NOTE: This is a long post for those who can't afford the thousands of dollars on classes and does not have their employer reimbursing any of the cost for preparing for this exam.
Briefly on my background, I graduated from a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 2007 and a MS in Petroleum Engineering in 2011. Based on practice, I have been working in the petroleum industry but in areas of downhole vibrations management and modeling, finite element analysis, tubular design, product development and manufacturing of downhole drilling tools. When I decided to take the PE exam, I considered PE Petroleum but it was too broad and it was not in my area of practice. So it was PE Mechanical - MDM I settled for. Because I had other commitments (my PhD. program) that I needed to shift my full focus to after the PE exams, there was not going to be a 2nd try for me.
Preparation timeframe: Since I needed to review my Mechanical Engineering books after 11 years, I used 5.5 months (December 2017 to April 2018) for preparation. However, your own timeframe will depend on how current your level of knowledge on Machine Design and Materials. I believe 4 months is sufficient too. I don't know how much time you have to dedicate to study, but I studied between 12am and 4am every day. Though, I had to show up at work by 9am. The self-study path is hard if this is what you want to do, but it can be highly rewarding.
Resources and references:
The listed resources and references were all used in preparing for and during the exam. Do not take any references you have not used in preparation to the exam, it will slow you down when searching through it for the first time. Also, you have to determine what topics you will read from which reference.
1. PE Exam Specification: This may sound funny, I had this as the first pages in my folders because I wanted to structure my print outs, tables, solved questions in the same order of topics listed in the PE Exam Specification and also made sure I could keep it in front of me at all times.
2. The Trilogy (MERM 13th Ed. by Michael R. Lindeburg PE; Mechanical PE Exam Review: Machine Design and Materials by Dr. Timothy C. Kennedy; Engineering Pro Guides Machine Design & Materials PE Technical Study Guide by Justin Kauwale, P.E.). These 3 books gave me depth for most of the topics on the exam. I must commend the author of Engineering Pro Guides (EPG) on the effort he put into the study guide, it was what made me feel I could pass this exam on my 1st try. I used it as my baseline because the topics were structured in the same order as the PE Exam Specification. For every topic, I read the EPG study guide first, then I would read the MERM next and conclude the same topic with Kennedy's review. Obviously, MERM doesn't cover all topics in the PE Exam Specification e.g. Basic Engineering Practice (except for Engineering Economics) and Supporting Knowledge topics. Also, try to read the extra materials recommended within the EPG study guide.
3. Shigley's Mechanical Engineering Design, 10th Ed. by Richard G Budynas, Keith J Nisbett. I can't stress enough how this book boosted my confidence. I never wanted to read or look into this book but I would have regretted.. I picked up Shigley 2 months before the exams after completing the 1st pass on the PE exam specification and read a lot of posts on EB on how important it is. Interestingly, I used this book to solidify my knowledge on important topics on the Mechanical Components section (Bearings, Gears, Springs, Belt, pulley and chain drives, Clutches and brakes, Power screws, Shafts and keys), Joints and Fasteners section (Welding, Bolts, screws, rivets and Adhesives), Supportive Knowledge section (Fits and tolerances, Computational methods (FEA, CAE), GD&T), Strength of Materials section and some of Material Properties section. Please get this book. I think I went over the topics I listed over 3 times.
4. Machinery's Handbook by Erik Oberg. EPG's study guide made me get this book because of the look-up type of questions e.g. welding symbols, hardness vs. ultimate strength, surface roughness, fits and tolerances etc. I also used this book for calculations on thick/thin walled vessel questions. If you can't afford to buy this book, you can still get the information from online resources, MERM, Shigley or Kennedy's Review. Though, it is a useful resource for mechanical design engineers.
5. Engineering Drawing and Design by David A Madsen and David P. Madsen. I picked up this book towards the end of my self-study, though I had it in my library. It came in handy for Basic Engineering Practice section (welding symbols, surface roughness, interpretation of technical drawings) and Supporting Knowledge (manufacturing processes). As I said earlier, you can find the information I got from this book from somewhere else. However, ensure you depth in the Basic Engineering Practice and Supportive Knowledge questions.
6. Engineering Unit Conversions, 4th Ed by Michael R. Lindeburg PE (Author). Life saver right here. Don't make the mistake on depending on the unit conversions in the MERM, those are not sufficient. Problems on the PE exam required about 3-4 steps of unit conversions that I couldn't have done without this book. I used it a lot during preparation too.
7. A Dictionary of Mechanical Engineering (Oxford Quick Reference) 1st Edition by Tony Atkins and Marcel Escudier. There was so much buzz about buying this book, so I jumped on the bandwagon. Though it's cheap but I didn't find it useful, probably because I had a depth of the information here from other sources. I tried to use it on the exam for a question I had no clue of, I ended up with the wrong answer.
8. MERM Instructional Companion Videos. Someone on the EB talked about watching this video, so I joined the bandwagon again. I really benefitted from these videos. It solidified my statics and dynamics knowledge on different concepts, such as: friction/impending motion, rigid body kinetic, sliding/tipping of a block etc.
9. Good book on engineering statistics/quality control (QA/QC). I will leave this up to you to find a good book on engineering statistics (e.g. confidence intervals etc.). The reference I took into the exam was not helpful and I ended up struggling on those type of questions. However, EPG's study guide helped me with preparing and provided answers to questions on quality control (QA/QC).
10. FE Reference Handbook 9.5. Take this book as a backup. I had some questions whose solution and equations were in this book.
