Category: PE Exam – Tips on studying

How hard is the PE exam

how hard is the PE exam

How hard is the PE exam

Most people studying for the Professional Engineering (PE) exam will be wondering how hard is the PE exam.  Unfortunately, that is not easily answered.  Some people will take the PE exam and find it relatively easy, while others will think it is nearly impossible to pass.

I have listed below some of the aspects of the PE exam that add to the difficulty

The difficulty of the unknown

Engineers like to plan.  Not knowing exactly what to expect on the PE exam is overwhelming for most engineers.  Therefore, one of the main difficulties of the PE exam is simply not knowing what to expect.

So what do you do to lessen this difficulty?

Take practice exams

One of the best ways to get a better sense of what to expect on the PE exam is taking practice exams.  It is important to note that not all practice exams provide a good representation of the actual test.  Get my recommendations on the best practice exams for the PE exam.

Use study guides and reference materials

Study guides and reference materials are a must for developing a good sense of what to expect on the exam.  You can get my recommendations of the best reference books for the PE exam.  Though I am biased toward my PE exam study guide, there are many available.

Talk with others that have taken the exam

It is always good to talk with other people that have taken the PE exam.  However, remember that everyone has differing opinions of what ‘difficult’ really means.  Try not to ask how hard is the PE exam, but rather ask questions about the overall experience.

The difficulty of the ‘most nearly’ type of question

As you are taking the exam (and while you are taking practice exams) you will notice that a lot of questions ask you to find the answer that is most nearly correct.  It can often seem that more than one of the available answers could be correct.

NCEES describes the ‘most nearly’ types of questions as the following:

Many of the questions on the NCEES exams require calculations to arrive at a numerical answer.  Depending on the method of calculation used, it is very possible that examinees working correctly will arrive at a range of answers.  The phrase “most nearly” is used to accommodate answers that have been derived correctly but that may be slightly different from the correct answer choice given on the exam.  You should use good engineering judgment when selecting your choice of answer.  For example, if the question asks you to calculate an electrical current or determine the load on a beam, you should literally select the answer option that is most nearly what you calculated, regardless of whether it is more or less than your calculated value.  However, if the question asks you to select a fuse or circuit breaker to protect against a calculated current or to size a beam to carry a load, you should select an answer option that will safely carry the current or load.  Typically, this requires selecting a value that is closest to but larger than the current or load.

The difficulty of surviving an 8 hour exam

Probably one of the most difficult aspects of the PE exam is simply trying to stay focused for 8 hours.  The exam can be exhausting!  It can very difficult to prepare for this experience.  However, you can plan ahead by taking snacks and other essentials (maybe energy drinks) with you to the exam.  Get a good night’s sleep the night before.

Pass the PE Exam the First Time

Pass the PE Exam the First Time

In this blog post I am going to give you my best tips to help you pass the PE exam the first time you take the exam.

Plan for Organization to Pass the PE exam

Probably the most important suggestion I can give you about how to be successful taking the PE exam is to be organized!  To pass the PE exam you MUST be able to work problems quickly and efficiently.  You don’t have a lot of time to waste searching for information, so proper organization is extremely important!  You only have an average of 6 minutes per problem on the Mechanical PE Exam.

Know the Test Format

It is vitally important to understand the general format of the test. The PE exam is an 8 hour exam. It is divided into two 4 hour sessions. All test takers will take the breadth (AM) exam and one of three possible depth (PM) exams. You work all problems in both sessions, and your total score is the combination of your scores from both sessions.
The exam is open-book, so you can take as many books with you as you like. I will talk more about what books to take soon, but now is the time to start planning.

The Morning Session

The AM session is called the Breadth Section and is the same for all mechanical engineering exams. The morning session is four hours and it contains 40 multiple choice style questions. Refer to the exam specifications sheet from NCEES to ensure you have the most up-to-date information. The AM exam covers topics in basic engineering practice, mechanical systems and materials, hydraulics and fluids, energy / power systems, and HVAC / refrigeration.

The Afternoon Session

The PM session is called the Depth Section and focuses more closely on a single area of practice. For the mechanical engineering exam there are three Depth sections available: Mechanical Systems and Materials, Thermal and Fluid Systems, and HVAC and Refrigeration. You must pick the Depth exam you want prior to taking the exam.
Again, you should refer to the exam specifications from NCEES to make sure you have the up-to-date information. The PM session covers topics on principles and applications.

You will Need Some Books

To be successful on an open-book test (such as the PE exam) you will need books. On this website I give details of the reference books that I recommend. You can check out that information here. However, if you have books you currently own and are familiar with you should use them. The key is to have books you are familiar with so you can find information quickly! I also provide information on how many books you should take to the exam in this blog post.
Many test takers use the Mechanical Engineering Reference Manual (often referred to as the MERM). If you plan on using the MERM make sure you give yourself enough time to become very familiar with the book because there is a lot of information in this reference. It would be a great idea to add tabs to help expedite the process of searching for information. I give more of my thoughts on the MERM on this blog post.
When you start studying, pick the books you think you will need. Store them in the area where you study and use them (and only them) to study. Modify your selection as needed, and by the time you take the exam you will have optimized your book selection.

