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How to Pass FE, PE, and SE

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Lately, I just got my SE-III exam results and it was good news. I am delighted because I passed all these exams (FE/EIT, PE Civil, SE-I, SE-II, SE-III, CA seismic, and CA surveying) first attempt except SE-III from second attempt because in the first time, I lost one of books luggage during my trip and I got it after the exam is over. After I passed all these exams and became licensed as PE and SE in multiple states, I would like to share my experience with you.


I got my Bachelor and Master overseas and I got my Doctorate degree (Ph.D.) from USA. My master and doctorate degrees were in Structural Engineering, so I am a structural guy. I started my journey by taking FE/EIT exam after 12 years of graduation. I applied for FE/EIT exam before finishing my Ph.D. I was lucky because the state where I was in at that time did not require any evaluation for my Bachelor degree. However, it was not easy for me to study stuff I did not touch for 12 years. For the morning part, I studied The Fundamental of Engineering Review book by J. Diworth. I read this book twice. I picked the civil part after noon (the structural part was not available at that time), I just studied some review materials one of my friends handed them to me. I also bought the reference handbook and then I solved NCEES sample exams. I took the exam and I got the feeling that I will pass this exam and I did. The two parts I struggled with them in the exam are Electrical Circuits and Thermodynamics. I did not take any thermodynamics classes in my undergrad study and I really hate the electrical circuits, other than that, I felt the exam was pretty straight forward.

In my opinion if you really did not pass FE/EIT first attempt, you did not prepare well. If you did not pass second attempt, you should think about consider Engineering is your career. If you did not pass the third attempt you must not consider Engineering is your career.

Recommended Study materials for FE/EIT Exam:

For all Exams, I recommend you to buy all NCEES material study, they are very important especially the old editions are more important than the new one.

I think I am not the right person to recommend stud y materials for the FE/EIT Exam. I did not know PPI website at that time, so I did not have any of their products for this exam. However, I recommend the following:

1. The Fundamental of Engineering Review book by J. Diworth, for the general part in the morning.

2. Reference Handbook by NCEES.

3. NCEES Sample Exams.

4. Your own study material for afternoon part.


After getting my Ph.D. , I got a job as structural engineer in the industrial field (basically oil and gas). As most of my past and present experience was in the industry field, I’ve never done any design for masonry or wood. I’ve never designed concrete buildings. Most of our work is concrete foundation and steel structures which makes it very difficult for people like us to pass the PE and SE exams.

The most challenging part in PE for me is to be accepted in the exam. Even though I have Doctorate degree in structural engineering from American university, I had to make evaluation for my Bachelor degree because it is not from USA. I had to go through the long, boring and expensive process to get my Bachelor degree evaluated. The surprise is that I have deficiencies because I did not take Humanities. What is the heck Humanities would do with Structural Engineering, I have no idea. Anyway, luckily the board waived me from this nonsense because I have Doctorate degree from American university, Thank God.

Put in your mind that the problems are designed to be solved in 6 min at most, so if there is any problem takes more than 5 min, most probably you are doing wrong approach.

I studied very hard for this exam. I studied the CERM and its companion and I studied some other PPI and text books for the afternoon part. I think CERM can cover about 70% to 90% of the morning part depending on the exam. You have to do self- study for the afternoon part. You have to buy additional books and codes for the afternoon part. Of course I picked Structural afternoon part. The exam was extremely easy for me, I finished each part in 3 hours and I spent the one hour left reviewing my answers. I passed the exam with no problem at all.

Recommended Study materials for PE Exam:

You have to have all the codes and NCEES study materials.

Morning Part:

1- CERM. This is your bible. You have to have this book for the exam. I believe Michael did good job writing this book. However, there are many stupid things in this book.

2- CERM companion, PPI product.

3- Civil PE sample examination, PPI product.

4- Principles of Geotechnical Engineering by Das.

Afternoon Structural Part:

1- CERM.

2- CERM companion.

3- SDRM.

4- PCA notes. PCA notes is the most important book for concrete design for all exams. Most other books are copy and paste from it.

