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How I Aced the P.E. Exam

Written by: Ben Walpole
Published on: Jul 22, 2021

P.E. Exam
Image credit: Vasko Miokovic Photography/iStockphoto

With the next round of P.E. and S.E. exams approaching, it’s nearly crunch time for those seeking professional licensure this spring.

But even if you’re not a test-taker this April, it may be something you’ve considered for a while or have looked forward to at some point in your career.

Fortunately, ASCE offers live exam review courses. Meanwhile, members have been trading exam stories in a recent ASCE Collaborate discussion, offering up advice on what worked for them – and maybe a few things that didn’t.

Here are some highlights from the discussion (and be sure to log in and contribute your own advice):

Heidi Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE

Tulsa, Oklahoma

“Take a look at your state’s P.E. requirements when you are graduating from college. This will give you an idea of what your options are. Some people also choose to apply in a surrounding state if the timelines are different there.

“When I took the P.E. exam, the younger EI that I was mentoring also sat for the exam and passed after being out of school for only one year. I would recommend taking the exam 1-2 years out of school if you have that option. The longer you wait, the less of the general knowledge you’ll probably remember from undergrad.

“My final advice would be to keep detailed records of what projects you work on and what portions of the projects you specifically completed. This will make it much easier to complete your P.E. application since you have to list detailed work experience from the time you graduated up to your application for licensure.”

Doug Cantrell, P.E., M.ASCE

Durham, North Carolina

“Prepare yourself for an eight-hour exam. Many people who have taken the P.E. exam say how mentally and physically drained they are afterwards. That is because we don’t typically spend eight solid hours mentally straining ourselves.

“Start at two hours, then four hours, then six hours until you feel comfortable taking eight-hour practice tests. Also, know from a physical standpoint how much food and water you need to get through an eight-hour test. You do get a lunch break during the exam, so use this to your advantage. After eating lunch, know if you need some last-minute practice problems, or need to listen to some music to calm down. Use the time to benefit you the most.”

Jay Garth, P.E., M.ASCE

Grand Rapids, Michigan

“I created a nine-month timeline and dedicated four hours each week to a specific topic … .

“The P.E. was a big commitment for me. In the months leading to the exam, I stopped doing some hobbies, I put my side hustles on pause, and grinded. The week of the exam I took the entire week off just to study and give myself mental and physical relief prior to the exam.”

Gavin Finley, P.E., M.ASCE

San Jose, California

“Hold onto textbooks, even if they aren’t an area of interest or emphasis. The P.E. questions will be much more on that level than what you’re doing in practice. Good for both studying and as potential references on test day.

“[However], don’t go overboard with references. I probably had a couple too many things with me (don’t think I touched the Green Book), and extra references clutter your space and give you one extra thing to move around or mistakenly flip through.”