Civilrobot's Experience: Preparing for the Civil Construction PE Exam

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civilrobot PE etc etc

The Beyonce of Construction
Jun 1, 2017
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Ambitious, AF
First things first, I want to thank the members of EB. I couldn't have done this without you. There are too many to list, but sharing your experience, your advice, and the hard truths were instrumental to my success. I want to also point folks to the thread I made after I failed in October 2019:

Civil Construction PE Prep - Second Attempt

I built on my first attempt and did everything that the community suggested. Listen to these people. They know what they are talking about.

With that being said, I'm going to touch on a few things in order of my priority. I'm taking a holistic approach to help you guys out there. I cover three areas: Mental, Physical, Technical, and Family Life. Reference whatever you need.


I have anxiety. Not, "oh I feel a little anxious about this or that". I'm talking debilitating anxiety. Like I want to sit in a corner and cry as I break out in hives kind of anxiety. I just thought that I was nervous for the first exam. Unfortunately, it all came to a crappy crescendo on exam day back in October 2019. I gained probably 15 lbs while studying, I was sleep deprived, and totally outside of myself on exam day. I was shaking for like the first hour. I thought that was normal. It's not. So, for my second attempt, I knew I had to address this. I'm a runner. Why am I saying this? Because as a distance runner, the mental game is a big deal. The way you finish a long race is by getting your mental game under control. So, I knew that I needed to fix whatever was going on with me. I got into therapy, saw my doctor, got mild meds to help me deal with my shit. I also used positive affirmations to help me to stay calm and focused. Some of my faves:

- Failure to try is the only failure there is. Keep going!
- My past will not stop me from succeeding in the future.
- I release all worry. I release all fear of failure.

I used meditation and therapy to help me to get to a healthy baseline. I got back to exercising, which is critical for success. I also took a year off. A wise woman named @LyceeFruit PE once said, it's okay to take a break and sit the next one out. Get yourself together. Don't go at this thing if you're not all in. You're just wasting your time at that point.


I am not only a runner, but a gym rat. I take breaks here and there because... I'm human and laziness feels good sometimes. lol But for the most part, my focus improves when my fitness is on point. I set up a workout schedule, started shedding weight. I also dropped caffeine. I only drink, water, decaf coffee, and wine, with an occasional bourbon or rum cocktail thrown in there. Anyway, I need to feel in control of things. The exam is such a curve ball - I know. You don't know if you're studying the right problems. You don't know if you're wasting your time on this one problem, etc. So working out, having a regular routine helped me to feel in control.

No one is saying you have to go full crossfit, but you should include some time to move around. Go for a walk or something to just break up the day and to get out some of that frustration, worry, etc.


Now for the part that most of you care about, the technical preparation. For the first exam, I kept a spreadsheet to log how many hours I studied. I thought that logging a ton of hours would lead to success. It does not. Preparation for this exam requires your studying to focus on "quality, not quantity". I logged around 400 hours for my first attempt. I didn't count how many hours I spent studying the second time. It's irrelevant because I was building on a base that I built during my first attempt. I signed up for the EET prep course for my first attempt. The course is great and I've said that several times. The mistake I made the first time was only doing the problems provided by EET. Well, I had that and the Goswami Practice Exams for the Civil PE Examination: Two practice exams (and solutions) geared towards the breadth portion of the Civil PE Exam. That's all I did, and to top it off, I didn't even do great. I just thought "well the actual exam probably won't be this hard".

The second time, I took the advice of others here on EB and got my hands on every kind of problem I could find. I also bought all of the Civil depth exams from NCEES. I don't advise this. For $40, I think you're fine investing in one of the highly rated tests on amazon. The only good thing that came out of it was studying the solutions. There are some reoccurring themes that reveal how NCEES wants you to think. This exam is all about looking for clues to identify the type of problem that's in front of you and how you should go about solving it. During my 1 year break, I did a lot of exercising, gardening, and I played Jeopardy (RIP to the G.O.A.T. Alex Trebek). It kind of hit me one day that this exam is very similar to Jeopardy. The direction that you need to go in is in the question. Look for the clues. That's where it comes in handy for you to know your resources, and your notes. If you don't know where to go, you've already wasted time. You need to do a lot of different kinds of problems to build that muscle memory and to cut down on that reaction time. It's key to try problems written by different people (EET, SoPE, Goswami, ASCE, PPI, etc) because you need to be ready to react.

