The 4th time was a charm for me: Sharing my experiences to sharpen your skills (Mechanical PE MDM exam) - Mechanical - Engineer Boards
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SacMe24

The 4th time was a charm for me: Sharing my experiences to sharpen your skills (Mechanical PE MDM exam)

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Whether you’re taking the Mechanical PE MDM exam for the first time or this is your “nth” attempt, I hope that my experiences make this journey a bit easier for you.  First let me tell you a bit about myself to put things in perspective. I obtained my BSME degree in 1996 and throughout my career, I worked in the private sector for large High-Tech corporations so I never had a need to get the PE license. That changed when I decided to work for the government in search of job stability and a pension.

From the get-go, I had no delusions that this would be an easy task, after all I rarely used the concepts I learned in college in my every-day job, perhaps with a few exceptions in the areas of materials, failure analysis and vibrations which is the reason I chose MDM over the other disciplines. Being out of school for nearly 21 years was definitely a handicap for me, but I was determined to take on the challenge. My “mission” to prepare for the PE exam started in July’16 and little did I know this would turn out to be an almost 2-year long endeavor.

  •  The First Time (Fall ’16): I enrolled in PPI’s refresher course and scored 38/80 (this is before the exam format change). I easily spent 300 hours studying but didn’t have time to do as many extra problems as I would’ve liked. Spent a lot of time re-learning engineering principles and I feel this hurt my speed during the exam.
  • The Second Time (Spring ’17): I enrolled in PPI’s refresher course again (new instructor) taking advantage of their re-take policy (this was the first time after the exam format change). Again, I easily spent 300+ hours doing extra problems, had a study-buddy to help with the course load and felt much better after taking the exam. My score was 46/80 so I failed again. Completely devastated.
  • The Third Time (Fall ’17): I stuck with Machine Design & Materials but decided to switch to Dr. Tom’s course (2nd time after the format change) and was very happy to see new material, new practice problems which I thought would give me more practice and help improve my speed during the exam. My score was 49/80, so still not enough to pass.

The Fourth Time (April ’18) I decided I had already learned all there was to learn and embraced the fact that all I needed was more practice, practice, practice which in turn would give me speed and agility during the exam. I also had to make a decision as to what material I was going to study with, and it was pretty easy to come to the conclusion that PPI’s material, although not useless, was definitely not representative of NCEES type-questions (it’s good to establish foundational knowledge but that’s about the extent of it). Instead I opted to follow the Dr. Tom course outline one more time, BUT, I enhanced it with more practice problems that I found online.

My most useful references during studying were (in order of preference):

  1. MERM 13th Edition: Follow the Dr. Tom MDM outline and make sure you read ALL THE CHAPTERS before watching the videos. His explanations will make more sense, trust me on that.
  2. NCEES practice exams: There are 2 out there, 2016 is the most recent but there is a 2011 version which has about 13 problems that are still relevant to our discipline. I suggest you search for it on line (all other problems are the same as in the 2016 version).
  3. Dr. Timothy Kennedy’s review book: You can find this on Amazon and although it may not be as detailed as MERM, there are LOTS of extra new problems that you can practice with. It’s about $40 bucks and well worth the money.
  4. 6-Min Solutions for MDM: Dr. Tom provides a recommendation for which problems to solve from this book from a total of 80. Lots of good material here. Do all the extras!
  5. EngProGuides Practice Exam: Runs about $35 and you can get it from their website http://www.engproguides.com/Justin Kauwale the owner, is very responsive and will answer all your questions promptly via email.
  6. Scott Hart and Kevin Klein practice exam: Another Amazon purchase, this exam is harder than NCEES but some of the problems are definitely in line with what you can expect to see on the exam (about 60%).
  7. Machinery’s handbook: This will come in handy for the “supportive knowledge” portion of the exam. The welding section is also MUCH easier to understand compared to MERM.

  8. Lindeburg unit conversion book: Definitely a must, it’ll save you time during the exam especially with those pesky, hard to find conversions

  9. Oxford Dictionary of Mechanical Engineering: I was able to answer several questions from the practice exams using this book, I also used it at least twice during my last exam attempt.

The Study Plan that helped me PASS the 4th time was:

1.      Purchase the MDM review course from Dr. Tom and start as early as you can (at least 14 weeks prior to the exam).

2.      If you are a repeat test taker, take a long, hard look at your diagnostic report from NCEES. Try to remember what areas gave you the most trouble during the exam and then spend extra time on those topics as you go through the course. If this is your first time taking the test, then simply move on to 3 below.

3.      Make sure you read all MERM chapters relevant to each of the course topics BEFORE you watch the Dr. Tom videos. Do all assigned problems per section and then supplement with problems from Dr. Kennedy’s book as well as 6-min Solutions, this will reaffirm your knowledge of the subjects. For some reason the Economics chapter (74 in MERM) isn’t covered by Dr. Tom so make sure you read that, do the practice problems in Dr. Kennedy’s book as well.

