I am 100% sure that this exam has a lot of flaws to test one's competency. The difficulty of the question is not the problem, but grading is. I got U on the subject area where I scored 100% correct in the morning. I also do not believe how they can put U on the question I was sure of in the afternoon. The afternoon part is very subjective and I am just gonna point my fingers at the graders this time. I know for a fact that I knew that question inside out where I got U. I might have been ok with IR but U just seems impossible for a question I knew.
The afternoon is graded with a rubric. So the graders are looking that you either make a specific action or that you acknowledge an action. For instance: if you are asked to determine if a W-beam is acceptable for the provided loads, you check the moment capacity and the shear capacity. If you don't also check deflection you get a deduction. In real life you wouldn't check deflection for those loads provided based on the length of the beam, right? But on the test you have to acknowledge that is something that should be considered. So you could go through and check it or you could write, "based on the loads provided, the section of the beam, and the unbraced length of the beam, it is assumed that deflection will not control the design." If you did this you don't lose points. In your everyday engineering it isn't a big deal you didn't write it down. But on the test you need to do that so they can confirm you are keeping it in mind and that you know all he concepts. They knock you a point on part 2 for not checking deflections, then a knock on part 3 for not using the correct phi factor, then on part 4 you recall the wrong value for Fcr when checking your steel manual, and you go from a A to an IR, or worse. All little things that individually are not a huge deal, and you may have even ended conservatively, but for grading they don't care.
There are countless people checking the test across the country. The afternoon isn't subjective. There are specific things they are looking for. If you don't hit it then they knock you. If it was subjective then the test wouldn't be so widely accepted. Is there some subjectivity? Sure, but my understanding after talking to someone with direct knowledge of grading, it is extremely ridged. And accidental miss-calcs are not a big deal. The test is not about how much you know, but how well you can apply the code correctly.