Dr Tom's Classroom Mechanical - Machine Design and Materials Course Review

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jean15paul_PE

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Let me start with a little context:

  1. After taking this course I passed the Mechanical PE exam (Machine Design & Materials) on my first attempt
  2. I've always been a good student (mostly A's, honors courses, etc) and a good test taker. 
  3. But school was 15 years ago, and I've forgotten much of the stuff that I haven't been doing at work.
  4. I do feel that my 15 years of work experience was really valuable in taking the test.  


Onto the course review:

I took the "standard" Dr Tom 20-week course. It's broken into 20 weeks of content. But leave yourself extra time when planning because there's a "week zero" of setup, intro, purchasing supplies, etc, which may take longer if you have to order supplies and books. There's also a "week 21" of review. The published schedule has you finish 3 weeks early so you have time for extra review and relaxing. It took me about 24 weeks to finish the 20-week course, and I didn't leave myself extra time for reviewing.  Each week is one major topic and sometime a minor topic or two. Major topics are the theoretical engineering analysis topics that you would expect, like statics, column buckling, welds, gears, kinematics, etc. You're provided with a schedule for each week (6 days, I believe). The basic schedule for every week is: watch videos that teach the concepts, read the MERM, work (regular) problems and review the solutions, work "challenge" problems and watch video solutions, take a assessment quiz. Regular problems come from the NCEES practice exam and from the book "Six Minute Problems." Challenge problems are created by Dr. Tom and are a little harder than the regular problem. Solutions to the NCEES Practice Test and Six Minute Solutions problems are included with the book. All videos, challenge problems, and assessment quiz problems include handouts and solutions. 

Regarding the different classes, there is was a "standard" 20-week course, a fast-track course, and an extended review course. All of the courses have the exact same content. The only difference is how long you have access to the material. They provide a different published schedule for each course, so you can cover everything in the allotted amount of time. But you don't have for follow the schedule; everything is at your own pace. When you purchase, you select your PE exam date and you're only allowed to purchase the course whose time-frame corresponds to your test date. After the exam, you loose access. One thing I didn't like about the setup, is that you're limited in how much you can jump around. Certain modules (mainly the assessment quizzes and video problem solutions) don't "unlock" until you complete the stuff that comes before it. You can jump back to old stuff, but you can't always jump forward if there is something specific you want to cover.
Edit: Well that's the way things used to work. With the switch to any-day computer-based testing, now they are selling the course as 6-month or 12-month access. I have no idea if there are any changes to the course based on the new exam format. (My guess is, not yet, but I'm sure updates are coming.) The info in this review is from the older twice-a-year testing format. For whatever it's worth. I took the course May-Oct 2018. 

Regarding the minor topics: Minor topics are the non-technical topics like project planning, plant engineering, statistical process control, quality, etc. I found these to be a major time suck. These topics don't have videos or lessons. They are covered by you reading the MERM and working assigned problems with no guidance. I'm glad they were included, but completing all the reading assignments is no easy task.

I followed the course / method exactly, and worked the problems recommended by the course. I didn't work any other problems. To be honest, I didn't have time to do anything extra. Like I said, it took me about 24 weeks to finish the 20 week course. Between the videos, readings in the MERM, and homework problems, it was a lot of hours per week (probably between 7 and 15 hours depending on the workload). With my job and life, I didn't have any more time to dedicate.

Over the duration of the course you build reference binders with the course notes, problems and solutions, etc. Those reference binders were what I primarily used during the exam. (I attached a picture of the binders.) During my studying and during the exam, I also used the MERM (a lot), Roark's Formulas for Stress & Strain (a little), and Shigley's Mechanical Engineering Design (a little). I actually brought a ton of other references (probably about 6 or 8 other books), but I didn't even touch them. It's true that if you didn't use it to prepare, then you won't use it during the exam. You really don't have a lot of time to look stuff up. So you have to know your references and where the info is. But it's hard not to take everything "just in case".
Edit: A lot of people have asked me about Machinery's Handbook as a reference. From what I understand, Machinery's Handbook is a great reference, but it's not one that I'm personally familiar with. I didn't use it and I felt that I didn't need it. Everything that I needed could be found in the course notes, in the MERM, or in Shigley's. You mileage may vary.

One thing that I would say, the "Dr. Tom Method" makes a big deal about predicting what type of problems are on the exam (mostly based on what's in the NCEES practice exam) and having example problems worked that you can refer to. His philosophy is that it's much faster to follow a solved example problem than it is to figure it out from the formulas or from the theory. While I agree with that in principle, it didn't work out like that for me when I took the exam. Most of the problems were similar to what I studied, but just different enough (slightly more complex), that I did end up having to figure out a lot during the exam. But the class definitely gave me the info and knowledge to figure it out, so I can't really complain.

Some other principles from the course that I liked:

After going through the full course, go back and focus on your strengths and let go of your weaknesses. This seemed counter-intuitive to me at first. But the idea is that in your areas of strength, you want to knock it out of the park and get all the points. In your areas of weakness, you'll get the easy ones based on the course and references, and you can miss the hard ones. You don't have to get a 100% to pass.

Another thing that he emphasized (I've heard other say this too). Don't get stuck! Go though the whole exam and answer the easy problems that you know exactly how to do. And then go back to the harder problems. He advocates for 3 passes: 1st do obvious problems based on the worked examples; 2nd do problems that you understand, but you have to look up formulas; last go back to the hard problems that you have no idea about. I think I only did two passes, but the point is DON'T GET STUCK on a hard problem. Move on and come back to it at the end.

I think that's all I have to say. I hope it helps. Good luck!



 
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jean15paul_PE

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I wrote up my test taking strategy for someone elsewhere on the boards, but I thought I'd add it here. It's really an elaboration on the last couple of points about letting go of your weaknesses and not getting stuck.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

You should study everything while preparing for the exam. But once you get about a week or so out from the exam, you will know what your strengths and weakness are. At that point (right before the exam) it's more important to maximize your strengths than to try to eliminate your weaknesses. You should not have the expectation that you will get every question correct. It's very important to be able to let go of difficult question, so you don't get stuck. This was my strategy; please adapt it to fit you:

StrengthsStatics, Mechanics of Materials, Stress Analysis
These are the topics that I'm strongest in. These are high yield, so I want to try and get 100% of these correct. I should be able to quickly answer the easy ones, and I'm willing to spend a little extra time on the hard one because I'm confident that I'll arrive at the correct answer.

AverageDynamics, Machine Design
I'm ok at these topics. I should get 100% of the easy one, and expect that I can figure out most of the hard ones. But if something is taking more than 4 or 5 minutes, I'll come back to it later. I want to focus on all the stuff that is easy for me first.

WeaknessesMaterial Science, Scheduling/Plant Engineering, Statistics/Statistical Process Control
These are the topics I'm weakest in. I'll try to quickly figure out the easy ones if possible, but anything difficult will get put off until the end. Difficult questions in these areas are going to be low yield for me, so I won't feel bad about guessing. 

Your strategy may look similar to this or it may look different. But things that I think are important to keep in mind. DONT GET STUCK! You have to be ok with skipping questions, and coming back to them later. Having a plan for what to skip and for what to prioritize makes this a lot easier. You want to make sure you get all the points you can on the questions that are easiest for you. Remember you do not need 100% to pass. I was conservative and was shooting for 60 - 64 points (out of 80). If you feel like you HAVE TO get that hard question in one of your weak topics, you're probably going to stress yourself out, get stuck, and run out of time.

 
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