Structural-I (16-Hour Exam)

For people who is not familiar with Structural-I exam, it is 40 multiple choice structural problems in the morning and the same afternoon. The problems are for vertical and lateral forces which makes it comparable to the morning part for the 16 hour exam. Structural-I exam has the lowest passing rate compared to the Civil and Structural-II exams. I studied much more for the structural-I exam. The main challenge for me was the bridge part in the exam since I am not a bridge guy. The main problem in the bridge part is the lack of studying materials. I studied Design of Highway bridges book by Richard Barker, AASHTO code, and the Federal Highway Administration Examples (you can download them for free). The main point of passing this exam is to memorize the codes. Old NCEES sample questions are not good representative for this exam.

The main differences between Structural-I and civil PE exam are:

1- Problems are code oriented.

2- Problems are longer.

3- Problems are tricky (in the first glance you think the problem is easy and straightforward but it is not) and this is the main reason that many people do not pass this exam. I myself had some doubts that I may not pass this exam.

Recommended Study materials for SE-I Exam (morning part in the 16 hour exams):

You have to have all the codes, NCEES study materials and any text books you have.

1- CERM.

2- CERM companion.

3- STRM.

4- Structural Engineering Solved Problems.

5- PCA notes. PCA notes is the most important book for concrete design for all exams. Most other books are copy and paste from it.

6- Concrete Design for the Civil and Structural PE exams by bukner.

7- Timber Design for the Civil and Structural PE exams by Kim&Kim.

8- SEAOC. V. 1 only. You do not need V.2 or V. 3 for this exam.

9- Seismic Design of Building Structures, by Michael. This is a good book for SE-I and SE-II but it is not good book for CA Seismic.

10- Six Minutes Solution for Structural Depth.

11- Seismic and wind forces by Allan Williams.

12- Structural Steel Design by McCormac.

13- Principles of Foundation Engineering by Das.

Structural –II (16-Hour Exam)

Structural II is comparable to the essay (afternoon) part in the 16 hour exam. We get 4 problems, 2 of them vertical loads and the other 2 lateral loads. Kaplan books were helpful for this exam. You have to be code oriented engineer to pass this exam. I felt this exam was easier than SE-I Exam. Try to understand the structure first before you start solving the problem. Read all the bullets for the problem before answering. The time is a big issue in this exam, so you have to be very quick.

The 3 hints I would give you for this exam is:

1- The more you write in this exam, the more credit you might gain.

2- Refer to the code in every step you write in your answer booklet. I used to refer to the code type, part and page number for each step I write, e.g., ACI 13.6 page 123 in each problem . Of course you have to be very fast and well prepared to do this in the exam and to finish on time.

3- Pay attention to the exceptions in the codes and to the footnote for each table.

NCEES sample questions are good representative for this exam. You have to solve few problems by hand before taking this exam.

Recommended Study materials for SE-II Exam (afternoon part in the 16 hour exams):

You have to have all the codes, NCEES study materials and any text books you have. All books you used in SEI-Exam will be used for the SE-II in addition to other books.

1. STRM.

2. Structural Engineering Solved Problems.

3. PCA notes. PCA notes is the most important book for concrete design for all exams. Most other books are copy and paste from it.

4. Concrete Design for the Civil and Structural PE exams by bukner.

5. Timber Design for the Civil and Structural PE exams by Kim&Kim.

6. Design of wood structures by Beyer.

7. Seismic Design of Building Structures, by Michael. This is a good book for SE-I and SE-II but it is not good book for CA Seismic.

8. SEAOC V.1, V.2 and V.3. Very important.

9. Seismic and wind forces by Allan Williams.

10. Structural Steel Design by McCormac.

11. Principles of Foundation Engineering by Das.

12. Design of Reinforced masonry structures by Concrete Masonry Association of California and Nevada.

13. Seismic and Wind Design of Concrete Buildings by S.K. Ghosh.

14. Design of Highway Bridges by barker.

15. Structural Engineering PE License Review Problems and Solution by Allan Williams, Kaplan product.

16. Civil & Structural Engineering, Seismic Design Review for the PE Exam by Allan Williams, Kaplan product.

California Seismic

Since I am a structural Guy, California Seismic was not big issue for me. This exam might be a big issue for Civil Engineers whom do not practice Structural Engineering. You need to be extremely familiar with ASCE and solve many problems as many as you can to be quick in the exam. The exam was pretty easy for me, I finished early and I passed.