Use Binders

Books don’t need to be your only source for reference materials. You can have three-ring binders with all types of useful information. You CANNOT have loose paper, so you must use some type of binder to contain this information.
Find information on the web that would be useful such as unit conversions, section properties, steam tables, fluid properties, beam shear and moment diagrams / formulas, and material properties. Print out the information and put it in the binder (in an organized and well planned order of course).

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The one Binder that Rules them all…

Once you have your reference materials you will notice that it is a lot of information. One thing that I did, and I am certain it helped me tremendously, is make a ‘master binder’… or ‘the one binder that rules them all’. What is this ‘master binder’? Basically I put quick reference information for all (or nearly all) topics for the exam. For example… I had a Thermodynamics section that had basic essential information on types of cycles, common terms and equations, and properties that I frequently used while preparing. That same Thermodynamics section also referenced page numbers in my Thermodynamics book where I can find more information. This ‘master binder’ allowed me to find pertinent information very quickly.

Pass the PE exam

Improve your Estimating Skills

The PE exam is made up of multiple choice questions, so sometimes it is acceptable to get a good estimate of the solution rather than working all the details… especially if you don’t fully understand how to work the problem. A strong ability to estimate can help you eliminate wrong answers and improve your odds when you need to guess.

Action Steps

Here are some things to start doing to help you pass the PE exam the first time.

  • Start selecting the books you plan to take to the exam
  • Set up a designated study area
  • Get an approved calculator and use it a lot
  • Take a pre-test to see what areas need the most work (Click here to get my recommendation of the best practice tests)

Mechanical PE Exam Study Guide

PE exam study guide

Mechanical PE Exam Study Guide

I wanted to provide some information about the Mechanical PE exam study guide.  It is a great tool to help you prepare for the PE exam.  I put a lot of work into making this the best PE exam study guide available.  Keep reading to learn how you can get a FREE copy!

What is the PE exam Study Guide?

This study guide is designed to give you step-by-step instructions on what you need to do to prepare for the Mechanical Systems and Materials PE exam.  Throughout the guide I give my personnel tips and suggestions of things you can do to better prepare for the exam.  I discuss thoughts on how to be best organized for the exam.  I discuss test format, recommended reference materials, review courses, and more.  I even help you prioritize your study time to get best prepared for the exam.

Probably the hardest thing about preparing for the PE exam is determining where to start.  With the study guide you complete one chapter every week as you complete the study guide; I even have weekly homework suggestions to help you learn more.  I tell you step-by-step what you need to do to prepare.

I discuss important engineering concepts, and I explain the solution thought process to solve many types of engineering topics.  I give you ways to read a problem and strategically determine the solution method to use.

Want to Get a FREE Copy of the Study Guide?

I want to make this PE exam study guide available to everyone.  Many sites have study guides, but they can be expensive.  Go here to learn how you can get your copy absolutely FREE!

How do I start preparing for the PE Exam?

How do I start preparing for the PE Exam

I get asked the same general questions a lot:  It has been so long since I took the FE exam… How to I start preparing for the PE exam?  I don’t remember anything from the general engineering courses… How do I start preparing for the PE exam?  I only recently decided to get my PE license after 15 years of experience… How do I start preparing for the PE exam?

One of the most difficult steps to preparing for the PE exam is determining where to start!  Just because you have been working as an engineer for the past 4+ years does not mean you remember everything from your undergraduate education.  Maybe your job focuses on hydraulic design, but you never use dynamics, mechanics of materials, machine design, vibrations, HVAC… (the list can go on and on).   How do you relearn all that material?  It can seem overwhelming just to get started in the preparations for the exam.

How do I start preparing for the PE Exam?

So what is the best way to start preparing for the exam?  There are many ways to begin, and it may depend on how much you do remember from your undergraduate years.  Many people get the Mechanical Engineering Reference Manual (otherwise known as the MERM) and read it from cover to cover.  Other people grab all their old engineering textbooks and start reviewing.  Some people take review courses.  Those are all good ideas, but I would like to offer another idea that you may not have considered.

Grab your Physics book to start reviewing!

I think a great way to begin your preparations for the Mechanical PE Exam is to review an undergraduate Physics book!  Yes… I am talking about the general ‘Introduction to Physics’ books used for a freshman level college Physics course.  Yes… I realize that the PE exam is an ‘engineering’ exam not a ‘physics’ exam.

So why would you start reviewing with a physics book?  Think about it… what material does an introductory physics book cover?  They cover the concepts of statics, dynamics, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, heat transfer, vibrations, and electrical circuits.  All of those topics are on the PE exam!  Reviewing a physics book will give you a quick refresher on all those topics in a way that is typically easy to understand.  It is a fast way to get your mind back into the basic concepts required for the PE exam.  Also, if you don’t have a physics book you can probably find one online for a great price or go get one from a library.  If you want to buy a new one go here.

Now, you are not going to be fully prepared for the PE exam just by reviewing a physics book.  Once you get your quick refresher from the physics book, then you can read the MERM from cover to cover or start reviewing old textbooks to get more detailed in your review.  You will go into your detailed review with a good foundation of the basic concepts.

What do you think?

So, the idea of using a physics book to review for the Mechanical PE Exam may seem odd.  I personally think it is a great place to start when you need a good general review.  What do you think?  Leave comments below with your thoughts.  Also, as always, it is a big help if you share this information.  If you found this helpful help spread the word with the share buttons.  You can also go like the Mechanical PE Academy Facebook page to get updates and other information.