Jump to content
Engineer Boards

​ ​ ​
Sign in to follow this  
nlnthms7

PPI's SE exam Review Course

Recommended Posts

I am taking the SE exam in October of this year in Illinois.  I wanted to get some feedback on some SE exam review courses.  I took PPI's PE exam review course last year and glad I did because it was definitely worth while and plan on taking their SE exam review course.  Has anyone taken the PPI SE exam review course?  If so, what were your thoughts in preparation for the exam?  Mention of any other review courses would be appreciated as well.

Happy studying...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I took the School of PE course for the SE and thought it was a good value. The hours/dollar of instruction is quite good compared to other courses.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

illini; I actually teach 2/3rds of the PPI SE exam review course so I can provide some (probably biased) insight.

Having taken the exam without a review course I would highly recommend that SE exam takers use a review course of some form (unless they absolutely cannot afford one). Most people would seem to agree with this and it makes sense.

Last year was the first time PPI offered the review course for the SE exam and thus it was understandably a little rough. Thankfully the majority of the course takers indicated a positive experience with one or two outright crediting the course for their passing the exam. Most said that the benefits they saw were the rigid schedule focusing their studies, the live courses which allowed them absorb information visually, and the forums and questions/answer sessions done by the instructors. A few problems we had were the homework was inconsistent and a little overwhelming, the course tended to not cover everything evenly, and that we had some minor to moderate issues with starting such a complex course for the first time. We also had a lot of issues where the PPI sample problem textbooks weren't fully up to date with the new SE exam specs but that has since been fixed.

We've made some attempts to fix the most common complaints (though, again they were the minority) and I believe you would find the quality to be on par with the money spent. In addition, we were highly praised for our responsiveness and ability of the two instructors to go above and beyond to help out the course takers. We certainly put in the effort to try to make every person pass the exam that was able to.

Overall I haven't seen the School of PE course or the Kaplan review course but I know people find strengths and weaknesses in all of them. I can tell you right now the biggest weakness in the PPI course is it doesn't go as much into depth on lateral design as I would like (let's say 60% vertical/40% lateral) and it also skips over reinforced concrete seismic design entirely. I'm working with PPI to fix that last one but until then I basically teach my own quick review of concrete seismic design during the course but it's slightly rough. Though, I got a positive response for it so take it as you will. Probably the biggest strength of the PPI course is, when combined with the textbooks that most people buy anyway for their review, the PPI course is probably the most bang for your buck by far.

One other thing is PPI has a passing guarantee; if you do all the course work (homework, sample exam, etc.) and attend each lecture; then you can retake the course for free if you're unable to pass the SE exam. Could definitely be worth it if you just missed the exam by a small amount and need that mental refresher 4 months later.

In the end it's almost hit or miss as most people only take one course and thus it's hard to compare.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

TehMightyEngineer,

Thank you very much for your insight.  I really did feel like PPI was the best way to go when I was preparing the PE exam last year.  I took the structural afternoon session and although I feel my structural fundamentals, principles and skills are strong, I chose PPI's review course more so for the morning session since I had never taken a water resources class or a transportation geometric design.  PPI's course does give structure to a rigid schedule and I felt that was very beneficial.  Yes, the price is a little up there, but as you say and I couldn't agree more, it is worth it and it is free to take again provided that the homework, exam and attendance requirements are met.  Look forward to taking PPI's SE exam review course in preparation for the October SE Exam.  Will you be teaching the course again during that time?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yes, I plan to teach this course for as long as possible. It's a great way for me to keep in touch with some of my lesser used fields of structural engineering now that I've moved from structural consulting to precast manufacturing. Hopefully by October's exam period we'll have finished getting the various small revisions done for the course so, if you choose the PPI course, you'll have the best version of the course.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I attended the Kaplan Review course online. As Mighty said, pluses and minuses. There were 2 or 3 instructors that were phenomenal and really taught me a lot. Others barely covered the basics and didn't seem prepared. Most of Kaplan was focused on the building essay portion of the exam, which was basically worthless for a bridge guy. I come from the school that any information is good information, so I wont not recommend it, but if you had a choice between PPI, School of PE, and Kaplan, I would choose PPI of School of PE. This was 3 years ago, so they may have gotten better, but I have heard more positive feedback from PPI and School of.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks bassplayer45, I will look into School of PE as well.  Regardless, I really do believe review courses help immensely because for me personally it gives a structured outline of review topics with numerous example problems.  I have tried to ask around my office but with little help.  The only SE that works in my office took the Structural I/II before the format was changed.  I haven't really talked to too many bridge engineers that took the SE but what was your take on the morning portion of the exam being a bridge engineer because doesn't the AM portion focus more on buildings (75% buildings to 25% bridges)? 

