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leggo PE

PE Exam Structural Depth Failure

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Hi all,

So I'm sadly reporting that I did not pass the civil PE structural depth exam this time. It was my second time taking it, first being in April of this year. I'm at a bit of a loss as to what to do for my third time around (I refuse to give up!).

Here is my background for my first exam, followed by its diagnostic:

I self-studied using the CERM, the CERM's accompanying practice problems, and NCEES practice exams. I probably spent somewhere around 150 or 200 hours studying, starting at the end of January and going through the first week of April. To start, I studied mostly on weekends for 6-8 hours Saturday and Sunday. Once I was one month out, I started studying 2-3 hours after work three or four work nights as well, usually taking Friday night off before hitting it again with the weekend schedule. I also had to peel off a few days on weekends to study for the CA state specific seismic and surveying exams. This was definitely detrimental to my time devoted to studying my depth. That can clearly be  seen in the diagnostic, I think.

April 2016 diagnostic:

 April 2016 Diagnositc.jpg

A little more background: walking out of the exam in the spring, I thought I had passed. When I got my results, I was pretty much at a loss as to how I had bombed the Design and Details of Structures: Component design and detailing section so atrociously. Though obviously, I was subpar in actually all of the afternoon (and many of the morning) sections. That particular section definitely stuck out to me the most. 

For October 2016, I decided I probably hadn't studied enough on my own, and definitely didn't focus enough on my depth topics. I decided to take the live online PPI Civil PE review course for a few different reasons. Firstly, I thought it might do me better to have more structure to my studying. Secondly, my coworker recommended it as he had taken this course (same instructor) and passed on his first try. Thirdly, I really liked the guarantee. As the course came to a close, I thought it had been good for the morning section, but rather lacking for the depth. I should have known that to begin with, as it is not advertised as being for the specific depths and instead devotes one or maybe two classes at most to each depth topic. Anyway, I completed all the homework and the PPI practice exam (and so fulfilled the requirements for the guarantee), did not divvy any time off of the state exams (I had passed seismic and decided to save studying for surveying until the week after the PE exam). I also worked additional PPI practice problems (120 solved problems, primarily in the structural depth) and NCEES practice exams again. I completed the NCEES practice exams in 4-hour chunks for morning and depth, to simulate the test itself. I thought I was pretty much as well-prepared for the PE exam as I could have reasonably been.

This is my diagnostics report this time:

October 2016 Diagnostic.jpg\

As can be seen, overall, I did significantly worse (in terms of absolute scores) in the morning and 33% better in the afternoon. I much improved my score in the depth topic I bombed in April (though I still came up short), but this time suffered a rather crushing defeat in Analysis of Structures: Loads and load effects (which I had previously done much better in). I am noticeably supbar in the morning sections also, which is a little perplexing to me because I felt I studied them about as much as I did the first time around. Though, I do remember thinking the Hydraulics & Hydrology and Geometrics questions being more complicated compared to what they were in April. I ended up with a score of 45 this time, compared to 46 in April.

I guess I'm just at a bit of a loss as to how to attack this exam for April 2017. I think I would like to do a review course again, but perhaps on demand this time. I am not tied to PPI because of the guarantee, as I don't know that it would prepare me significantly better by doing it again. I've read great things here about EET, but I don't know if I would then sign up for the breadth and depth both, just the breadth, or just the depth (though I think just the depth would be the least likely option). For materials, I feel I was pretty well covered... Having studied with the CERM, PPI practice problems, the PPI practice exam, PPI's Civil Engineering Solved Problems, and various other practice problems as well as the NCEES practice exams. To both exams, I brought with me the CERM, my study course notes, the PPI Structural Depth for the PE Exam Reference Manual, as well as various codes (basically all recommended codes besides OSHA, PCI, and AASHTO). 

Does anyone have any advice? When I compare my diagnostics, I basically just kind of see two different people taking the exam, and don't really know how to proceed.

Thanks so much for any help you can provide! I really, really appreciate it. I am determined to pass in April 2017!

Edited by leggo

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@leggo, here's my :2cents:; I hope it's helpful for you:

I failed Civil Structural the first time I took it (Apr '15) and had a similar diagnostic to your April exam. I had take a review course (on demand through Kaplan cause it was the cheapest) and done some practice problems (mostly PPI and 6-min), in total about 200ish study hours. I thought that so long as I was re-familiarized with the topics I'd be ok. When I was working through the problems I would write out the steps shown in the solution manual and thought that would help me enough. Obviously I was wrong. I did especially badly in hydraulics & hydrology and in Design and Detail of structures (like you).