Recommended Study materials for California Seismic Exam:


2- IBC or CBC

3- Hiner workbook.

4- SEAOC V. 1 , you do not V.2 or V.3 for this exam.

5- 345 Solved seismic design problems by baradar, PPI product.

6- Seismic principles practice exams by baradar, PPI product.

California Surveying

Many people warned me from this exam. A lot of my structural engineer friends did not pass this exam first attempt. Many of them told me this exam is not for structural engineers. Since, I got all these warns and complains, I really over prepared for this exam. The best book I studied was Shahin Mansour Workbook. I also studied Reza Mahallati Workbook and the 3 PPI surveying books.

The surprise is that I finished the exam in 2 hours and I spent 30 minutes reviewing my answers. Of course I passed.

I really cannot figure out what is the point of this exam. I understand the need for seismic exam in CA but I have no idea why we have to take surveying exam in CA. I have never heard about wrong surveying killed someone in USA or anywhere in the world. Why especially surveying??? Is this some sort of business??

I took both CA seismic and CA surveying together after I passed the PE, SE-I and SE-II when I flow from my state to CA.

Recommended Study materials for California Surveying Exam:

1- Shain Mansour Workbook

2- Reza Mahallait Workbook

3- Surveying principles for civil engineers by Cuomo, PPI product. What surprises me is this book contains very long chapter called Astronomical Observations. In the fact of matter, it is the largest chapter in the book and it is not subject in the exam. What an idiot author.

4- 120 solved surveying problems for the California special Civil Engineer Examination by Boniface, PPI product.

5- Civil Surveying sample exams for the California Special Civil Engineer examination, by Boniface, PPI product.

6- Elementary surveying by Ghilani. This is a good text book for surveying. if you do not have any background about surveying, I recommend you to read this book.

Structural-III (16 Hour Exam)

Even though the Structural-III exam provided in CA is a lot easier than the Structural –III exam provided in Washington, I took the exam in WA State. The reason is for the 3 references for CA Exam. This exam was the most difficult exam I had among all exams. SE-III is comparable to the essay part (afternoon) part in the 16 hour exam but it is very deep in Seismic (you are lucky for taking the 16 hour exam instead of this one). I studied ASIC 341 very well and I spent more time to study the codes and study SEAOC V.1, V.2 and V.3 very well. In the first time I took this exam I flew from my state to WA State with 2 Hugh luggage full of books and codes. I had very bad surprise waiting for me when I arrived the airport, one of my luggage did not come with on the plane and it did not show up till I finished the exam and came back to the hotel to find it there waiting for me. Anyway, I did not pass by 4 points. Next year I did not have the same bad surprise, so I passed the exam this time. The exam was very long and tricky. You have to be extremely well prepared to pass this exam.

Recommended Study materials for SE-III Exam (afternoon part in the 16 hour exams):

1- All study materials provided for SE-II Exam.

2- 246 Solved Structural Engineering Problems by Buckner, PPI Product. DO NOT read the solution, just read the problems to know the tricks of the problem.

Questions and Answers

Q1- Do you recommend me to take the exam as early as I can?

A1- For FE/EIT exam the earlier the better. For all other exams, the later the better. I recommend you to wait as much as you can to have decent experience and be well prepared to take PE and SE exams. I prefer if you wait more years and pass first attempt rather than failing 3 or 4 times before you pass. Passing first attempt has its legacy. Do not be in hurry to be licensed engineer, take your time and study well.

Q2- For how long I should study for the exam?