I also see you work in Indy.  Nice snowfall we got last night haha (I work in Carmel).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bass does bring up a good point. The PPI review course does have some good bridge engineering topics but it's mostly morning focused with very little afternoon focus. This was somewhat intentional given that the majority of SE exam takers are building engineers. I believe the intent was to make it so that bridge engineers who were unfamiliar with buildings would get a good review course on buildings and they should be more or less able to self-study for their afternoon problems (and of course the concepts from seismic design, steel design, prestressed, etc. all carry over; it's just now the AASHTO code's requirements). But, this then means that if you wanted a review course for afternoon bridge problems then you'll not get exactly what you want with the PPI course. The unfortunate nature of the SE exam is that there's always a minority of engineers who are not adequately covered by the review material that is aimed at the majority.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Carmel, oh nice, I am in Nora

So here are my takes on the testing experiences in the morning

Vertical First Try: Wow I got way in over my head on this one, but it seemed very fair, just study more. I took it right after I got my PE license, not a ton of study prep

Vertical 2nd Try: Damn this was actually pretty easy (relative compared to last attempt), I think I had an example for everything (passed)

Lateral 1st Try: What the hell is this, I have never seen these questions, are there any bridge questions, I have no idea what I am doing (19-40)

Lateral 2nd Try: Seriously, will they ask any bridge questions, oh there are a couple, hell this is ridiculously hard, why the hell am I doing this with no building experiences (23-40)

Lateral 3rd Try:  Okay, I have a hang of this, buildings aren't so bad if you know the basics, this seems a lot more fair, I know a lot more, hey look at least 5 bridge questions! (26-40)

Lateral 4th Try: Calm, cool, ive seen these questions before, this isn't so bad, I finally taught myself enough (pass)

I basically had to go back to school all over again for the lateral test. I taught myself everything from scratch, text books, back to basics. I would do practice tests, then sit down at night with questions I wasn't 100% sure on and go over them from the most basic aspects to how they should be approached. I had never seen any of the problems before or the concepts for lateral force distribution and design. It was brutal for a first timer.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't imagine how I would do if it was the other way around it geared more towards bridges. 

I used to work in southern Illinois and am fortunate to do so because it is in a high seismic region and got a lot of exposure to code provisions, design procedures, etc for seismic design category D (but not higher).  Hoping I can get this knocked out this fall.  I am not sure how other test takers study but since I took/passed the PE this past fall I am still in study mode so I wanted to ride the momentum into this year's October SE exam.

Thank you all for your input on this.  It is much appreciated and if you have any more, I would love to hear them. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'll add a bit more to my School of PE experience.

Three total instructors, 1-excellent 1-good 1-okay.

Mon-Thurs, 3 hours per night for 5 weeks. Fairly intense but kept me on track.

A few technical problems but their crew is pretty on the ball so it wasn't overly distracting.

Very little 'fluff', instructors got to business so you need to be prepared to concentrate. This was a good thing.

Their use of adobe varied in effectiveness. The excellent instructor understood how to link what he was saying with what he was drawing using different colors, shapes etc. Other instructors didn't quite grasp that we could not see them.

Emailed questions were answered fairly timely, within a few days, sometimes right away.

The hundreds of pages of notes and slides they have you print out were not that useful to me as it was just too much. I had better success taking notes within the materials I was already used to.

Content was good and covered pretty much what you'd expect. There was a fair bit of bridge as well.

Again, for the price I'd say it was a good value. I did pass after finishing the course after two failures.

 

Edited by Agostage

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'm enrolled in the PPI course and find it useful. The discussion of theory is good, and having a chat during class and ongoing forum is very helpful for the problems where a small misunderstanding can waste a lot of time resolving alone. 

The problem book is a bit rough. It's not useless, but needs another thorough edit to be most effective. Some of the solutions seem to take a cumbersome approach which seems odd for a timed exam. The Structural Engineering Reference Manual has a minimal amount of errors, mostly obvious typos.

The course notes are very similar to the reference manual. I think for final review I will transfer anything important that is only in the notes into the STRM, then put the binder of notes aside. 

I would also like to see more examples worked out in class and quicker discussion of the material since this tends to be a repeat of the reading. As is, examples get skipped often.

There is a good bit of discussion on test taking strategy which I also find less helpful. Perhaps anyone who has not taken the PE already would disagree. 

It would also be preferable to have more time between the end of the course and the exam. I'm considering pushing the exam off until fall to allow time to study after the class.  Either way, I'm not sold on the free repeat, I think additional practice will be better than repeating the same lectures. 

That is my input. Overall, definitely a good choice for a review course.

