October 2019 SE Exam Preparation - Structural - Engineer Boards
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Maya_206

October 2019 SE Exam Preparation

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I thought it would help fellow examinees to have a forum to help them prepare for the upcoming Oct 2019 exam. I will be registering to take the Lateral Building portion only. I did not make it through on the April 2019 Lateral. Passed vertical a few years back (3 year old kid ago to be exact).

While obvious answer is study /study - , the following are the tips I have gathered to date and I'd like to share. I'm hoping others will share their study techniques so we all can pass together.

1 - Start early (get all the codes/book) and place tabs - There is no such thing as too early.  Placing tabs will help you get familiar with the codes. So, this has dual benefits.

2 - I've heard good stories about EET exam. I personally am not a believer on exam prep courses but I would like to give this a try for the upcoming exam. Anything to keep me on focus helps.

3 - Create flow charts/ good summary notes of important topics. A lot of folks who passed on their first try had detailed flow charts that they ended up not even turning to the codes for some of the afternoon problems.

4 - Do the easy problems first in the am. For building folks, the AASHTO problems have typically been easier for me in the am. I go through these first and dump the two heavy codes to the floor first.

5 - For the pm problems, do not struggle trying to complete all the parts. If it is difficult, move on to the next problem. My experience has been that it is very tempting to complete topics you know so well and end up spending a lot of time. Even though I was aware of this going in, I ended up doing this to some extent. 

6 - Keep a list of things that is tricky/ simple formulaes that is best be memorized before the exam to save time. Review these 2 days before the exam.

7 - Keep a schedule and maintain it. This is hard and will be tested for the Oct exam due to summer family commitments. 

8 - Get the right book/study guide. I did not know about the Allan Williams (Seismic and Wind Forces). Realized that this was probably the best study preparation guide after the exam.

I'll continue updating this list. Hopefully based on input from others. Lets all be SEs before 2020.

Edited by Maya_206
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Hope others that have taken the exams will provide their tips/learning lessions. Every help makes a difference. 4 months to go....

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Couple things I have learned along the way:

1. Begin studying realizing the fact that 60-70% of everyone preparing like you will fail. This is the death star trench run--the odds are not in your favor if you just do what everyone else does.

2. Don't plan on figuring problems out while taking the exam. You need to know it all before walking in there. It needs to be reflexive, automatic, instinctive.

3. For the morning speed and accuracy are essential. When you practice problems, practice them the way you'd solve them in the exam. As in...quickly and unglamorously. How accurate can you be when you aren't actually writing out Cs=Sds*I/R or other formulas?

4. Don't expect the test to be fair. Study everything. Don't think just of how to solve the problem, but also how test writers try to trick you into a mistake.

5. NCEES is not in the business of helping you pass the exam. Remember that when you buy their practice exam.

6. Read the code until you dream about it. Read footnotes..and their footnotes. Read commentary. 

7. Annotate your code...highlight it, put notes, shortcuts and reminders in it. Especially ACI, which is a labryinth. 

8. Have as few references as possible. Don't walk in thinking SERM will be your bible. 

9. If you're a buildings person, know AASHTO. If you're a bridges person, know buildings. 

10. Wake up early the day before the exam. That way, you're a little more tired the night before and can go to sleep earlier.

11. It's statistically easier to hide knowledge deficiencies in the morning, with multiple choice. The reverse is true in the afternoon. Approach and methodology are important. The wrong approach will torpedo your entire problem. NCEES knows this and writes problems to lure you into this trap.

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Some more things...

12. Remember that PPI reference material often times contains small errors. Confirm all code equation references, and make sure it's using the correct updated equations. Their reference material also may not provide direction on important caveats or footnotes in the code itself. 

13. Use the correct load combinations. This is key. Note that IBC overrides all other codes for building design especially when there are conflicting or more stringent requirements. 

14. When you study, pay close attention to the NCEES exam spec which shows what to expect on the afternoon problems. Note that the current spec lists one of the essay problems as "General Analysis". Now look at your NCEES practice exam...and your PPI practice exam...and notice that the practice problems follow the old "wood-masonry-steel-concrete" format. This matches older versions of the exam spec which did not include a general analysis problem. This is crucial because you need to walk into the exam expecting a general analysis problem which is a wildcard and can be anything..."existing structures, secondary structures, nonbuilding structures, and/or computer verification" and so much more. NCEES counts on this problem to trip you up since there currently aren't any practice exams that include a problem of this type. 

15. If you fail the first time, there is a reflexive tendency to study what you feel you missed, thinking "I'll know what to do when they put this on for next time". This is useful in some senses, because it reduces your weak areas. But note that all retakers do this, and the pass rate is lower for retakers. This tells you something important--taking the test once...twice...thrice...and seeing the material does not give a better chance of passing. NCEES is confident that you can take the test over and over it will still be extremely difficult each and every time.

16. Don't forget easy checks that aren't explicitly asked on afternoon problems. Note lateral problem 803c in the NCEES practice exam. It asks if the dowels are adequate for shear friction, but if you do this problem and just check the shear friction you are missing half of the actual answer. Implicitly, the problem requires you to check development length and splice lengths of vertical dowels. If you're rushing through an essay problem it's possible you forget this part, which appears to be half of the points for that portion of the problem. Using this as a guide, when you solve afternoon problems think "what other things might be required that they aren't clearly asking for? How can I expeditiously address those qualifications and show I meet the 'sufficient knowledge' metric of competency?" 

Edited by Nathan55
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Thanks for your tips Nathan55. Extremely helpful.

#15 resonated with me. The urge to simply brush up on the weak areas for retakers is too tempting. All retakers- don’t fall into this trap. I made this mistake.

Edited by Maya_206

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