11. Practice Problems and Exams. I don't think you can pass the Mechanical - MDM PE exam without solving practice questions and exams. I started solving practice problems right when I started preparing for the exams to solidify my knowledge on concepts and methods of solution. The practice exams I got (which I want to sell right now) are:
NCEES PE Mechanical: Machine Design and Materials Practice Exam
NCEES PE Mechanical Engineering: Mechanical Systems and Materials Practice Exam
Machine Design and Materials Six-Minute Problems, 2nd Edition by Harriet G. Cooke PE
Mechanical PE Practice Examination, 3rd Edition by Michael R. Lindeburg PE
Mechanical PE Machine Design & Materials Full Exam by Engineering ProGuide
1. Start preparing early, especially if you have left the books for a long time. I would recommend starting with the topic that you really enjoyed while in college. Mine was Statics and Dynamics. This helped me ease into my preparation.
2. Customize your study guide and be organized. A good way to keep tab of your preparation progress is to have the PE exam specification always by your side and customize your study guide using the PE exam specification. A typical example my customized study guide was to list references beside the topic:
EPG Study Guide, MERM, Kennedy's Review, Practice Problems
E.g. Shaft and Keys
EPG Study Guide, MERM, Kennedy's Review, Shigley, Practice Problems
3. Tab, Tab, Tab. Your study materials needs to be organized using tabs to bookmark topics and concepts in all your main books. I started tabbing my books 4 weeks before exam date. As shown in the attached figure, you will see that most of my reference materials were heavily tabbed.
4. Start solving practice problems as early as possible. I solved at least 10 practice problems with different difficulty levels after completing my reading on every topic.
5. Study buddy. I didn't have a study buddy during my preparation. I don't think it's necessary but if you have one, great for you to keep each other accountable and focused. If you want the "green" pass enough, you stay committed to your study plan, you don't need a study buddy.
6. Go-to Folder. I created a go-to folder that had bits of information on every topic especially useful formulas, charts and tables, important calculations etc. Instead of opening the big books, I used the go-to folder.
7. Special topics. On special topics like Vibrations, I would recommend reading the EPG study guide (and the referenced documents in the book), MERM and Kennedy's review. If you still don't feel confident on vibrations, I can recommend some references to you. On Hydraulic and pneumatic components, I used all the reference documents recommended within EPG study guide and MERM (ch. 15-19).
8. Question bank. All the practice problems and exams I solved (about 400 questions) were neatly organized in a folder and tabbed in the same order as the MDM exam specification
9. Practice Exams. When is the best time to start solving practice examinations? Which practice questions closely represents the actual exam? I started solving practice exams as soon as I finished my 1st pass on the exam specifications, which was approximately 2 months before the exam. Practice examinations have different levels of difficulty and not one of them closely represents the actual exam, not even the NCEES Practice Exam. You need all practice exams (4-5) to simulate different levels of difficulty of the actual exam. However, don't be discouraged by your performance on PPI's practice exams, they probably have the highest level of difficulty.
10. Develop mental strength. Self study requires mental strength to stay focused in the midst of months of studying academic and technical materials, failing practice problems without giving up and keep grinding until the exam day.
Complete 1st pass on exam specification with practice problems;
2 months from exam date
Start 1st pass on all practice exams/2nd pass on exam specification
2 months from exam date
Start study on weak areas identified in practice exams/2nd pass on all practice exams
1 month from exam date
Start 3rd pass on these practice exams: NCEES PE Mechanical: Machine Design and Materials Practice Exam; NCEES PE Mechanical Engineering: Mechanical Systems and Materials Practice Exam; Mechanical PE Machine Design & Materials Full Exam by Engineering ProGuide
1 week from exam date
1. At this point, all reference textbooks have been tabbed. Tab all the important sections in all the books you will be referring to during exams.
2. Identify the reference textbooks that will be on your exam table and which ones will be in your bag/box beside you in the exam. Books on the exam table will be used for your 1st pass through the exam. For me, the books on my table were: MERM, Kennedy's review, Shigley, go-to folder, Engineering unit conversion and my question bank.
3. Pack up only the books you used and referred to in your preparation. I used a rolling duffel bag to carry my books; though, other examinees used milk crates, card boxes etc. Use what works for you.
4. Stay in a hotel close to exam venue the night before, if you can afford it. This relaxes you especially when you won't be driving a long distance to exam venue. You don't want to be caught in traffic going to the exam.
5. I drove to the exam venue the evening before exams just to survey the exam classes, environment and parking situation. This helped me figure where to park and how to pay for parking.
6. Don't try to solve problems or read PE related material the night before exams. I tried it and didn't get anywhere with it.
7. Get ear plugs to block out all the distracting noise from examinees throwing books around but don't block out proctors important instructions. I wish my ear plugs could block out the table shaking from the lady sitting beside me. It felt like the Hulk whenever she tried to erase wrong answers.
8. Time management is critical to passing this exam. I predetermined to solve 15 questions in 1 hour 30 minutes. So, I checked my progress after every one and a half hour. Practice this during your practice exams.
9. Begin with a 1st pass through the exams using the reference textbooks on your table. For me, morning session flowed fairly easy except for 2-3 questions I knew nothing about. I worked problems 1-20 and will skip to the back to work 40-21 backwards. I did this just to get rid of tension and see if there are less difficult problems on the back of the exams. Same thing was done during the afternoon session except that I was unsure of close to 8 questions, out of which I guessed about 3.
10. On the 2nd pass through the exams, try to use the books left in your bag/book case in attempting the questions you are find difficult or not sure of.
I believe you can pass this exam through self-study with some of these ideas. Please drop any questions you have regarding the exams. I am also working on a custom study guide for anyone who needs a study plan.
All the best.