Second time around (Oct '15) I decided to just buy a TON of NCEES practice exams (3+ my coworker had lent me his 2) and work through those problems without looking at the solutions. I chose this method for a couple reasons: A) the NCEES practice questions are in the same format and approximate level of difficulty as the exam, B) not looking at the solutions while I worked through questions let me identify areas where I needed to pay special attention to my comprehension, C) by getting multiple practice exams I could see how NCEES asks a variation of the same question over several test cycles, so I felt more prepared for what content I would be more likely to see on the exam. Even though I didn't do great in the depth portion, I still focused most of my studying on the morning portion, both because they seemed to me to be a tiny bit easier (in theory) and because feeling confident in the AM portion gave me a nice boost for the afternoon.

Once I had worked through about 200 questions and identified areas where I just didn't quite get how to answer the questions, I took the time to write out step-by-step explanations for myself of how (and why) you solve the question the way you do. I put these notes on 8.5x11 sheets in a binder and brought them with me so that if on the exam I could flip to my design cheat sheet if I needed to. But really, just the act of writing out the step-by-step design procedure for things was super helpful for me (especially for those things that are kind of a pain in the ass to do by hand, so we use software in practice to design...like column footings and retaining walls...ugh).

In the week leading up to the exam I tabbed the shit out of my CERM. Like literally every table that I'd flipped to while working through questions got a tab (especially the hydrology geometry ones in the appendix). Every helpful reference equation. Every definition that I looked up more than once while studying. Definitely the soil properties tables. I took the approach of if I looked it up while studying, I'd want to use that information during the exam (and flipping a couple tabs is WAY faster than going to the index, finding the term, flipping to the page, realizing it's not the right term, going back to the index...you get it). I also wrote down a list of useful unit conversions that I'd used multiple times or made sure I knew where in the CERM to find them (there are lots in the front covers, so you have to know where exactly to look).

Finally, during the exam, I made sure to double (or triple) check my units as I answered the questions. If I didn't feel totally confident in an answer I would  put a little dash next to the answer line on the scantron and move on, knowing that I could circle back at the end. I know some people advise skipping around and getting the easy questions first, but I like to just go straight through, keeping myself on pace, knowing that there will be a couple gimme's waiting for me, and that will allow for more time for the next hard question.

At the end of the day, you know how you learn best. Trust your instincts in studying. I knew that I had kinda BS'd my way through studying the first go-around because I wanted to pass the exam without having to really buckle down. So the second time around I sucked it up and put in real hours. I knew I studied best out of the house, so I would post up in the coffee shop for 6 hours on Saturdays and just crank through the questions. On weeknights I would make myself take 2 hours to actually learn something. (But that's just me. My husband can't study for shit outside the house, so my methods would be useless on him.)

Way to go on not giving up. You CAN pass this stupid exam. And if you want my practice exams let me know and I'll send them to you!

Good luck!

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1 hour ago, leggo said:

@Oregon_Matt, that is fantastic, and truly something to be very proud of.

 

If you have the chance, I'd love to hear what study resources you used for the structural depth PE exam!

Moving this over from the California Results Thread:

I work in power delivery, typically substation but also transmission and as a result I use components of each of the depth modules on a regular basis. From site design, grading and hydrology to geotechnical analysis, foundation and structure design, I practice across the breadth of civil engineering every day.

That being said, I also do a lot of structure design as well as retrofit of old structures and so when looking at the test subject breakdowns this time last year I chose to sit for the structural depth PM in April 16'. I also went to the field for a year and a half starting in June 15' and as a result spent from then to exactly the test day in October 16' working 6-days/week and at least 60 hours. (Aside: I really enjoyed that work but I'm super happy to be back designing and running projects). This made it tough to carve out sufficient study time.

My experience with the structural depth in April was not a positive one and looking at my performance breakdown I decided to switch gears altogether. I had over-studied for the breadth and didn't leave enough time for the depth/seismic/survey and I failed all three exams. Coming out I felt that no matter how many practice problems I did for the structural I would have to anticipate that the test writers could change the focus of the depth questions each cycle and my net return on study time invested would be smaller than if I switched to a different depth module.

I elected to switch to construction. Certainly the decision to switch after failure isn't for everyone but I would say that looking at the test plan for each depth module this was the best decision for me. When I decided to switch I recognized that I had shortcomings for the construction depth but I felt that overall it would take less time for me to master the 4-5 types of questions I might see for each item on the test plan for construction than for the structural or any other depth module.

