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How I passed HVAC/R on the 2nd try

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Hello all, 

New to engineerboards but browsed the site a lot during my PE exam studying and thought I'd share my advice/strategy since you all were so helpful.  


I took the HVAC Mechanical test. I took a review course with School of PE and did the repeat review course on the second try.  My first attempt at the test was October 2018,  I put in about 150 hours of study.  Failed with the following percentages (Total: 53/80, 66.25%, Principles: 20/32, 62.5%, Applications: 33/48, 68.75%).  Pretty even distribution on scoring, but knocked it out of the park on equipment & components, systems & components, energy & mass balance.  Surprisingly low scores on psychrometrics and supportive knowledge, unsurprisingly low scores on fluids.   Passed on my second try, April 2018 with 335 hours of study. 


  • MERM (obviously needed)
  • Practice Problems companion book to MERM, the huge one (ehh, was good at the end when i was looking for more stuff to do on certain topics, but seems out of date.  wouldn't start here.)
  • NCEES practice exam (definitely get this one)
  • 6 Min Solutions practice exam (one of the best resources I had, did this many many times)
  • Engineering Pro Guides practice test (definitely get this one, it's good and more similar to the real exam than 6 min solutions but there are a few mistakes I thought)
  • Engineering Pro Guides supplemental lookup (wold recommend for the price, really got me to go through the ashrae book.  again a few mistakes but good resource for the price)
  • ASHRAE books (100% defnitely get all 4 of these, I firmly believe I would have passed the first time if I had them.  School of PE notes were not enough imo.)
  • School of PE notes & practice problems ( I thought the coverage was a bit too broad, but it was good because it got me to review but the review course/notes/problems IS NOT ENOUGH. )
  • A giant laminated psychrometric chart that was "bound' in a folder that I just folded over.... because I was about to go blind using the mini charts in the MERM.  I used this chart to study with the entire time as well, using a dry erase marker. I used the one from AAON which I recommend because I like how it has the extra scales on the sides instead of the SHR/EHR on a protractor like the ASHRAE charts. 
  • 2 SEE THROUGH rulers... I wanted to bring more but apparently you are limited!  Used these during the test to chart on the psych chart and also to use as bookmarks.  Much easier to read the psych chart with the see-through rulers and I got them at the dollar store. 

Study/motivation/test taking Strategies:

One of the hardest things about studying for the PE exam while working full time I think is that the last percentage of your studying hours don't fall in the last few days before the test, but in the last few weekends before the test when the test actually still feels sort of far away, so I had a bunch of strategies to stay motivated that far out from the exam when it really was quite close in terms of available hours left.  

  • I didn't travel for the 3.5 months before, but I still made plans with friends & family and had people come visit limited it to day trips only.
  • I woke up on the weekends at the same time as I do for work during the week.  A lot of times I didn't study in that time, but I kind of just hung around my house, watched tv or read and had that "lazy weekend" feeling. 
  • I laid out all of my study materials in a similar way I intended to have them on the desk during the exam the entire time I studied.  I brought a lot of resources to the test the second time around for my own peace of mind, and honestly I practically had muscle memory for which information was in each place by week 4. This cut down a lot on stress during the test because I wasn't looking for anything, I already knew where it was. 
  • About 50 or 60 days out, I used a dry erase marker to start counting down the days until the exam on our bathroom mirror. I also used a countdown app with no alarm that I could look at. 
  • I made a study log and tracked how many hours I was actually studying (not just staring off bleakly into space daydreaming about not being involved with this blasted test).  When you're in the middle of it it always feels like you're studying "so much!" but tracking it really kept me accountable and helped me realize when it was ok to slack off and when it wasn't.  I attached my study schedule so you can see what that looked like for me. 
  • I didn't give up my hobbies.  I still spent 12-15 hours a week on my main hobbies and it was important for my well-being to do so. 
  • I listened to the same power anthem full blast in my car several times before walking into the exam and also during studying.  This song was repeatedly stuck in my head at various points during the exam which was fortifying and also made me laugh.


  • I know what it feels like to get that failing score and be really really close, and it sucks.  If I could go back to the first time, I would tell myself to put in the extra hours the first time around because this is NOT the kind of thing you want to do twice.  Really be all in and try to pass the first time.   
  • I found the tests between April and October to be wildly different in terms of topics and questions covered.  If you don't pass the first time, don't give up- your second try is going to be a totally new set of questions, but that also means you shouldn't focus only on topics that showed up the first time.
  • Suck it up an buy the ASHRAE books. All of them. Do not skip this. 

Hope this helps someone and good luck to those of you starting your PE licensing process!

PE Study Schedule HVAC.pdf

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Good info!  Wish we had a "How I Passed" for MDM.  I'd like to know the major differences in what references were actually used/needed.

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3 hours ago, monty01 said:

Good info!  Wish we had a "How I Passed" for MDM.  I'd like to know the major differences in what references were actually used/needed.

Feel free to start one.  :)


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48 minutes ago, Audi driver, P.E. said:

Feel free to start one.  :)


I've got sort of a hybrid started already, but it is geared toward MDM takers in Oct vs. those who have already passed the exam.

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Thanks for inspiration! Received the last portion of "ASHRAE books" last Friday. Now getting them into my head.

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Thanks for this. Failed the April exam this year with a 50. Had some home issues going on but really shouldn't have an excuse. There are 105 days until the next exam and based off your study schedule (which I am going to try to follow) looks like I will be starting after this weekend (one last summer hurrah). Thanks for the confidence booster.

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