FE and PE Transpo Exam Self Study Review

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Dec 16, 2020
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I just finished an insane 6 month (8 with waiting for these results) period where I went from next to no Civil Engineering knowledge to passing the FE, and then PE. A little bit about me: I graduated in 2017 with a Chemical Engineering degree. I was not a great student in college. I ended up with around a 2.9, and attribute it to hating taking exams, and the amount of anxiety they give me. I worked odd jobs (Food Court, Administrative Government Jobs) from 2017-2019. In 2019 I finally landed a "real" engineering job at a small town in the public works department. They definitely took a chance on me given my back ground, so I wanted to show them that I was serious about becoming a better Civil Engineer. After a few months to get adjusted to the new job, I finally started studying for the Civil FE on April 20th, 2020. 

FE Story

The FE for me was really hard to get started on. I ended up ordering Lindenburgs Review Manual, NCEES Practice exam, and the Lindenburg practice problems. I literally went a chapter per day, and supplemented the review manual with Texas Tech Statics man, and the Marshall Review videos on Youtube. I highly recommend this method if you're removed from school, don't remember much, or are like me and literally didn't know what SohCahToa was, or why people started saying it all the time in PreCalc. At the end of every chapter (and sometimes in the middle of longer chapters) I would just review and do practice problem. I liked this because I was able to go at my pace. Things a felt good about (math, statistics, econ, chemistry) I was able to breeze through. Things I struggled with (concrete, statics, dynamics) I was able to struggle through without feeling like I held anyone back. When something "clicks" when I'm grinding through problems, it stays with me. I can't say the same for lecture, or when someone does a problem for me. 

Anyways, got through the book, and did nearly all of the practice problems. When I first took the NCEES practice test I got around a 60%. I reviewed the areas I didn't do so well in, and got a 95% the second time. I decided I was ready for the test, and went for it. I took it in late June, and had to drive 4 hours to a different state to find an appointment before the test changed formats. If the NCEES practice test is a 5/10 difficulty, I'd give the real thing a 6. Just a little spice sprinkled on to make sure you're really reading the questions. I think the reason I walked out of the test confident is because I forced myself to read the Lindenburg Review Manual. I got a ton of free points from random qualitative questions that I would have otherwise been lost on. 

(If you want to buy my FE materials here they are: https://www.ebay.com/itm/203220956020?ul_noapp=true)

PE Story

After an agonizing 6 day wait ever for those CBT results, I found out that I could take the PE exam in Oregon (another different state) without 2 or 4 years of experience. Since I was already in prime study mode I said to hell with it, lets get this PE knocked out. For the PE my strategy really didn't change. I ordered ALL the practice exams (shameless plug https://www.ebay.com/itm/203221029413?ul_noapp=true). I spent so many days browsing this sites trying to figure out "how" to study for this exam. After wasting a week finding nothing, I just started solving problems. I had the CERM, Greenbook, and MUTCD. Solve a problem that needs the rational method? tab it. Reynolds number? tabbed. Stopping sight Distance table? Tabbed like 4 times because I had different names for the table in my head (I wrote what was on each tab with a fine tipped sharipe). It doesnt matter if you use a strict color coded system, all that matters is that YOU put the tabs in, and refer back to them while solving your imperial ton on practice problems. I got to the point where I didn't ever need to look at my index in the CERM, because I knew where everything was relative to my tabs. 

The important thing here is to not feel overwhelmed. If it takes you a week to get through 1 practice exam, thats OK. Take your time, review your answers, find the relevant material, and tab important equations. After a couple practice exams I went back through the exam specs NCEES provides, and found that I had already tabbed almost everything. From here just keep plugging away. Similar to the FE, there will be stuff that you don't understand. Try to grind through it, and you'll 100% remember it come test day. 

Speaking of test day...

Buy a watch. Buy an extra (approved) calculator. Get a hotel nearby.

At my location there was not a clock. As I mentioned, I get test anxiety. I took a test 7 hours from where I live so I didn't have much of an option, but get a hotel. Know that you won't need to worry about traffic. If there is any doubt in your mind that something might go wrong, take a measure to prevent it. Have a wake up call, buy yourself options for breakfast, whatever you need to do to feel good.

Despite all that, I still just about shat myself the day of. You know how everyone says to skip the ones you don't immediately know how to solve? I tried that. I was on question 30 with 4 bubbles bubbled. You just need to take a minute and calm down. Read the questions slowly. After that your muscle memory starts to take over.

Full disclosure, I walked out of the test having no clue how I did. 8 hours of critical thinking is brutal. I doubt anyone feels confident afterwards. Trust yourself, and try not to think about it. Two things I absolutely was not able to do.

The next two months sucks, but its a great feeling to pass! I hope this write up is weirdly therapeutic for others that are going through this process. I saw so many posts on Reddit saying that you NEEDED to take a class. That if you don't take a class your chances of passing are slim. Screw that. If you want to take a class, absolutely do. I'm sure they have helped a ton of people. Just don't feel like a $1000+ class is required to pass this test. Borrow all the books you can, use older editions if you feel confident doing so (see test anxiety), and just buy what you feel like will help you. For me, that was practice problems. 

I wish everyone the best of luck, and hope someone finds this useful. Feel free to ask questions about the experience while its still fresh.