I enrolled and took the EET Construction Depth course on-demand and utilized the binder of resources provided through the class as my primary reference along with the CERM. I found the depth portion itself to be something I could easily handle during the exam and felt solid about the breadth (I did well on the breadth the first time through).

It took some self-reflection for me to get to this point and it was extremely humbling but the thing that I tried to bear in mind is this: this exam can be a good way to filter out applicants for licensure because it tests the skill that we've spent so long developing: our ability to attack a problem by analyzing the root of that problem, gathering the necessary information and then using our best-possible decision-making skills to solve that problem. The caveat: the problem to be solved is how to pass the test itself, not necessarily how to answer every question correctly. In changing my approach to preparing for the exam I reaffirmed my own ability to be a problem-solver: an engineer. For myself, I had to utilize things that made me successful as a student and that was reaching out to those who knew more about the subject matter, not engineering per-se but the PE exam itself, and that is why I chose to enroll in EET. Those subject matter experts know a lot about the challenges of the exams and are a phenomenal resource but I still had to put in the work, it wasn't just sit through the classes and magically pass....

That's my journey, it's been a good one and I'm obviously a talker and like to share that journey cause lol sorry I wrote so much. If you have more questions about what I did to pass let's talk. 

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Thank you so much, @thekzieg PE and @Oregon_Matt! I am, at this point, looking for anyone's tips, and you both have some good ones in there. 

I think at this point, I'm thinking I will sign up for EET's breadth and depth courses. I find the structured schedule (I'd follow the structure for the live classes) very useful in keeping me focused with my studies going forward. I will definitely need to supplement that with NCEES practice problems, though. I really think I need to hammer home the process of doing problems how I think I should be doing them. all the way through until they're either done or I'm totally stuck, before looking at the answers. I like the idea of the sort of design cheat sheets, as I think that might serve me well on several fronts.

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I think I am going to move this over to the general OCT 2016 forum, and see if I can get any more replies. Thanks again, everyone!

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I had a similar experience, failed twice, structural depth both times.. it sucks to fail, especially after putting in so much work/studying. @Oregon_Matt and @thekzieg PE gave some good advice, but based on my experience, I believe there's something else to consider: every exam is very different from previous exams.

What I mean is that one exam might test really test your abilities with concrete or seismic loads, etc. But the next exam might hardly test those things at all and instead have a totally different emphasis. 

I stuck with structural depth for my third try at the exam. For the first two exams I had studied about the same amount as you, the third time around, I didn't study at all. The third exam was extremely easy for me. What I noticed was the questions which were asked on that exam happened to be much more focused in the areas which I had practical experience. 

This leads to two conclusions:

1) If you feel the structural depth questions haven't really played to your strengths, it's worth sticking with it instead of switching to some other afternoon depth.

2) Focus your studying on the "big picture" in areas where you performed poorly. For example, the specific questions you had from the Structural Mechanics topic are not going to be repeated; you will have Structural Mechanics questions again, but in a very different way, approach, or application.

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32 minutes ago, benjaminb said:

I had a similar experience, failed twice, structural depth both times.. it sucks to fail, especially after putting in so much work/studying. @Oregon_Matt and @thekzieg PE gave some good advice, but based on my experience, I believe there's something else to consider: every exam is very different from previous exams.

What I mean is that one exam might test really test your abilities with concrete or seismic loads, etc. But the next exam might hardly test those things at all and instead have a totally different emphasis. 

I stuck with structural depth for my third try at the exam. For the first two exams I had studied about the same amount as you, the third time around, I didn't study at all. The third exam was extremely easy for me. What I noticed was the questions which were asked on that exam happened to be much more focused in the areas which I had practical experience. 

This leads to two conclusions:

1) If you feel the structural depth questions haven't really played to your strengths, it's worth sticking with it instead of switching to some other afternoon depth.

2) Focus your studying on the "big picture" in areas where you performed poorly. For example, the specific questions you had from the Structural Mechanics topic are not going to be repeated; you will have Structural Mechanics questions again, but in a very different way, approach, or application.

Thanks, @benjaminb!

I actually have been given the advice not to study at all before, from my boyfriend. Unfortunately, I don't think I trust myself enough to not really study, and may in fact drive myself crazy with the overhanging guilt of not studying in the weeks and months leading up to the exam.

I think you mentioned a really good point about the difference in the exam. I definitely noticed different specific topics were addressed in October's exam compared to April's. That's a tricky thing about taking it multiple times (though I never expected to see the same types of questions in October as I saw in April), and it's impossible to predict what will come next. I like your idea of focusing on the big picture items, and think it's worth my time to go through as many practice problems in these areas.

