I've had people PM asking what my strategy was for passing the SE, so I figured I'd post what I did and a few key books I used to pass both the Vertical Building and Lateral Building tests on my first try. First, I would like to point out I found this test extremely difficult. I was already planning my next attempt at the exam because I left the exam feeling very discouraged. So, don't count yourself out if you leave the exam not feeling confident. Anyways my strategy was as follows:
1. I decided to take the Structural PE first. I think this may have been unnecessary, but it helped me ease into how the NCEES tests operate. I found it to be much easier and less tricky than the SE. If nothing else it was a good confidence booster.
2. Since I decided to take both Vertical and Lateral at the same I felt like I needed structure to help keep me on track, so I ended up taking a class. I choose EET, but I had some friends who also did well using both School of PE and PPI. Really, I think any class would have worked since for me it was more about keeping myself accountable and managing my schedule. I also choose the on-demand option as it was a bit more flexible than the live classes.
3. I started studying in late July. This consisted of a mixture of watching the class lectures and working problems. I tried to do at least 2 hours after work every day and 4 each Saturday and Sunday. This didn't always happen as I got married and spent two weeks in Alaska, but I tried to stick to as much as I could. Towards the end I was doing closer to 3 each weekday and 5 or 6 each Saturday and Sunday. The best advice I can give about studying is be completely done reviewing and learning material about a month before the exam. I spent that last month doing nothing but problems. In that last month I worked 4 different full practice exams that included both vertical and lateral. When I worked these exams, I timed myself and tried to simulate the actual exam conditions as close as possible. I think this really helped me fine tune my testing strategy and pin point the areas I was weak.
4. For the AM portions I used your standard test strategy where I answered the easiest problems first and worked my way up in difficulty since they are all weighted the same. For the AM portion on both days I barely finished with enough time and had to make educated guesses on probably 5 or 6 questions on both days. These questions were tricky, and the answer choices frequently had common mistakes as well as intermediate step answers as options. I found the PM portion to be much more straightforward. For the PM portion I used a little different strategy. I did not seek out the easier problems first. I worked them in the order they came. When I began I set my timer for 45 minutes (would be different if you were doing bridges). No matter how far I was in a problem when I hit the 45-minute mark I stopped trying to work the problem and I used the remaining 15 minutes to complete the rest of the questions by writing theory and code references. This strategy worked so well that I finished with about 45 extra minutes. I used that remaining time to go back and work sections of problems I had only put theory, back check problems, and add additional code references. I did this because based on conversations with co-workers you can pass problems with almost just theory and code references alone, but leaving a problem blank or unfinished is almost certain to get you an unacceptable. My understanding is one unacceptable on the afternoon portion will cause you to fail the exam.
5. Absolutely GET ALL the codes NCEES references and make sure they are the correct edition. I was told by a friend they will intentionally ask questions about sections that have changed between editions not to mention your code references will be wrong for the PM portion. Also, I found the following additional books to be helpful:
2012 Design of Reinforced Masonry Structures (7th Edition)
Design of Wood Structures-ASD/LRFD / Edition 7
Bridge Problems for the Structural Engineering (SE) Exam
SEAOC Seismic Design Manual Series
Both PPI's SE Practice Exams and Their Structural Engineering Reference Manual
The NCEES Practice Exam
I used other books and references as well, but those really stood out to me.
I hope this information helps others out there tackle this exam. It's a beast so don't get discouraged. Good luck everyone!