PE Exam - Tips on studying

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)

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