Thanks again!

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@leggo Thank you for sharing the diagnostic report.  I was trying to analyse the report and had a very intriguing question . Do we need to be above the average in every "Knowledge Area"  ?  As per what I understand you passed the breadth part on both the attempts , is that correct ? 

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47 minutes ago, savangala said:

@leggo Thank you for sharing the diagnostic report.  I was trying to analyse the report and had a very intriguing question . Do we need to be above the average in every "Knowledge Area"  ?  As per what I understand you passed the breadth part on both the attempts , is that correct ? 

I would say it's very safe to assume that if you score above the average in every Knowledge Area, you will pass the exam. But I think your analysis of my breadth performance is giving me more credit than what I see. The white area shows the difference between how I did compared to the average passing examinee did. So, for instance, in my first diagnostic (from April 2016), I scored above average in only Project Planning (Section 1) and Geometrics (Section 6) in the entire exam. In my October 2016 diagnostic, I scored above average in only Analysis of Structures: Loads and Load Applications (Section 9) and Design and Details of Structures: Materials and Material Properties (Section 11). Does this make sense to you?

So really, while I was close to the average in some of the other areas, I was not nearly close enough to put me into the "passing" category. I estimate (based on guesses at cut scores in other threads on this board) that the cut score was around 58 for both exams, so I was 12 or so questions short on my first attempt, and 13 questions short on my second attempt. Not terribly encouraging results, but I know I CAN and WILL pass this exam!

Edited by leggo

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I got the general idea as to what the report was indicating but was a little confused when I compared both the reports.  

Your performance on the 1st attempt in breadth portion (28/40) was similar to your performance on the second attempt in depth portion (24/40) . As you passed the breadth portion in the 1st attempt , you probably were painstakingly close to passing the depth on the second attempt (maybe 4 questions short) .

I don't think its absolutely necessary to be above average on all the "Knowledge Areas" as long as you maintain a balance. 

I shared the materials and tests with you , let me know if you were able to access them. 

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7 hours ago, savangala said:

I got the general idea as to what the report was indicating but was a little confused when I compared both the reports.  

Your performance on the 1st attempt in breadth portion (28/40) was similar to your performance on the second attempt in depth portion (24/40) . As you passed the breadth portion in the 1st attempt , you probably were painstakingly close to passing the depth on the second attempt (maybe 4 questions short) .

I don't think its absolutely necessary to be above average on all the "Knowledge Areas" as long as you maintain a balance. 

I shared the materials and tests with you , let me know if you were able to access them. 

Yep, got the materials! But I think you know that already. :)

I guess I was looking at "passing" differently than you. If we consider passing, say, above 60% (a rather arbitrary value) for the morning sections, yep, I did score above that in April and that exactly in October. It's funny to me that I did better in the morning the first time and better in the afternoon the second time. I guess I was considering "passing" as to be what the "passing examinee" average was. That's why I said I was pretty deficient.

Obviously, after only getting 18/40 correct in the afternoon section of my April exam, I knew I needed to practice that more (in truth, I hadn't really studied at all for the depth section, except for a few NCEES practice exams). The second time around, I went back through and studied the morning material again, and added to my depth studying as I knew that was a priority for me. I did, however, think the morning section was harder the second time around, though the parts I thought were harder (hydraulics and geometrics) didn't exactly correspond to me doing much worse in them. In fact, I traded a geometrics question for a hydraulics question when compared to my April scores. Funny!

Anyway, it's heartening to think that I have the ability to score close to enough when combining my April morning and October afternoon scores. I am, however, aiming to be more well-rounded in both the morning and afternoon sections, as I don't want to have to lean to heavily on one vs. the other.

Lastly, I agree with you! We don't have to be above average in all Knowledge Areas. But I think I needed a few more than I had! Haha.

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Can anyone suggest a book for temporary structures/site development. As what I see from the diagnostic report there will be about more than 5 question  pertaining to that . All I have is CERN reference manual and it doesn't have much about that.  

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On 1/27/2017 at 9:19 AM, savangala said:

Can anyone suggest a book for temporary structures/site development. As what I see from the diagnostic report there will be about more than 5 question  pertaining to that . All I have is CERN reference manual and it doesn't have much about that.  

have the civil exams become super hard now? having this type of book seems like overkill. CERN itself seemed like overkill

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On 1/27/2017 at 8:19 AM, savangala said:

Can anyone suggest a book for temporary structures/site development. As what I see from the diagnostic report there will be about more than 5 question  pertaining to that . All I have is CERN reference manual and it doesn't have much about that.  

