These are my top five strategies for taking the Civil Transportation PE exam.
1. Don’t spend too much time on one problem.
You’ve probably heard this one before but it’s true. From personal experience, my first problem on the afternoon exam was a problem that I had never seen before. The diagram was daunting, it had a bunch of dimensions, symbols, and numbers. I didn’t even know what the problem was asking for and didn’t know what references to use.
I had a strategy going in to the exam to skip these type problems and come back to them at the end. The very next problem on the next page literally took me a minute to solve! There were a few more of these simple problems toward the end of the exam also. Some of us (including me) have an engineers mindset and want to solve each and every problem because that’s what we do, but we have to lose the battle per-say to win the war! If I would have spent so much time on that first problem I may not have got to the easier ones toward the end, or I may have felt rushed and made a simple mistake on those “lookup” type problems. Just remember it’s ok if you don’t know how to solve a problem, there will be plenty others that you’ll breeze through!
2. Answer every question.
It may seem like a no-brainer but take the time to scan your answer sheet, to make sure you’ve actually marked an answer. With so much focus and brainpower exerted on the exam, we may just mark our answer in the exam booklet and forget to mark it on the answer sheet! Answers marked in the exam booklet won’t be counted so just double check your answer sheet at the end. Side note: be sure you’re marking the corresponding answer to the correct question also when skipping questions this could cause issues if you’re not careful.
3. Keep up with the time.
The afternoon exam has 40 problems and you’ll have 4 hours to complete the exam. This works out to 6 minutes per problem. I’d suggest you bring your own watch. Important disclaimer here: make sure this watch has all beeping or noise-making functions turned off. A smartwatch may not be allowed so it’ll probably be best to just bring in a standard analog watch. This is one of my tips because there may be clocks far away from where you’ll be sitting and you’ll want to be aware of the time at all times to track your progress. There is usually a five or two-minute warning towards the end but you don’t want this warning to be a surprise.
4. Mark each problem by complexity.
At the beginning of the exam read through each problem and mark it by complexity. 1 for easy, 2 for medium, and 3 for hard. You could mark these numbers at the top of the page in the exam booklet. This process should not take that much time and will be very valuable to possibly help gain some time by just knowing how hard you think a problem will be. Sometimes you may not know how easy or hard a problem is without “digging” too much into the problem but don’t be tempted to spend so much time determining how complex a problem is, that would defeat the purpose of this strategy. If it’s unclear just mark it a “2” for medium and keep it moving. This strategy will also help with the first strategy mentioned earlier.
5. Read the questions carefully.
Units, units, units! One of the common pitfalls is misinterpreting what the question is actually asking for. The exam structure is set up with numbers as the multiple-choice solutions without their accompanying units. For example, the multiple-choice solutions would be: A) 6 B) 12 C) 18 D) 24 instead of A) 6 cfs B) 12 cfs C) 18 cfs D) 24 cfs, “cfs” would be stated somewhere in the question, usually in parentheses. If all of the units given in the question are in metric instead of US, then one of the incorrect answers would likely show up if the final answer is not converted to the correct units.
So that’s it!
Test-taking can be intimidating especially when we have so much invested. Put all that anxious energy to better use by focusing on the things you can control (preparing and problem-solving). Hopefully, you’ll remember all (or at least one) of these when you take and PASS the exam! You got this!
If you have some strategies you would suggest or just have some thoughts you’d like to share leave them in the comments below!