Test Statistics and the Top Lessons Learned: October 2014 Civil PE Exam

The October 2014 Civil PE Exam was given in the US on 24 October 2014. 4011 Engineers took the Civil PE Exam. The Pass Rates and number of people who took each discipline is below. Of the first time exam takers, 67% of those passed. Of the repeat test takers only 31% passed.

Pass rates

It took between 52 to 60 days (~8 weeks) depending on which state you are from to get your results of the test. Below are the dates that the different states released the results.

map of return

I asked many Engineers about the Civil PE Exam and got 32 responses back. Here is what they said, it is very similar to what was said for the April exam. Read this and take notes, this is the best advice out there.

What PM module did you take?

Were you able to finish all the questions?

What was your overall impression of the test?
Below are the top 5 comments which expressed all the main points:

  1. The exam was more or less what I expected. All the advice I got was that the morning session was easier than expected and the afternoon session was more challenging, which I agree with. Doing the NCEES practice exam really helped me get an idea of how the exam is structured. I was however surprised at the number of questions that test more of your understanding of a particular topic rather than a calculation based problem.
  2. Overall, I thought it was easier. a lot of qualitative type questions, which can be deceiving especially when asked like … “which of the following is NOT”
  3. Morning was about what I expected, but afternoon was a bit tougher. A couple conceptual questions that would have been gained from field experience, had one worked in that area, but I was unable to find some of those types of answers in my reference materials.
  4. I thought that the test was easier than many of the practice test I completed (NCEES, PPI and Rajapakse) but most similar to the NCEES practice test. The length of the problems was about what I expected or shorter. Nothing that I hadn’t seen before. Going in, I was curious as to what we would have to work out the problems. When I practiced, I used loose notebook paper and when I went back to rework problems, often times lost track of the work I did the first time. During the actual test, there is plenty of room under each question to show your work, which makes it easy to find anything you did previously.
  5. Tricky problems. A lot of field experience questions. Make sure you are minimally competent in your respective field of engineering.

My Rollup: Overall most people thought the morning portion was easier than they expected and the afternoon was harder than they expected. There are a lot of tricky problems that you will require field experience to answer. So it is recommended to choose your area of expertise not the exam that you think is going to be easier. In general people were surprised by the amount of qualitative problems.

What is the one thing you know now about the exam, that you wish you knew when you started studying for the exam?

Below are the top 6 points that were expressed:

  1. I wish I had reviewed the exam outline provided by NCEES closer and adhered to it in my studying.
  2. I wish I had realized that the time alloted as more than necessary. I practiced moving through practice problems as quickly as possible when I started and often times make minor mistakes. Once I got to test time, I realized I had more than enough time to work through 40 problems and go back and double check anything that I was not completely sure about.
  3. Seating assignments, didn’t realize I had to share a table with someone, and didn’t have that much surface area for my books.
  4. Keep organized at all times. Don’t leave a bunch of your organization (notes, practice problems, cheat sheets, etc.) for one time or at the end. As soon as you are done with a practice exam or notes decide where you want to file it and put it there.
  5. Suck it up and spend the money on the needed books and manuals, such as OSHA/steel structures/wood structures/formwork and temp structures/etc, the obscure ones that you think you can get by without – there were numerous questions pulled directly from these manuals and I didn’t have them.
  6. I wish I had bought the CERM long before I began studying for the exam. It would have been a good reference to have at work, and would have made my early study time more efficient. Also, stick to the topics in your study plan. I spent some time studying chapters early on that I did not need to and never showed up on the exam.

My Rollup: The first thing you should do is buy the design standards and study books. Then come up with a study schedule and stick to it. Stay organized and work many problems when studying. You do not need to rush through your study problems, if you know your stuff you will have plenty of time.

What is the one book that you used the most during the test?

  1. My own solved practice notes from the NCEES Practice Exam (Civil Construction) and the PPI Hartmann Construction Practice Exam. As well as my School of PE Review Course Notes.
  2. CERM and TestMaster Notes
  3. CERM, AISC Steel Manual, Practice Exams
  4. LearnCivilengineering study guide and personal study binder
  5. No book. Just a complication of notes

My Rollup: It is important to have all the NCEES design standards, but your binders and the CERM will be used the most for reference

Do you have any other advice/comments about that you would like to share for someone taking the exam in April 2015?

  1. The April 2015 exam will involve a different breakdown of exam problems. It seems to be more focused on construction related topics and on site development perhaps more common in the private sector. Good Luck to all. Study hard. But get some rest! So important to be well rested, which I was not the day of my exam, even though I managed to pass the first time!
  2. Practice, practice, practice. Do lots of problems and sample exam problems
  3. Make a study schedule early and stick with it, but do not be afraid to change it as you figure out what subjects you know well and what you need to work on more. Work plenty of problems from several different authors and stop studying at least a couple of days before the exam to relax. I think it will probably wear you out and it will be hard to get motivated to open the books the following day. I went in feeling good and left feeling great, over prepared if anything, which is better than the alternative.
  4. Do more practice exams and practice problems, especially in areas you are weak in. If you take a review course, block out time each week to re-review the material from the course – that’s when it will actually sink in. Taking a review course is highly-recommended for those who are not self-disciplined. The courses help you speed up your review of the material and also give you useful tips and tricks for a variety of problems.
  5. I would suggest getting all your books and references early and mark and tab them early so you can spend time doing problems using the references and resources like you would during the exam.
  6. Don’t panic, prepare as best you can as everyone does but be aware that the questions are not going to be the same as the sample quizzes and practice problems or exams. There will be a lot of questions that you will have no idea or familiarity with, stay calm and look through engineering dictionaries and glossaries for support.
  7. Be prepared for more concepts, not so much examples with solutions. Know unit conversion because that helps a lot. GOOD LUCK to the next group of PE.

I hope this information helps you prepare for the Civil PE Exam. Let me know if you have any questions. Study hard but study smart.

Good luck on the exam.



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