A2- There is no easy answer for this question. It mainly depends on your experience and type of work you do on daily basis. If someone does building design including wood and masonry, he will spend less time preparing for these subjects compared to someone like me never do wood or masonry. As a general rule, you need to prepare 3 months in advance.

Q3- Should I take all my books with me to the exam?

A3- Yes, I recommend you to take all your books and all your codes with you. Codes are very important in the exam. I still recommend you to take any book even if you did not open before the exam. For such case, just skim the book, put tabs on the important subjects. During the exam you might need such books to look for verbal questions (you may also use the index).

Q4- I cannot afford to buy all the codes, what codes I must buy for the exam?

A4- I myself prefer if you buy all the codes required for the exam (especially for structural exams). However PCI and AISI are not so important in the exam. Other codes are extremely important and you must buy.

Q5- I took the exam several times and I did not pass. What should I do?

A5- Wait at least for ONE year till you take any more exams. During this year, think about how to amend your strategy of studying. After this year, buy more books, and then start studying again for the exam in a different way.

Q6- What is the easiest and the most difficult after noon depth part in the Civil PE exam?

A6- Construction and Transportation are the easiest depth parts in the Exam. Some construction problems in the exam can be solved by common sense. Structural part is the most difficult depth part in the exam. For me, since I am a structural guy, structural part was piece of cake for me.

Q7- Do you recommend me to buy NCEES study materials?

A7- Yes, I highly recommend that. NCEES Sample questions are very important. The OLD editions are extremely important. Try to get the old edition from any one take the exam years before you.

Q8- Do I have to attend review courses for the exam?

A8- I do not see any need for that. I think it is a big myth. I passed all exams without taking any review courses. In my opinion, review courses are for lazy people who do not have commitment to sit on their butts and study. I prefer to buy more books and study by myself, rather than wasting the money and time in any review course.

Q9- What do you think about the Passing Zone provided by PPI?

A9- I took the Passing Zone. The reason I took the passing zone is that I found everyone around me taking review courses, so I said to myself let me try it. Actually, it did not help me at all for the following reasons:

1- The schedule provided is not realistic. You have study something like 15 chapters and solve problems in one week for example. How come? I do not know.

2- The tutors in the passing zone are not highly qualified. The structural guy does not have any background about AASHTO or about LRFD Steel Design. He gave me wrong answers for many of my questions and he did not have answers for some of other questions.

3- The number of problems provided is very small. Five problems every week are not enough at all. You need something like 15 problems every week for good practice.

4- Type of problems provided is not good representative for the exam. Some of the problems are indeterminate frame analysis which might need 20 minutes to solve. The time for any problem in the exam is 6 minutes not 30 minutes. When you complain about that, you hear the answer “it is good practice”. I am not taking the Passing Zone for good practice, I am taking the Passing Zone for Good Score in the exam.

If PPI solve these problems, I might recommend Passing Zone for you.

Q10- Do I have to have Experience in certain field to pass PE or SE exams?

A10- Absolutely NOT. This is another myth. I passed all these exams while I do not have actual experience in wood design, masonry design, prestressed design, bridge design, cold formed steel design, surveying, water resources, environmental engineering or transportation engineering. It is matter of studying more than experience.

Q11- Do you think these exams provide good licensed engineers?

A11- Absolutely NOT. They claim that these exams to protect the public but in matter of fact these exams to protect their wealth. If they really care about the public, they would not allow engineers with only 2 years of experience to take these exams.

Q12- What Books do you recommend me NOT to buy?

A12- As a general rule, the more books you buy and study, the higher chance you will pass the exam.

However, I can give you a list of books you may not need to waste your time in:

1- Soil Mechanics and Foundation Design 201 Solved problems. This book is garbage. There are only 5 problems in this book but they were stretched to be 201. Do not even waste your time to read it if you get it for free.

2- Quick reference for the Civil Engineering PE Exam. This book is useless. I do not know what is the point of making this book. This book would be a lot better, if Michael provided the goal of each equation (formula) provided in the book. Besides, the symbols used for each formula mused be defined just under it. Save your money and do not buy it.

