The biggest challenge in passing the PE exam for most people is not having enough time to answer difficult PE questions. You can be proficient in every technical concept on the exam, but if you’re not fast enough, you may not answer enough questions to pass the PE exam. The best possible way to feel less anxious about the PE exam is to be prepared.
My wife is a licensed professional engineer, and she struggled with this. She was really good at the technical concepts, and could answer any question if she had unlimited time, but when she got into a pressure type exam situation with limited time, she really struggled. So I helped her to create a process for tackling the exam questions with a focus on time management and I want to share that process with you in this video.
With regard to tackling difficult PE questions, I have to acknowledge that some of the PE exams, depending on discipline, have already gone to the CBT or computer based testing format. And the biggest change with CBT is that you cannot bring in personal reference materials, you can only use the digital handbook that NCEES provides. So the approach in answering questions may be different depending on whether or not your test is computer based. However, if your exam is CBT, it should go without saying that you must know the NCEES reference handbook inside-out.
How To Approach Exam Problems From Both a CBT and Non-CBT Perspective?
The first thing that I would offer just from a general approach perspective prior to exam day, is I recommend that you create a classification system for the problems, for example easy, medium, and difficult.
On exam day, during your first pass through the exam, tackle ONLY the easy problems. Remember, the goal is to answer a certain number of questions right to pass the PE exam so if you tackle the problems from beginning to end, and the last 5 questions are easy, and you don’t get to them, you just lost five easy correct questions.
Tips for Easy, Medium, and Difficult PE Questions:
As you go through the exam on your first pass, if a question is “easy” — then answer it right there, don’t even go to the next one, just get it done.
- Now, if the questions is medium, it’s not a slam dunk, but you think you can solve it, you might flag those questions, and
- If the question is difficult, and you really are either not familiar with the type of question or have no idea how to approach it, skip it altogether and don’t flag it.
Once you finish all of the easy questions, you’ll go back and do a second pass and tackle the medium questions that you flagged. You will work through those questions, then and ONLY then, during your final pass will you attempt the difficult questions.
Now, when you attempt to solve the difficult questions, here’s an approach you can take. The best approach is to FIRST clearly identify what variable you need to solve. For example, let’s say you need to solve the station of the vertical point of tangency (or PVT ) on a vertical curve. Then, in your reference materials, whether you are using your own materials, or you’re exam is CBT and you are using the online handbook, search for PVT. When you find it, look at all of the equations provided, and determine which equations you can use based on the information provided to you in the question.
Another important tip I will share with regard to difficult questions, is that sometimes, what makes questions difficult, is that they overload you with information, a lot of which you don’t need, and that throws you off. So focus on finding the right equation that you need to use and then match that to the information provided.
This all comes back to how you prepared over the previous months, because if you are well prepared, a good portion of the problems should fall into your easy or medium categories, and hopefully the number of difficult questions will be limited for you.
Always remember, you don’t have to get every question right, and this approach will help to ensure you are getting as many right as you can based on your knowledge and preparation, and not leaving any easy points on the table.
I hope you found this week’s video helpful. Remember the 80/20 Rule in YOUR studying efforts and your reference material selection. In upcoming videos I will walk through some more practice problems, but also talk about tackling qualitative problems.
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Lastly, I encourage you to ask questions in the comments of the videos or here on this page and I’ll read and respond to them in future videos. So if there’s a specific topic you want me to cover or answer, we have you covered.
I’ll see you next week
Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success