Six thousand people took the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) Civil exam in 2021 with an average pass rate of about 60%, according to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The NCEES administers the PE exam to test for a minimum level of competency in a particular engineering discipline.
Obtaining professional licensing is highly encouraged at Galloway, and as many as three to ten people take the PE exam each year. Galloway supports employees pursuing their professional licensing by providing internal study groups, study resources, real work experience, and financial assistance for testing and licensing fees. With all the time, education, effort, and money put into becoming a licensed engineer. It is vital to make sure you are well prepared when put to the test.
Galloway civil project engineers Jessica Greenough and Cayla Capello share their best tips on preparing for and taking the exam.
Preparing for the Exam
The NCEES has an Examinee Guide that describes the rules for the exam. It goes over approved calculators and comfort aids, the proper identification needed for admittance, and more to ensure you are adequately prepared for your exam.
According to the NCEES website, “Will provide you with an electronic NCEES PE Civil Reference Handbook and all design standards specified for your chosen civil discipline during the exam. This handbook and the standards listed on the exam specifications are the only reference material used during the exam.” Familiarize yourself with these materials, such as where specific topics, standards, and codes are located, so you do not waste time trying to find the information.
Make sure your workload is manageable to allow yourself ample time for quality studying. Sit down with your supervisor to ensure you, your supervisor, and your team has the exact expectations. Discuss your work responsibilities and figure out what would be the best times during the week to study.
Be honest with yourself about how you study successfully. Part of the requirement to take the PE exam is to have a four-year degree in engineering. Take the study skills you fostered in school and apply them. Midway through studying, audit yourself to see what topics are your strongest and weakest, so you know which ones you need to work on. Take two to three practice exams during your studying. Use the first to revisit topics and gauge where you are, and then the other ones to work on pacing or even create a simulated exam experience. Put yourself in a room with no distractions, only the items you are allowed for the test, and only take breaks when the test structure allows.
Talk to your supervisor about working on projects that involve study areas you feel you need practice or projects specifically related to your chosen depth exam. Real-life project experience and studying from reference materials and practice exams can be beneficial.
Do you get test anxiety? Do you struggle with time management? Acknowledge your testing strengths and weaknesses beforehand and figure out a plan of action to work with them. It is also essential to know that the NCEES will grant reasonable accommodations with documentation for ADA, military, and religious accommodations.
Taking the Test
The testing center or computer most likely has a clock but bring a watch just in case. It is easier to check the time on your wrist and can help with time management during the test.
This applies when preparing for the test and while you are taking it. Know if double-checking your answers is beneficial for you. Greenough knows that when she double checks her answers, she usually second-guesses herself and changes her answer. Therefore, double-checking her answers is not a good strategy for her. Cappello knows that she needs to double-check her answers to ensure she didn’t make mistakes, so she double-checked her answers. If either option works for you, find a good balance between the two.
Comb through all the problems and find the ones you know you can do quickly – these are typically the more theoretical and concept ones. Then work through the shorter calculation ones and save long calculation questions for last. Otherwise, if you go sequentially, you might hit a long calculation question early on and still have a few questions left that you could have answered in less than a minute.
Make sure you give yourself a break the day before the test. Do not study and keep yourself in a calm mindset. Eat a good breakfast and bring a nutritional lunch for your break. If driving stresses you out, ask someone for a ride to and from the testing site. After you take the test, leave the test at the testing center. Do not spend time going over what you think you got wrong and right in your head. Take the time after your test to relax, debrief, and decompress. Have a personal ritual to acknowledge all your effort, whether that is talking to your family, having your favorite food for dinner, a movie night, or hanging out with friends.
As soon as you pass and receive that stamp, you are legally liable for everything you stamp. Follow through with all the work you put into preparing and taking the exam to the best of your ability after you pass. The process helps prepare you to become an ethical, responsible, and educated engineer so take this milestone seriously to set yourself up for a successful future.
How Galloway Helps
Galloway understands the commitment to pass the PE exam and ensures employees are well equipped by providing resources and experience, amongst other benefits. Galloway provides the professional reference materials for the exam – which can be around $800 per book – and ensures that everyone has their copy to study from. There is also an employee-contributed resource library with online prep classes, books, practice exams, and PowerPoint prep classes. Employees hold group study sessions to create a sense of responsibility and help keep people accountable.
The breadth of projects that Galloway supports exposes engineers to various experiences in their first four years while preparing them for the PE exam. Greenough explains it as “instead of working on one thing 50 times, you work on 50 things one time for multiple different projects from the cradle to the grave.” By the time you are ready to take your exam, you have worked on drainage, traffic, geotechnical reports, etc.
Employees also work with their project managers to get project experience in areas they need more practice in. Before Greenough took her exam, she wanted to get more experience with roads. Her project manager ensured she was assigned a large project with many public roads to help her become stronger in that area.
Along with resources and experience, Galloway is cognizant of work-study balance and works with you to create the best work-study schedule. The day of the exam is a paid day off, and you can work with your manager if you need days off before and after the test. Galloway also pays for test and license registration fees once you pass.
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