3- Bridge Engineering: Rehabilitation and maintenance of Modern highway bridges by Tonias. This book does not provide any good example might help in the exam. I do not recommend you to buy it.

4- Some masonry and structural analysis books. If you are interested to know, send me your e-mail and I will give you more details.

Q13- What do you think about CERM and its companion?

A13- I believe Michael did very good job making this book. However, there are many items needs improvement. I have the 11th edition, so my comments will be about this edition.

1- I do not like the confusion Michael made by the mass density and the unit weight. I think this confusion because Michael tried to use both British and SI units in the book.

2- I am surprised not to see Bernoulli equation in its original form anywhere in the water resources part. I used to use Bernoulli equation to solve many hydraulics problems. For example we can get rid of this stupid table 18.5 page 18-8 if we used the equation.

3- Environmental part is not well written. If I were the author of this book, I would provide an introduction chapter showing schematic illustration for the water supply distribution and was water treatment explain the function of each step and naming the equipment used for each stop and providing some definitions. Such chapter will help reader a lot to understand what is going on especially people like me who do not have strong background about environmental engineering.

4- Geotechnical part is very limited especially for people who take Geotechnical afternoon.

5- I wonder if the first 3 chapters in the Transportation part are subject of the exam. I guess they are subject for FE exam not for PE exam.

6- The economics part is way above and beyond what is required in the exam. Michael, we are engineers not accountants.

7- I cannot recognize the construction part in the book.

8- Despite the structural part is the largest part in the book, it misses loads, prestressed concrete, bridges, and wood design. I found something like 25 errors and mistakes in the structural part of CERM and its companion. The LRFD steel design needs to be carefully written. There are many problems in the companion are not available for LRFD design. I hope Michael skipped the 1.4D + 1.7L load combination in the 12th edition.

9- Some problems are not appropriately located within the text, the problem does not relate with the text earlier. Besides, some easy problems need to be provided first before jumping into difficult ones.

10- Most of the problems in the companion are not designed for multiple choice exam. For instance, if the concrete cover is not give in a problem, you may assume it and then get different effective depths for a beam. …etc. The problems need to be precisely written for multiple choice exam.

Q14- What do you think about Six Min. Solution books?

A14- Six min solution is fairly good. I recommend you to buy this book for ONLY the depth part you are taking. DO NOT buy it for other disciplines; it will be over killing and waste of time. I bought the sex min solution for the Structural module. I had the first edition of this book. The problems in this book are little bit harder and longer than the actual exam. Unfortunately, this book has large number of errors and mistakes, some of them are technically and completely wrong. I remember one of the problem in this book required the winword and leeword pressure on a tank !!!! what a stupid author. I think the main drawback in this book is the author. I wonder how come an architect writes a book for structural engineers. This book needs to be written by a structural engineer with SE license.

Q15- Do I need programmed calculator for the exam?

A15- For morning and Structural Depth, definitely NOT. The calculation in the exam is not complicated. Calculation is not the hard part in the exam. The hard part is how to approach the problem, use the correct formula, and then use the correct factors. So, do not worry about doing any programming for the exam. People who take Water Resources might need that (not sure).

Q16- Do you recommend me to make my personal notes during studying?

A16- This is the best thing you might do for yourself. When I start studying for these exams, I did not find ore reference provides me with all the information I need for one subject. For the same subject, I find the information related to it in different books. So, my decision was to make my personal BOOK, yes book not notes. I started to write step by step for each subject I study. In the beginning I thought I would have something like 20 pages but it ended up with more than 2000 pages. My book is something like cook book, it guides you step by step through any subject to solve any problem. The book contains Civil part, Structural Part, Seismic part, and Bridge part. This book is the summary of more than 75 PPI, Kaplan, text books and codes. Even though I took all these books with me to the exam room, I never used them. I used ONLY the codes and my book. To test my book, I asked my niece (9th grader) to solve some of the problem in NCEES book; she got 80% of the problems she tried correct even though she does not what is the subject of the problem. If you interested, please send me your e-mail and I will send you few pages of them (not more J ).

Q17- Do I need to take vacation before the exam?