4.      Once you complete the Machine Design section of the course which is about half way through, you should have enough background to take your first practice test about 6 weeks prior to the actual exam. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL 2 weeks prior to the test to do this. The first time I took the exam I did everything PPI told me to and I realized I had made a terrible mistake by waiting to take the NCEES practice test until the very end of the course. It was too late to make a correction by then. This will give you a good idea of where you are knowledge wise so you can identify weak spots and make adjustments as necessary. Make sure you mimic actual test conditions to get a sense of what that 6-min. allowance per problem feels like. I’ve seen others here recommend the following strategy which totally works:

                              a.      As you read through each problem, if you know what they’re asking and feel fairly confident you can work it, do it.

                              b.      If you have an idea of how to work the problem but think it’ll take you some time to find the necessary equations, mark it a “2” and move on.

                              c.       If you have absolutely no idea how to answer the problem mark it a “3” and move on.

                              d.      On your 2nd pass answer all the problems you marked 2 (or as many as you can).

                              e.      On your 3rd pass answer all the problems you marked 3 (or as many as you can).

                              f.        You will probably make several passes before you answer all the problems but that’s OK, remember that this is about getting the low-hanging fruit FIRST, all problems are worth the same so leave                                            the more difficult ones for the end.

5.      After you evaluate the results of your first practice test, you will know what areas you need to beef up on and will be better prepared for the next one. I would recommend that you try to finish the course early so you have enough time to do the EngProGuides practice test next, about 3 weeks prior to the exam.

6.      The last 2-3 weeks prior to the exam you should focus on doing nothing but problems until you’re blue in the face. Problem recognition is a must and this will only come through extensive practice. Be honest with yourself and time every problem you do so you can train your brain to work against the clock. I made several passes of the following during the home-stretch:

                              a.      NCEES practice exam (3 passes)

                              b.      EngProGuides (2 passes)

                              c.       Dr. Tom’s course problems (2 passes)

                              d.      6-min. solutions (2 passes)

                              e.      Dr. Kennedy’s book (2 passes)

                              f.        Scott Hart and Kevin exam (1 pass)

7.      The day before the exam, give yourself a break, DO NOTHING and just relax.

My most useful references during the exam were....

1.      MERM

2.      Binders from Dr. Tom’s course

3.      Machinery’s Handbook

4.      Lindbergh unit conversion book

5.      Oxford Mechanical Engineering dictionary

6.      Do not bring books to the exam you haven’t studied with, this will only eat up your valuable exam time!

You will probably spend anywhere between 250-300 hours studying so make sure you develop a plan that works for you and stick with it. I know this is a lot to share but hopefully after reading this I will spare you the pain of having to take the PE exam more than once.  Study hard because when you see the little green box with the word PASS in it, it’ll all be worth it !!!

And last but not least, in the words of the great Jedi Master Yoda: “Do or do not, there is no Try…”

Good luck!

 

 

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Excellent post. Pretty much everything you need right here. My approach was very similar (minus Dr. Tom)

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12 hours ago, Kloeb222 said:

Excellent post. Pretty much everything you need right here. My approach was very similar (minus Dr. Tom)

Thank you very much man, appreciate it. Hopefully we can help other souls pass the exam the FIRST time....

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EngProGuides has a discount code you can use:  Discount Code:  OCT2018DISCOUNT

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Appreciate it, Sac!  I'm actually on week 7 of the 20 week DTC review course.  Before moving forward though, i'm going to run through weeks 1-5 problems again to keep it fresh.  I think it would be a good idea to work EngProGuides problems corresponding to those weeks as well.   

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24 minutes ago, monty01 said:

Appreciate it, Sac!  I'm actually on week 7 of the 20 week DTC review course.  Before moving forward though, i'm going to run through weeks 1-5 problems again to keep it fresh.  I think it would be a good idea to work EngProGuides problems corresponding to those weeks as well.   

Excellent approach and glad you're already on week 7 !...

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One question to SacMe24, How hard the real exam compared to the NCEES practice exam? If I am comfortable in solving most of the practice problems, should I expect the same concept problems in real exams? For example, I worked on thurst load gear problem. It is not very difficult. I am not expecting same thurst load type of question but similar questions asking about axial, or tangent load. 

Second, are you able to finish by the allotted time? I see at least 25/80 theory questions which I believe should take less than a minute to answer. And, around 25 questions are easy or medium level difficulties which can be worked out 2-3 min per problem. The remaining difficult one may need more time to  look the references etc. I hope If I answer the 50 easy/medium questions, I should be able to pass. 

