In this article (and video above), Isaac Oakeson, P.E. from Civil Engineering Academy talks about the difficulty level of each of the possible Civil PE Exams you can take. Isaac is a civil engineer himself, who has spent years helping civil engineers pass the PE exam, and in this the video he will rank the different exams, based on his opinion, from the hardest PE Exam to the easiest PE Exam. Below are questions I have posed to Isaac followed by his answers.
What’s The Hardest PE Exam for Civil Engineers?
Q: One of the first questions I get from EIT’s who are interested in taking the PE Exam is “How hard is it?” or “Which is the easiest to pass?”
A: Generally speaking, you’re better off taking the discipline that you do daily as you’ll be more familiar with the basic concepts and will have less to learn. The exam changes every time, so it’s luck of the draw on which one could potentially have easier questions. That said, every depth exam is hard and requires a high degree of effort; but let’s dive a little deeper, and highlight some things that might be easier for you.
Construction Depth Exam
Q: I think Construction is the most popular PE depth exam that civil engineers take – or want to take, but is it the easiest PE exam?.
A: People that take the construction depth exam are often surprised about the difficulty of the problems asked. This exam tests you on a lot of material that you need to know quite a bit about and is not as easy as people think it is. This exam requires quite a few standards that you are going to need to know for the exam. Instead of just studying the subject matter, you have to also get to know the standards association associated with it.
I would rate the construction depth exam as the fourth hardest exam.
Water Resources Depth Exam
Q: How would you rank the water resources depth exam?
A: Water resources is a great depth exam. I would rank this as the easiest PE exam that you could prepare for. One of the reason being that it has NO standards associated with the exam. There is no additional books or material that you will need to know. This alone will eliminate many hours of flipping through material on the exam and many hours during your studies.
Another great reason to rank this as the easiest exam to take is that if you look at the historical pass rates for water resources they are typically at 70% or higher for first time takers and consistently rank higher if you are a repeat taker of the exam. So, simply looking at the data would suggest that you have the BEST chance at passing this exam by registering for the water resources depth exam and will most likely be the easiest exam to take.
Structural Depth Exam
Q: Many engineers say the structural depth exam is the hardest to pass, is this true?
A: The structural depth exam IS most likely the hardest exam to take. This exam requires a huge amount of subject matter that you require to know, as well as a huge amount of additional standards that you have to become familiar with.
This depth section alone is the reason why people bring in suitcases full of books (or wagon loads). Not for subject matter itself (although it can be), but simply because there are so many resources that you are required to bring with you and know pretty well.
Geotechnical Depth Exam
Q: Why do so many engineers shy away from the geotechnical depth exam, and how would you rank it?
A: Many engineers shy away from the geotechnical section of the exam. I’m not sure why. If you look at the Civil Engineering Reference Manual you’ll notice that the geo-tech section is the thinnest section of material. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should take this section lightly but it does indicate that the amount of material that they can throw at you might be smaller than other sections.
The other thing that you’ll notice is that the amount of standards required for this exam is currently two – the ASCE 7 and the OSHA 29 CFR.
Although this exam has low number of registrants, you still need to study really hard to pass this exam. I would rank geotechnical engineer as the second easiest (and most skipped) depth section to take.
Transportation Depth Exam
Q: Last but not least, how would you rank the transportation depth exam?
The transportation depth exam focuses mainly on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) design books. I would rank this as the third hardest depth exam as it has the most codes required for exam. A lot of the material that you need for the transportation exam is look up information out of these codes and standards books. If you know the standards then you’ll be fine, but that’s a lot of money to invest in extra books.
Transportation and Water Resources typically have the highest registrants for exams and have high pass rates.
So, which PE exam is the easiest?
Below is the summary of the depth exams ranked from easiest to hardest.
In the end, no matter which depth exam you choose to take, get it done as the PE License is the springboard to the rest of your career. So, get registered for it, practice hard, study problems and you will do just fine.
I hope you found my conversation with Isaac helpful. In upcoming articles I will solve some more PE exam practice problems and answer other questions from our subscribers.
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And Please ask questions and leave comments below this video and I will respond to you, and let me know if there’s a topic you want me to cover or a specific question you would like answered… Pass the PE Exam will have you covered. In fact, this video was created in response to a comment on a previous video.
I’ll see you next week… on Pass the PE Exam
Anthony Fasano, P.E.
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success