A17- I have never took any vacation from work before the exam except the day of traveling. However do that if you feel it will help you.

Q18- Should I study till the day before the exam?

A18- I used to study till the last moment.

Q19- What do you usually eat in the day of the exam?

A19- Breakfast: Jam sandwich and Coffee.

Lunch: Big Mac and Sobe drink. Sobe gives you energy without making many trips to the bathroom.

Q20- I passed the exam, what should I do?

A20- Celebrate but do not drink, instead go to your Mosque, Church, or Temple and praise God. Always remember God when you do not need him, so he will remember you when you need him.


For desperate people who did not pass the exam several times:

Do not give up, keep trying. Use me as an example. I am not originally from USA, English is not my first language, had to go through a lot of troubles for bachelor evaluation, started taking my FE exam after 12 years of graduation, has Crohn’s disease , living without 6 feet of my intestines (it is horrible thing), one nail, and tonsils, allergic to many things in life, and cannot eat long list of food and I managed to pass all these exams, so how come you cannot. Yes you can. Trust in God and in yourself, study hard and you will pass any exam.

Good luck to you all and Thanks for the forum and everyone answered my questions.

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It's remarkable that you took the time to help everyone that looks at this board. Your advice is comforting and helpful. I appreciate that you wrote that the WA SE III is much tougher than the CA SE III. I failed the WA SE III back in 2010. Not an easy exam at all.

I also appreciate that you said to thank God for helping us in the good times. Very well said.

The only thing I am doing without is the book by Buckner. I have so many practice problems that I probably won't be able to get to it...

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I also believe the exams DO make us better engineers. To each his own.

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" A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven" (John 3:27)

Thanks to God and all saints for their intercession....... Finally, I Passed WA SE III on the last time for the exam. It's really great feeling that you are between God's hands.

Good Luck for everyone

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I really appreciate and admire that you had sacrifised so much time in writting and explainig in detail about the FE/PE/SE exams.

It is amazing that you had passed these challenging exams one buy one. During the course of your exam preparation-journey you have walked through a challenging path. Above all you have provided us a clear picture of all these exams. It is a gift for us that you have shared all of these experiences with us. Many times I woundered how these exams are going to be and what are the necessary steps to be taken in order to pass these exams. You have provided us a clear picture of all these exams and the necessary books to be read to make the exams a succressful one. I admire your willingness to share this experience with us. Your question and answer session is very good and enlightening. I wish you a bright future.

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I had similar experience as OP, my structural BS degree is from foreign and structural MS degree from US, but the CA board asked me to wait for 2 extra years for the Civil exam because my foreign BS degree is assumed to be deficient, and I don't want to pay $1000 to the stupid degree evaluation agency, so I decide to wait for 2 years. I waited and waited, 2 years passed, finally the board let me to take the exam in 2006, the exams are actually very easy, I passed all the three CA civil exams in my first try, then I waited and waited again, AZ board let me to take the SE2 exam in 2007 and CA board let me take the SE3 exam in 2011, and I passed all those SE exams in my first try, now I got CA SE license. In retrospect, to tell you the truth, the SE exams are not hard at all, it only test the very fundamental knowledge, the hardest part is to wait and wait, accumulate enough experience, get reference letters to sit for the exam,

overall, I feel qualify to sit for the exam is much harder than the exam itself.

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overall, I feel qualify to sit for the exam is much harder than the exam itself.

I think that's why they talk about licensure as 3 parts: education, experience and exams. You need all three in order to be licensed.

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I agree with McEngr in the following ways:

1) Thanks, Adeel for the amazingly thorough breakdown! This will be very helpful, I hope, in my studies.

2) Exams do make us better engineers. To those who say passing exams says nothing about you other than the fact you're a good test taker, I say the best way to be a good test taker is to...well...know your stuff, and vice versa the best way to be a bad test taker is to not know your stuff! Additionally, in studying and refreshing on some of these methods that may have been ignored or forgotten in the past 5 years of gaining experience are proving helpful already in day-to-day practice.

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