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19 hours ago, Workx said:

One question to SacMe24, How hard the real exam compared to the NCEES practice exam? If I am comfortable in solving most of the practice problems, should I expect the same concept problems in real exams? For example, I worked on thurst load gear problem. It is not very difficult. I am not expecting same thurst load type of question but similar questions asking about axial, or tangent load. 

Second, are you able to finish by the allotted time? I see at least 25/80 theory questions which I believe should take less than a minute to answer. And, around 25 questions are easy or medium level difficulties which can be worked out 2-3 min per problem. The remaining difficult one may need more time to  look the references etc. I hope If I answer the 50 easy/medium questions, I should be able to pass. 

Hello Workx!...I would say that if you can get through the NCEES practice exams on the FIRST pass with a score of 55 or better you have a very good chance of passing the real deal. Did you time yourself  when you worked the practice problems (full 8 hours)? This is very important as it'll help train your brain to work under the time pressure, especially after 6 hours of hard concentration because you start making silly mistakes.

With respect to the types of problems on the practice exam and how they correlate to the real exams, make sure you understand the concepts and do as many similar problems as you can. You are correct NOT to expect to see the same type of problem set up, that's why it's so important to practice, practice, practice so you can fine tune your problem-recognition skills. Half the challenge with these problems is understanding what they're asking you to do, so make sure you read the problem statement twice so you don't end up doing unecessary work and waste valuable exam time.

To answer your last question, I was not able to finish within the alloted time ANY of the 4 times that I took the exam, BUT, I didn't let that bother me. Remember, this is about getting 55 questions right, so make sure you go for the low-hanging fruit first. Reading through your last paragraph I can see that you're already thinking along these lines which is great. Go for the easy ones first and then on your 2nd, 3rd or 4th pass go for the most difficult ones. Make sure you allow yourself enough time to bubble in the ones you have to take a guess on and remember, if you're absolutely lost and have no idea what they're asking, the answer is "B"....at least according to Dr. Tom. As a reference, the last time I took the exam I had to guess on 2 questions in the AM session and 2-3 in the PM.

Good luck with the rest of your studying... just over a month to go!

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21 hours ago, Workx said:

Thank you SacMe24..it was very useful. 

You're very welcome and good luck in a few weeks... you're basically in the home-stretch ! :bananalama:

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I'm not an EE but I keep reading this post,  it gives me hope!  Good luck to everyone taking the exam in several weeks!

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23 hours ago, txjennah said:

I'm not an EE but I keep reading this post,  it gives me hope!  Good luck to everyone taking the exam in several weeks!

Thanks @txjennah and good luck to you in a few weeks !!

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Thanks , @SacMe24great post. 

I am starting my study plan to take the test in April 2019.   The infromation you provided is very useful. 

I will be following your footprint ( minus DTC courses).  Btw,  are those available free on you tube  ? or did you purchase the actual course through the website ? 

 

Thank you 

 

Edited by JFrost

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On 1/12/2019 at 5:14 PM, JFrost said:

Thanks , @SacMe24great post. 

I am starting my study plan to take the test in April 2019.   The infromation you provided is very useful. 

I will be following your footprint ( minus DTC courses).  Btw,  are those available free on you tube  ? or did you purchase the actual course through the website ? 

 

Thank you 

 

Hey @JFrost...you're very welcome and glad you're finding my experiences useful. You can find some of Dr. Tom's videos on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mLfmjcovlc&list=PLNY488wl-RoDeoLt_jU35Os8tjuVLiWwH

But it appears that some of the MDM related videos have been taken down. I did purchase the course through his website and it was well worth the money. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about the exam or specific problems when you begin to study. Being that you're taking the exam in April, I recommend to hit the books now if you haven't already.

Good luck with studying !

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On 1/14/2019 at 8:47 AM, SacMe24 said:

Hey @JFrost...you're very welcome and glad you're finding my experiences useful. You can find some of Dr. Tom's videos on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-mLfmjcovlc&list=PLNY488wl-RoDeoLt_jU35Os8tjuVLiWwH

But it appears that some of the MDM related videos have been taken down. I did purchase the course through his website and it was well worth the money. Feel free to contact me if you have questions about the exam or specific problems when you begin to study. Being that you're taking the exam in April, I recommend to hit the books now if you haven't already.

Good luck with studying !

I cannot agree with this enough. Just pay for the course, it definitely beats retaking the exam. Upvote anything @SacMe24 says.

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Man, this is awesome. “Devastated” is the correct word that I’ve seen when others fail a test multiple times in other disciplines. Very happy to see your success story. Keep up the great work. I hope you stick around encouraging others after test results roll in! 

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5 hours ago, friendofherschel said:

Man, this is awesome. “Devastated” is the correct word that I’ve seen when others fail a test multiple times in other disciplines. Very happy to see your success story. Keep up the great work. I hope you stick around encouraging others after test results roll in! 

You're very welcome and yes, I hope to continue to help others pass the test and avoid repeating my story! 

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