For this section I rely entirely on EET notes. But below is what I have in references that has been helpful:

1. Formwork For Concrete SP-4 ACI.

2. 1910 General Industry and 1926 Construction are 29CFR OSHA

3. Standard Practice for Bracing Masonry Walls Under Constuction

4. SEI/ASCE 37-02 Design Loads on Structures During Construction

 

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granted I took my PE long time ago, I never needed or knew about these references. They look overkill to me. They test very basic knowledge areas in the NCEES Civil PE Exam. IMO, CERM covers all of the morning session. Afternoon can be handled well with Goswami + CERM. For some questions, you will need ACI 318 and AISC Steel Manual.

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I just wanted to revisit this thread and share this...

NCEES.jpg

.... And say thank you, EET!

Edited by leggo
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2 hours ago, leggo said:

I just wanted to revisit this thread and share this...

NCEES.jpg

 

Congratulations Leggo!  I'm so happy you passed!  I've been reading to gain advice on my next attempt.  I will try the EET breadth and depth.  It is so encouraging to see you pass your third attempt.  Your story above seems so encouraging to me.  The first attempt I took, I actually didn't study very much for it.  My mentor/engineer quit and started his own company, leaving me alone without a PE in a multi-disciplined firm.  So I signed up for the exam at the last minute just as a "why not try", knowing I wasn't prepared to study and wouldn't have time to do so.  Obviously, that attempt didn't work and I hadn't really expected it to.  Then, I studied really hard for this April exam and was shocked to see my score was about the same, I just flip-flopped in areas that I did well.  This is extremely frustrating!  Clearly, l need help!  I will try the EET classes.  Did you do the on-demand or webinar?  Breadth and depth?

Congrats again! :-)

 

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7 minutes ago, Elvie said:

Congratulations Leggo!  I'm so happy you passed!  I've been reading to gain advice on my next attempt.  I will try the EET breadth and depth.  It is so encouraging to see you pass your third attempt.  Your story above seems so encouraging to me.  The first attempt I took, I actually didn't study very much for it.  My mentor/engineer quit and started his own company, leaving me alone without a PE in a multi-disciplined firm.  So I signed up for the exam at the last minute just as a "why not try", knowing I wasn't prepared to study and wouldn't have time to do so.  Obviously, that attempt didn't work and I hadn't really expected it to.  Then, I studied really hard for this April exam and was shocked to see my score was about the same, I just flip-flopped in areas that I did well.  This is extremely frustrating!  Clearly, l need help!  I will try the EET classes.  Did you do the on-demand or webinar?  Breadth and depth?

Congrats again! :-)

 

Thanks, @Elvie! I have full confidence that you can pass the PE exam this next time, especially if you try EET.

I took both the breadth and depths sections, on-demand. I liked this way of doing it so I didn't have to spend all day Saturday watching EET videos, albeit that did end up happening more times than not! Haha. I should write up a review of EET, at least for the structural depth, to add on here. It was really great for me! I ended up taking  both sections because I flip flopped in my diagnostics enough for me to not feel comfortable with either the morning or the afternoon section.

In short, it got me studying earlier than I had in the past, and was an intense pace for me to keep up with. I took a few more weekends off than I would have liked, but ultimately caught up enough to where I felt comfortable going into the exam. The EET binders took a little getting used to in how they are organized, but overall, I think they are FANTASTIC resources. I will now be bringing them to my office to keep here for regular perusal when needed!

Also, if you are comfortable with doing it, you could post your diagnostics on here and people will give you the best advice. That's obviously what I did, especially because I didn't really even understand how to make sense of my past diagnostics. I really, really was at a loss when I started this thread, and I am happy to have been able to get through it. I will help anyone I possibly can to do the same. It really is a huge relief and great feeling to get that pass.

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@leggo,

 

Enjoy your celebrating and long weekend and if you have time next week to look at this diagnostic mess, I would love your input!  Thanks so much for your help!

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Thanks, @Elvie! Will do. I hope you are finally at least able to relax with the worry gone. There is definitely something to be said for the wait being done.

Yes, I can look at your diagnostics and try to help you make sense of them! Let's leave that for next week, like you said. :)

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18 hours ago, leggo said:

I just wanted to revisit this thread and share this...

NCEES.jpg

.... And say thank you, EET!

Well done @leggo. Remember, it's all about the spam.

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1 hour ago, matt267 PE said:

Well done @leggo. Remember, it's all about the spam.

Thanks, Matt! It's OBVIOUSLY all about the spam. My spam numbers in December '16 were abysmal and in April '16, non-existent.

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