I got my hands on some SoPE materials and used those to drill down into my problem areas. During my first attempt, I thought it was cool to just like... not even attempt some of the topics. If you look at the entire syllabus of topics, it is overwhelming, especially during your first attempt. It's intimidating. So, I felt like I was drinking from a fire hose the first time. I didn't have anything left to try to relearn structural mechanics or event attempt temporary structures and it showed up in my diagnostic. I didn't allow myself to make excuses or convince myself that I shouldn't bother with those subjects the second time. I just jumped in. I've said it multiple times and I'll say it again, EET's Dr. Malek is not great. He reads from his notes. He sort of goes through the examples, but it leaves much to be desired. But I knew that he included ALL of the explanations in the notes so I basically used them to teach myself. If I got stumped on something, I used youtube, reddit, EB. I asked. You can't just skip it. Temporary structures still didn't sit right with my spirit, no matter what I threw at it. I made peace with it and just tried to know enough to be dangerous. I also made flow charts for span and joist problems. Flow charts are clutch.

I was mad at myself for giving up points in subjects that I knew I was strong in. Geometrics and Scheduling should have been perfect. I have an MBA, PMP and a CCM. I also have almost 20 years of experience in managing and scheduling...everything so there was no reason why I left points on the table in scheduling. So, I pushed myself to be perfect during my practice sessions.

THIS WAS A GAME CHANGER! When you complete a problem and you get it wrong, review the solution, go back and review your problem again, and write out exactly how the mistake should be corrected. Then I went the extra step and redid the problem again and again and again until I got it right on my own. If you're doing a lot of problems, the likelihood of memorizing the steps is pretty low. You won't remember.

I set hours. I studied as early as 3 PM (depending on my meeting schedule) to around 5 PM. After dinner, I studied until around 10 PM each day. My goal was to give myself 3 weeks to just work problems on the weekend for 4-6 hours uninterrupted. I only did one full 8-hour simulated exam. Then I spent the week redoing the exam, writing out my mistakes, and redoing problems. I also read. I read my references, and I also purchased the Construction Planning, Equipment, and Methods, Ninth Edition 9th Edition. I read through that a little bit too. I had to learn how to use this book. It's a textbook but I found that they had some exam-like examples and questions so if I wasn't performing as well as I wanted to in Excavations, then I went through and worked some of those problems.

Family Life

I'm married and I have a little kid. I also prepare about 20 meals a week and do all of the laundry and 70% of the cleaning. So with that being said, if you have kids, schedule a window of time to sit with them and do something they want to do. It will relieve you of the guilt of not being there and it gives them something to look forward to. Little kids have little tanks. It doesn't take much to refill it. So while I watched Jeopardy each evening after dinner, my daughter and I colored in her coloring book. That was relaxing and she got to tell me about her day and just talk. She really looked forward to it. She was actually sad when the exam was over because she missed doing something me at this specific time of day.

Finishing up with studying around 10 left a little bit of time for me to catch up with my husband before heading off to bed. It kept the peace.

Some background: I've been out of school for almost 20 years and I worked exclusively in construction management for probably 14 years of that. I've never done design work. I am an executive so I don't even see designs until I attend a design review. I spend a lot of my time signing invoices, and signing off on stuff. If I can pass this thing, you can too.
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Thank you for this wonderful post. Your journey through this is inspirational.

"Temporary structures still didn't sit right with my spirit, no matter what I threw at it. I made peace with it and just tried to know enough to be dangerous."

Felt the same way during the the last P&P exam in october 2021. Signed up for a new exam here in SD for 4/20, just for the novelty of the date no drug to be taken before the exam.
It looks like you need to review Soil Mechanics and Means and Methods. If I were you, I'd find as many problems as possible in these two subjects and do them. I would also take this same tact with Estimating Quantities. You really need to understand these problems. They will show up, and you really need to understand them.
Feels good, weird not doing anything study-related after work. Going to finish my CA application soon, hopefully get approved for the seismic and survey start specific exams in the fall.
Feels good, weird not doing anything study-related after work. Going to finish my CA application soon, hopefully get approved for the seismic and survey start specific exams in the fall.
That’s great! Does NCEES send out an email when your results are ready still or do you have to just keep checking website?