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What to Bring to the NCEES PE Exam

By: Michael R. Lindeburg, PE
April 27, 2021
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An important part of preparing to take the NCEES PE exam is knowing what to put in your PE exam kit, and what you should leave at home. In this excerpt from the Civil Engineering Reference Manual, you will learn how to put together your exam kits and what to leave behind.

For Open-Book PE Exams

Most states do not have any limits on the numbers and types of books you can use. Personal notes in a three-ring binder and other semi-permanent covers can usually be used. Some states use a “shake test” to eliminate loose papers from binders. Make sure that nothing escapes from your binders when they are inverted and shaken. The references you bring into the exam room in the morning do not have to be the same as the references you use in the afternoon. However, you cannot share books with other examinees during the exam. A few states maintain a formal list of banned books. It is a good idea to check with your state board to learn what is and is not permitted in the examination room.

The exam requires the use of a scientific calculator. To protect the integrity of its exams, NCEES has banned communicating and text-editing calculators from the exam site. NCEES provides a list of calculator models acceptable for use during the exam. Contact your state board to determine if nomographs and specialty slide rules are permitted.

Starting Your PE Exam Catchall

Designate some location (a drawer, a corner, a cardboard box, or even a paper shopping bag left on the floor) as your “exam catchall.” Use your catchall during the months before the exam when you have revelations about things you should bring with you. For example, you might realize that the plastic ruler marked off in tenths of an inch that is normally kept in the kitchen junk drawer can help you with some soil pressure questions. Or, you might decide that a certain book is particularly valuable, that it would be nice to have dental floss after lunch, or that large rubber bands and clips are useful for holding books open. It is not actually necessary to put these treasured items in the catchall during your preparation. You can, of course, if it is convenient. But if these items will have other functions during the time before the exam, at least write yourself a note and put the note into the catchall. When you go to pack your exam kit a few days before the exam, you can transfer some items immediately, and the notes will be your reminders for the other items that are back in the kitchen drawer.

Preparing for the PE exam? Test your skills with a free sample quiz. Choose your discipline: PE Civil, PE Electrical, or PE Mechanical.

Preparing Your PE Exam Kits

Second in importance to your scholastic preparation is the preparation of your two exam kits.

The first kit consists of a bag, box (plastic milk crates hold up better than cardboard in the rain), or wheeled travel suitcase containing items to be brought with you into the exam room.

[ ] your exam authorization notice

[ ] current, signed government-issued photographic identification (e.g., driver’s license, not a student ID card)

[ ] your reference manual

[ ] a separate, bound copy of your reference manual’s index

[ ] other textbooks and reference books

[ ] regular dictionary

[ ] prep course notes in a three-ring binder

[ ] cardboard boxes or plastic milk crates to use as bookcases

[ ] primary calculator

[ ] spare calculator

[ ] instruction booklets for your calculators

[ ] extra calculator batteries

[ ] two straightedges (e.g., ruler, scale, triangle, protractor)

[ ] protractor

[ ] scissors

[ ] stapler

[ ] transparent tape

[ ] magnifying glass

[ ] small (jeweler’s) screwdriver for fixing your glasses or for removing batteries from your calculator

[ ] unobtrusive (quiet) snacks or candies, already unwrapped 

[ ] two small plastic bottles of water

[ ] travel pack of tissue (keep in your pocket)

[ ] handkerchief

[ ] headache remedy

[ ] personal medication

[ ] $5.00 in assorted coinage

[ ] spare contact lenses and multipurpose contact lens cleaning solution

[ ] backup reading glasses (no case)

[ ] eye drops

[ ] light, comfortable sweater

[ ] loose shoes or slippers

[ ] cushion for your chair

[ ] earplugs

[ ] wristwatch with alarm

[ ] several large trash bags (“raincoats” for your boxes of books)

[ ] roll of paper towels

[ ] wire coat hanger (to hang up your jacket or to get back into your car in an emergency)

[ ] extra set of car keys on a string around your neck

The second kit consists of the following items and should be left in a separate bag or box in your car in case it is needed.

[ ] copy of your exam authorization notice

[ ] light lunch

[ ] beverage in thermos or can

[ ] sunglasses

[ ] extra pair of prescription glasses

[ ] raincoat, boots, gloves, hat, and umbrella

[ ] street map of the exam area

[ ] parking permit

[ ] battery-powered desk lamp

[ ] your cell phone

[ ] length of rope

What You Will Not Need to Bring to the PE Exam

Generally, people bring too many things to the exam. One general rule is that you should not bring books that you have not looked at during your review. If you did not need a book while doing the practice problems in this book, you will not need it during the exam. There are some other things that you will not need. Except for codes and standards, you should not need many books in the examination room. The trouble is, you cannot know in advance which ones you will need. That is the reason why many examinees show up with boxes and boxes of books. The exam is very fastpaced. You will not have time to use books with which you are not thoroughly familiar. The exam does not require you to know obscure solution methods or to use difficult-to-find data. You will not need articles printed in an industry magazine; you will not need doctoral theses or industry proceedings; and you will not need to know about recent industry events. So, it really is unnecessary to bring a large quantity of books with you. This book and five to ten other references of your choice should be sufficient for most of the questions you answer.

The following items cannot be used during the exam and should be left at home: personal pencils and erasers (NCEES distributes mechanical pencils at the exam), fountain pens, radio, CD player, MP3 player, or other media player, battery charger, extension cords, scratch paper, notepads, drafting compass, and circular (“wheel”) slide rules. See the introduction to your reference manual for more information on what you won't need.

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