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.