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For those of you knee deep in studying for the SE, I have a study calendar on my website. It's basically a breakdown of the SE topics and the amount time that should be allotted to each topic, based on the percentage of the exam it takes. Obviously, if you are strong in one subject and weak in another you should adjust your time for those subjects accordingly.

A pdf of the study exam calendar can be downloaded here: http://www.davidconnorse.com/#!study-calendar/cnec

You can also purchase my book on multiple choice bridge problems (vertical loads) from my website as well. I am currently working on the lateral loads bridge problem book and hope to be done by end of this month.

Thanks!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, edward said:

I'm enrolled in the PPI course and find it useful....

Great info and all good points. I definitely enjoy constructive feedback like this and it really helps me understand what the course takers like or dislike.

I agree that the problem solutions can often be cumbersome; if you have any specific examples I can see if we can get those changed for a future version of the text. One unfortunate behind-the-scenes part of teaching this course is I can only use PPI materials assigned in the course as homework and/or required reading. I'd love to copy some problems from a few other books for homework but for both copyright and PPI marketing reasons I can't use them. Still, as you said, the books are not useless and I personally found them to be quite helpful when combined with other texts during my SE exam studying.

PPI did a fairly poor job setting up the course as far as estimating the time required to go through the lectures and you're entirely right that we have a lot of material that should be trimmed down to leave time for examples. This is planned to be done before the next course but I'll see what I can do moving forward to cut down on this problem during this course. You're not the only one to have this complaint.

As for giving test taking strategy we had multiple people last year say this was one of the more valuable benefits of the PPI course so we'll probably leave it in. Some people will love it, others wont find it that useful. This is one of the problems with these courses is they're setup to provide help to everyone which unfortunately means it's perfectly tailored to no one. Oh well, it is what it is.

We had one person last year who pushed off the exam to have more time between the course and the exam, so you're not alone. Still, I personally think that having all the material fresh in your mind right before the exam is good and the course does that fairly well from what I can tell. Though, you're right that the course doesn't leave much room for self-study so I can see people having issues if they have a busy schedule at work or otherwise.

I honestly agree about the free repeat but think it's better than nothing. At risk of getting PPI annoyed at me, the free repeat of the course isn't going to teach you much more and I think they also make it somewhat tedious to get by having you upload all the homework problems and so on. That said, it's not excessively difficult to do the work for it and it is a good concept in theory. I know of many people here on engineerboards who were clearly getting burned out after their 3rd or so attempt at the SE. Being able to repeat the course just to watch the lectures would probably be a great feature. Though I entirely think that if you did need to repeat the exam and retake the PPI course that going though all the homework again and all the notes and so on would be a waste of time that could be better spent focusing on the areas that one did poorly on the SE exam.

Since I have you here, what do you think of my instruction during the lectures? Obviously one lecture isn't enough to tell but I highly value everyone's advice and I know that there's definitely room for improvement.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have my one test taking tip from my many, many attempts. If you read the question and don't know where to find it immediately in the codes, move on! Don't waste time. In the many many attempts, I never once "solved" all the problems. I always had a few straight guesses at the end

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Same as bass, even some problems I was sure I knew how to solve didn't seem to match the options presented in the morning session. Couldn't figure out what I was missing so I guessed and moved on. Came back to it at the end and still couldn't puzzle it out.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 2/4/2016 at 9:05 AM, TehMightyEngineer said:

Great info and all good points...

The course is solid and I will recommend it to others. It seems to be a good balance of the options, Kaplan is cheaper, but shorter and crammed into a weekend, School of PE and SEAOI are a bit more expensive and more time. The lectures follow the manual and the homework follows both the manual and the lecture notes. The problem book has more conceptual problems and the 6 minute book has more relevant exam practice. I still think the problem book could be more concise with its solutions to truly convey what is pertinent in a design, but it is complete. The errors in the lectures, manual, and practice book are annoying, but hopefully will work out as the course develops. 

I think both instructors instruction is good. The topics are difficult an none of us is an expert in all of them. Multiple instructors can help, but then there is always some inefficiency in various styles, multiple introductions, repeated information (learned ASCE load combos 3 times in a PE review) etc. I will always recommend more example problems and less theory for an exam prep course. There is so much theory, it's easy to spend too much time on it, but I get that it is a balance. 

It would also be nice to have a few 3 hour lectures focused on the afternoon from an instructor who has taken the relevant exam. 

 My bigger struggle lately is being over booked at work, and not having time to study, or being brain dead by the time I get to it after long days. I took the practice exam pretty cold and didn't do as well as I liked so I am only taking the vertical exam in April. If that goes well, I can focus fully on the lateral material over the next 6 months, and if not, I at least saved some money and a Saturday. The SE isn't critical for me to have so I realize the pressure is lower for me than others. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

×