I meant to call this topic "the PE - an epic journey" but thought again about the title to give it more reach.
I passed the Mech HVAC PE exam last April 2019 and here is how.
The strategy I have followed is the one that has always worked for me so far for many exams but you will surely have other means to get to your goal. Given the fact that it gets challenging to exactly know what you will be tested on, and that it impacts a lot your surroundings such as your family, I prepared to maximize my chances to only take it once. It was sort of a go or no-go and I had decided that failure wouldn't be an option. Should I fail, I wouldn't have had any regrets since I was pushing it at the forefront of everything not leaving me in the doubt that I could have done better and better. All of this is about the MINDSET and what you are ready to sacrifice to make it your first priority. "I don't have time" wasn't applicable anymore. "I need to find the time" was the right approach.
Given all of this, I have started studying for the April 2019 session beginning of December 2018 after procrastinating the whole November month. I am 35 year old, dad of a (by then) 2-month-old daughter (she is now 7-month-old), have a full-time job (50h/week) and my wife works full time as well. No family local support.
Time to study: 5 months (~300/ 400h). That may sound overkill but that's what I put to get there.
Averaged studying schedule: 2h each day of weekday and 10h per weekend with some exception when my job took over. I wanted to keep myself motivated so the reason was to NOT lose momentum! Some prep game pieces of advice to get started:
1- Kill the impostor syndrome taking you away from what you truly want.
2- You only know what you are capable of so don't let other sidetracking you from your goals.
3- Get surrounded by positive energy (people you like who support you). Make them understand what your journey is about to be like. Collateral damage will exist so better to let others know about it.
4- Make sure you can focus by chunks of time that are effective. 2h was for me the minimum to get into it fully.
5- Secure a zone where you can leave your mess behind and big enough to be able to open several books on the table.
From Day 0 I didn't know what to look up for and what resources to study. After googling a few keywords it came obvious to buy the MERM (13th edition). I tabbed the pages I needed and used the reference appendixes like crazy. I cruised through various chapters and have established a roadmap. Instead of studying the MERM, I instead took a bottom-up approach diving straight away into practice pbs. I was learning by doing. Among those below is what I followed in order over 4/5 months straight:
0- The MERM - get a sense of what is in there. Tab the chapters and pages you need overtime and appendixes you will get back often especially the steam tables.
1- Mechanical PE Exam Prep (Youtube and Udemy videos, and few 1 on 1 calls) extremely useful to go over the fundamentals and practice problems. Use the MERM to refer to the equations. Did them all 3 times or until I had them 90% right - Some overlap with the SMS and NCEES practice pbs.
2- 6 Minutes Solutions (SMS): Very useful to go over the answers in details. Know them on your fingertips. Did them all 3 times or until I had them 90% right.
3- EngineeringProGuide: bought the study guide, practices exams, and reference practice exams problems. Did them all 3 times or until I had them 90% right. Great to know how to use the 4 ASHRAE handbooks.
4- NCEES practice exams (2011 and 2016). Did back and forth all the problems 3 times or until I had them 90% right.
5- MERM practice pbs (selected ones). Focus on those that require more attention such as fundamentals.
6- ASHRAE Handbooks (Fundamentals, HVAC and Systems and Equipment, Refrigeration, Applications). Very useful to know where the chapters and empirical equations are located. You will be tested on those!
7- ASHRAE 90.1 55.1 62.1 Standards. Know what the requirements are for each.
8- NFPA 90 A and 90B codes. Good to cruise over to figure what type of information is inside.
9- Your PERSONAL cheat sheet!: The most important of it all. Write down all the equations you need and store for the quick lookup.
10- Psychrometric Charts and MISC materials. Anything not listed up above that important enough to include. Important to have the Sea Level, 5000ft, low and high temp ones.
I saved the last month to actually go over all the material up above in no specific order and prepare for the exam. Did some 8h sessions with a 1h break in between to put me in the real situation, under a TIME PRESSURE. Good to figure out how much your brain can absorb before you get sidetracked and miss focus.
Went to the site a week prior to the exam, got to know where the room would be. Before test day, packed in a suitcase of the reference materials, some snacks, water bottles, wrist clock and most importantly: earplugs. Looked again at all the notes the last time and made sure the cheat sheet materials were in a three-ring binder. Rested for the rest of the day.
On exam day, the AM session went fine but the PM one was a killer. The NCEES practice exam books are representative enough of what to expect but figured that they were a lot of problems requiring some lookup from the ASHRAE handbooks. Left the exam room in the unknown given the fact that I didn't know was the cutting score would be. I had read online one needs to score 70%. Overall I was confident enough to get close to this score but did some educated guess here and there. The hardest part was the wait before the release 39/40 days after!
The major takeaway is that you should go there confident and under cold-blood. The more you can prepare for it, the better for your future. This is a short term pain for a long term gain. Had down times driven by emotions, lack of sleep and stress stacking up but was an indicator that I meant to make it happen. No one wants to live this twice or more with a family and busy schedule. Celebrate hard after you pass to release all the commitment you went through! You can do it!
Best to you all and good luck with the exam!
- Pic 1, my 4months daughter checking that the maths are right
- Pic 2, a souvenir. Glad I didn't start a collection.