Fend Off P.E. Exam Nerves By Preparing Like a Pro

June 21, 2018
JP Mohsen has been preparing engineers for the P.E. exam for 20 years.

Summer is a better time to get ahead in your career than you might think.

Especially if you’re looking forward to taking the exam that will qualify you for a P.E. license.

The next ASCE P.E. Civil Exam Review Course begins soon. ASCE News talked with the course professor – J.P. Mohsen, Ph.D., F.ASCE – about how civil engineers can best prepare for the test.

ASCE News: So let’s start at the beginning. How do I even go about preparing for this exam?

Mohsen: The P.E. exam is called the “Principles and Practice of Engineering” exam. The “practice” part of the exam covers some of the practical aspects of engineering that you may have experienced on the job. However, most of the exam, if not the entire exam, is actually quite theoretical, as evidenced by the “principle” component of the exam. The highly theoretical nature of the current exam format makes it challenging for those who have been away from college for a few years.

One strategy to prepare for the P.E. exam is to enroll in the ASCE online live webinar courses. In the allotted time, we can provide you with a concise summary of topics in each sub discipline that have a high probability of showing up on the test.

Most of our instructors have over 20 years of experience teaching P.E. review courses. That extensive experience has helped us develop realistic examples of the questions that appear on the exam. And we continue to increase the number of practice problems so that we can make sure our students are fully prepared.

In reality, the level of success for each learner depends on how much time the person spends preparing on his or her own. On the day of the exam, one needs to be able to do the problems correctly, but also quickly.

ASCE News: ASCE has been preparing civil engineers for licensure exams for 13 years. What kind of feedback have you received from the past attendees?

Mohsen: We’ve organized the major points of feedback into four categories:

1. How helpful the handouts and the course materials are during the exam. The course notes are designed and prepared in such a way that they could be used as reference notes for the actual exam.

2. The effectiveness of the instructors and the way in which the course material is presented is mentioned a lot.

3. Over the years, there have been requests for additional homework and practice problems. In response to these requests, we have added problem sets and homework relating to various course topics which we distribute to the students on a weekly basis.

4. The most gratifying communication that we receive from students are the numerous notes of appreciation they send to us after they receive the exam results. Many people think of us, as they celebrate their success, with a note of appreciation for us as a partner and coach who helped them achieve professional engineer status.

ASCE News: How do you design the course – to both maximize the effectiveness and differentiate it from the other alternatives on the market?

Mohsen: One of the greatest strengths that we have is the excellence of our instructors and the richness of their backgrounds and qualification.

We follow and emphasize the NCEES-advertised material that cover the exam topics. Our presentations are highly focused on the topics that have the greatest probability of appearing on the exam. These topics vary year to year and exam to exam. All instructors carefully study the proposed planned exam changes and update the presentations accordingly. We eliminate or add topics as needed. We add practice and example problems as needed.

We specify design code editions that are in effect for each specified exam and update the design problems accordingly. This is particularly important for the S.E. and P.E. structural exams. Our team is active in identifying areas of emphasis in each of the exams, so we can provide the most relevant information in each of the review courses that we offer.

In reality, the level of success for each learner depends on how much time the person spends preparing on his or her own. On the day of the exam, one needs to be able to do the problems correctly, but also quickly.

So, in addition to teaching the concepts related to the exam, we take a coaching approach. We coach you on what to study, on how to study, what study habits to adopt and use. We show you ways to avoid the pitfalls that may lead you to choose the wrong answers. We will help you with strategies for time management and provide guidance on what type of reference material to take to the exam.

ASCE News: There are changes coming in April 2019 to the test format. Describe, if you could, some of those changes. And how will they affect the way civil engineers prepare for their P.E. exams?

Mohsen: There are no anticipated changes in the P.E. Civil exam or the S.E. exam in 2019. However, there will be a change in the way the Environmental P.E. exam is conducted.

The Environmental exam will be a computer-based test, starting in the spring of 2019. It will also no longer be open-book. Examinees will have access to a reference book that NCEES has published and is currently available. This means the last open-book Environmental P.E. exam with unrestricted references will be given in the fall of 2018.

For those who plan to take this exam, this change can actually be a good change. The topics covered on the exam will now be limited to what is included in the NCEES reference materials. Therefore, a close and in-depth study of the reference book can provide insight into what may be covered on the exam. One must, of course, remember that other related topics not covered in the reference manual may also appear on the test, though, so comprehensive preparation remains critical.

Learn more about ASCE’s live exam reviews.

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