 months and you’ll do much better.
Now, if you’re reading this and thinking “I know I’m going to need a lot of time to study” that’s perfectly okay. If you feel that you need to be more thorough to make sure you pass, go ahead and begin as early as you need. Just as there are outliers on the side of very few study hours, there will be outliers on the side of very many study hours.
It’s important to recognize what you need and that you’re still an intelligent person if you require more study time. I’d even say that if you fall into that category and admit it you’re actually more intelligent than those who think they can pass with just five hours of study!
When you start studying for the PE exam is up to you. Most engineers begin studying 2-6 months before they take the PE and that will likely be the right amount of time for you too. You’ll need at least that amount of time to get in the usual 200-300 study hours that most people who pass put in.
It may seem like a lot now, but trust me, it’s not as bad as you think. There are enjoyable parts of it. Now that I have my PE license I can say that it’s 100% worth the effort to pass the PE exam and become a licensed Professional Engineer.