Thank you all for the kind words! I’m so happy to have this chapter over, I literally felt a weight lift off my shoulders to see “Pass” in bright green on my computer screen. I’m going to give quite a bit of info on my journey to passing, in hopes that these tips will help you all pass too!
I want to start by saying that this wasn’t my first attempt. I took the pencil/paper PE in October, the last time it would ever be offered. I felt like it was now or never – if open book wasn’t an option anymore there’s no way I would ever pass! I NEEDED to pass before the exam changed to CBT. I’m going to detail both attempts, so if you just want to know about the CBT exam, skip to “Take 2”
I started studying for the October 2018 exam in May. The first time opening a book to review problems I almost threw up. In my head: “What is °R?! Did I learn that in school?? Do I seriously need to Google something about the first problem I’m looking at? OHHH Rankine! I completely forgot that was a measurement of temperature.. What’s the conversion? Is Rankine USCS or SI units?” My head was sure to explode. I felt I had forgotten everything I learned from college.
I knew after that moment that I was going to need a refresher course – but which one to take? Per the recommendation of a friend I chose School of PE. School of PE guarantees that you pass the exam using their course, and if you don’t pass (and watched every minute of all the videos) you can retake the course again, free of charge. I knew my office would reimburse me for the online class once I passed so this seemed like a no-brainer to me. I did the On Demand option so I could have the flexibility to do the review course on my schedule.
I didn’t love lectures in college so trying to do them at home was no easy feat. I started studying on the couch but realized I wasn’t paying enough attention and ended up moving to the dining room to free myself of home distractions. Even working in the quiet dining room I felt the review was tedious at times, I found myself scrolling through my phone during boring parts of the review and not paying full attention on the key concepts. I was determined to get through all of the lectures to ensure that I could retake the course if I didn’t pass, but I blew through it as fast as I could so that I could start working on problems.
I had bought the PPI package that contained practice problem booklets, an NCEES practice exam, 2 PPI practice exams, and a Casio calculator. A lot of the problems offered through PPI seemed really complicated and I didn’t feel confident they were similar to the NCEES exam. The PPI Practice exams, however, I felt were similar to what I had seen in the NCEES practice tests, so I mostly used the practice exams for studying.
I was worried about my timing per problem because I was never a fast test taker in college, so most of my studying consisted of taking 4 hour practice exams, grading them, and reviewing what I got wrong. I think the first practice exam I took I got a 35% or so, which really scared me. However, I would always score better on my next exam which made me feel more confident. I didn’t take the time to re-review the problems later on, so I think a lot of times I would see the solution for the problem, say “okay I know how to do that now,” and then I’d forget the knowledge the next day because I didn’t take the time to practice it enough.
I over-tabbed EVERYTHING to prepare for exam day. I wanted to be able to find the information I needed as fast as I could. I even created index sheets to show where I could find a specific problems I had practiced so that I could easily just “plug and chug” based on how the practice problem was. I feel I spent wayyyyy too much time doing this. I wasn’t really learning the material, I was just going through the motions and creating references to find things easily so that the book could do the work for me.
During the October exam I brought in dozens of binders/books during exam day and I may have used 3. I searched and searched and SEARCHED through material, panicking the whole way. My first pass through I think I had over half the problems left blank. I walked away from the morning session and cried in the car. It wasn’t pretty. My confidence was low, but I was also determined. I went back in, took a deep breath, and felt I finished the afternoon as strong as I could. The waiting game sucked for the results, but my gut told me I didn’t pass so I wasn’t in a huge rush. Inevitably, I didn’t end up passing and although I wasn’t surprised, I was still absolutely crushed. Studying for that long sucks the life out of you, and to know I had to jump back in was devastating. I wanted my life back!
I signed up for the CBT exam the same day I got my failing results. I was determined to get this over with as fast as possible. I notified School of PE that I failed and got my course renewed.
I started back on studying after the holidays were over. The first thing I did was all of the School of PE practice problems that the instructors provided that I didn’t do from the last time. This was a good refresher for all the different kinds of problems I could come across. All of my studying was done in the dining room with the door shut and my cellphone was in another room. I was not going to be distracted by texts/social media anymore.
I purchased the updated NCEES practice exam which was to reflect CBT questions. I was very frustrated to see that the majority of the problems on this practice exam were exactly what were on the last practice exam I purchased, with the exception of about 5 problems. Nonetheless, I made the best of it and practiced these problems until the methods for solving were basically engrained into my head. I used only the NCEES Reference Handbook for studying. I made sure I knew where to find equations and what words I had to use to “CTRL-F” to get to the answers. For example, you can’t type “hydraulic elements” to get to the chart, you need to type “hydraulic-elements”. I took notes on what kind of conversion factors and equations weren’t found in the handbook and made sure I learned them by heart. Some examples: 2.31 ft/psi, ideal gas laws using Cppm, equivalent sound pressure level equations, etc.
I also purchased the PPI practice exams that were updated to reflect CBT format (https://ppi2pass.com/pe-environmental-practice-exams-peenpx.html). There are 2 full exams provided in this booklet. I ran these as 4 hour practice exams once again, and reviewed all the material I got wrong. I was able to complete these practice exams within 4 hours using only the NCEES Handbook and my scores were much better – I think the first one I took I got a 75%. My confidence was up, and I was feeling really good. I slowly started to realize that CBT might work to my advantage, because instead of tirelessly searching through reference materials to get to an answer, I only had one handbook to work from. I got to the equations much quicker so I could solve the problems faster. With that being said, the handbook is rarely helpful for qualitative questions. Qualitative questions are ones that apparently we’re just supposed to know the answer to. But again, instead of spending 25 minutes searching to find an answer, it was forcing me to make my best guess, saving me time to work on the problems I could solve using the manual.
One of the practice exams I ran I used a dry erase board to simulate similar conditions to the testing environment. I got a terrible headache and hated every second, but I’m glad I tried it out like that. You will be provided a laminate booklet with I think 5 pages front and back and a fine tip dry erase marker that doesn’t smudge too bad. I was very worried this was going to be a struggle but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I anticipated.
The day of the exam I finished both parts in less than 4 hours and felt I had plenty of time to focus on each problem. I felt the questions were very straightforward as long as you knew exactly what they were asking. They definitely still had trick questions and similar answers were options so it was important for me to take the time to make sure I was answering the question correctly. There were still a lot of qualitative questions which I was upset about, I’m definitely better at the math than the theory behind it, but a couple of the questions were very easy and obvious which was nice! I left the first 4 hours feeling like I could conquer the world. I ate my lunch, went for a walk, took a few deep breaths, and went back in to crush the second half. The second half I started strong but after a while (as expected) my head hurt from staring at the computer and my back was sore from sitting in the chair. I managed to finish out somewhat strong but I was mentally exhausted when it was all over.
Everyone thinks it sounds so nice to only wait 7-10 days for the results, but to me I found it to be a worse torture because I never got the chance to forget about the exam. When I had to wait 10 weeks I left all my worries at the door because I knew I wouldn’t have them for a long time. I was second guessing myself and the answers I came up with. I was googling ones I struggled on. I wasn’t sleeping and I was refreshing the website every day. Overall I’m glad I only had to wait for a week, but just know it’s not as nice as it sounds, haha.
I ended up getting my results 7 business days after taking the exam. From what I’ve researched it seems like NCEES only releases results on Wednesday mornings.
I think that’s all the information I have. I apologize that I rambled so much haha. I wish you all the best of luck both studying and during the exam. If you have any questions at all please do not hesitate to reach out, I’d be happy to help in any way that I can.