Preparing for the PE Exam: A Checklist
By: Michael Lindeburg, PE
April 2, 2021
Preparing for the PE exam is a formidable task. In fact, planning your preparation is an engineering feat in its own right! However, all successful examinees go through the same basic steps outlined here. Examinees who skip steps are often unsuccessful. The steps in the first half of the checklist are meant to be completed sequentially, one step at a time. As exam-day grows closer, you may want to "multitask" some of the steps in the second half of the list.
This checklist assumes that you have already applied to take the PE exam and that you have sufficient time to prepare for it.
Expert Tips to Prepare for the PE Exam
1. Explain to family members and friends what you are doing and why it is important to your career that you pass the PE exam. Explain how long the process is going to take and what changes to your behavior and lifestyle might be noticed.
2. Spend a few minutes exploring the features in PPI's website so that you can return to it for more information as needed.
3. Thoroughly study the exam format and subject outline.
4. If you have a current PE reference manual, read the introductory chapter for information about your exam and tips on how to prepare successfully for it. (If your manual isn't current, however, it may have information about a prior exam format, so it's best to check this online.)
5. Read through the relevant FAQs on PPI's web site.
6. Take some time to read advice from previous examinees in your discipline.
7. Decide WHAT you are going to study: (A) Are you going to study all exam subjects (which I recommend) or a subset of the exam (which is what most engineers do)? (B) Are you going to review explicitly by studying the chapter theory or review implicitly by solving problems?
8. Decide how you want to prepare: (A) Study on your own with books and practice problems; (B) Use audio, video, or CD-ROM products to enhance your self-study; (C) Enroll in a "live" prep course; (D) Take a correspondence course.
9. If you intend to take a prep course, check the Prep Course Listing.
Preparing for the PE exam? Test your skills with a free sample quiz. Choose your discipline: PE Civil, PE Electrical, or PE Mechanical.
10. Establish a secure study location in your home where you can leave your mess and calculator each day without having to clean up.
11. Establish an "exam-item consolidation" box or drawer, into which you can toss items that you want to take with you to the exam. It is surprising how much you will accumulate in a month or more.
12. Read through the "exam kit" lists in your PE reference manual. As you run across these items during your review, you can drop them into your exam-item consolidation box.
13. Identify the books that are essential references to study for your PE exam. Lists of such books appear in PPI reference manuals, and a list for civil examinees is online. You can also get a good idea of what other engineers have found useful by reading advice from previous examinees. Decide which books you want to accumulate. Get as many as you possibly can.
14. If you are taking the civil or structural exam, make sure you know which codes (year or edition), if any, will be used in your exam. Study with the editions of the codes that are specified for the exam, whether they are current or not. Frequently, what's used on the exam lags well behind current usage in the real world.
15. Check your local and corporate library for books you can borrow rather than purchase.
16. Ask friends and coworkers about other books you can borrow.
17. If you have a passed-down or borrowed PE reference manual, determine if the edition is current. Changes in exam format, codes, and emphasis often make using an old edition a big mistake.
18. Assemble college textbooks, collections of old class notes, Schaum's outlines, and other collections of solved problems. (These are not necessarily the same books you will take into the exam.)
19. Seek out and accumulate practice or sample exams, available from PPI and other commercial sources.
20. Download any free materials that are useful. (Note: Although web searches on "PE exam" and similar subjects may turn up hundreds of references, don't waste time looking for actual past exams or problems from prior tests--there are none.)
21. Use PPI's Errata listings to correct any mistakes that have been identified in PPI books. Check with other publishers whose books you may be using to see if they have errata lists.
22. Decide on a calculator. Locate the instruction manual. Make sure you have extra batteries and know how to change them. Have another calculator available as a spare, and make sure you know how to use it.
23. Put your name on everything (your calculator and books) that you intend to bring with you to the exam.
24. Make a review schedule. Allocate time to all of the subjects you intend to study.
25. As you review, add book tabs to useful pages. You may want to use a color-coding system for your tabs. (Caution: Some states do not permit the use of removable sticky notes in books. Check with your State Boards.)
26. As you review, assemble and organize your work in a manner that works for you.
27. Near the actual exam date, take one or more of your practice exams. Evaluate your readiness. Work on your weaknesses.
28. Reread the "What to Do Before the Exam" sections in your PE reference manual.
29. Assemble other items in your exam "kit."
30. Get a good night's sleep before the exam. Then go into the test knowing that you've done your best to prepare.
Qualifying to Take the NCEES PE Exam
Make sure you've completed these steps for PE exam qualification. Learn more about the requirements for the PE exam.
About the NCEES PE Exam, or Professional Engineer Exam
The PE exam is a great way to improve your career prospects. Learn about the PE exam, including exam format, subjects, and more.