Last Updated on August 28, 2023
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How To Study For Pe
There are many paths to the PE exam, and it is important that you prepare for this exam with your own obligations and experiences in mind. See Casey’s tips for passing the exam!
This past October I took and passed the Principles and Practice of Engineering Examination — Power Exam. I relied heavily on online resources to help me prepare for this exam, so I wanted to give something back to the engineering community. My advice will be general in nature and should accurately apply to most disciplines.
There are many paths to the PE exam, and it is important that you prepare for this exam with your own obligations and experiences in mind. I had limited obligations outside of work when I took this exam and had graduated 2.5 years prior with a specialization in power systems which I believe helped prepare me for this exam. Your financial situation, education, and obligations outside of work should be factored in when scheduling to study for this exam and should also be considered in your decision to study alone, take an online or in-class course, and/or seek tutoring.
Prepare to Prepare
Make a Realistic Schedule
Be honest with yourself and the people around you. This exam takes a lot of time and dedication to pass. Give yourself ample time to prepare and make sure that you understand why you want to pass this exam and how important your study time is. There will be plenty of life events that will get in the way, so try to account for them in your study schedule ahead of time. Out of all the advice that I gathered, this may have been the most difficult for me to apply. I was lucky to have enough time near the end of my study cycle to be able to compress my study schedule for the exam by taking some time off, but doing it that way was far more challenging and stressful than I would have preferred.
Utilize Resources at Your Office: Time Off, Reimbursement, Codes, etc.
Talk to your supervisor and coworkers and familiarize yourself with company policies regarding the PE exam fee and resource reimbursement. Knowing that you will not be fully responsible for all the costs that are associated with the exam can also go a long way in easing some of that pre-exam stress. Some firms also offer PTO for the exam day and you may want to set aside some PTO hours so that you don’t have to work a week or two leading up to the exam. Also, you should find out which codebooks are available at your office and if you are permitted to borrow them for studying and taking to the exam.
Learn About the Exam, Strategies, and Resources
I spent a lot of time reading about the exam. There are a ton of free resources out there that will help you prepare for the exam and you should factor a couple of weeks into your schedule that is dedicated with familiarizing yourself with the exam specifications, strategies, and reliable resources and references. I spent a lot of time on the NCEES website, blogs, Engineerboards.com, and multiple engineering subreddits trying to get an understanding for what the exam is, what was tried and true preparation methods and strategies, and what the best resources were to study with and take into the exam.
Build Your Resources
Budget and Prioritize
There are different schools of thought when it comes to the number of reference materials you should take into the exam. Some people like to keep it to a minimum and believe that bringing too much into the exam will slow you down and confuse you. I am of the opposite opinion. I brought in as many references as I could get my hands on. The important thing is that you practice with your references and know them inside and out. You will find many articles, blogs, and online threads that discuss the best resources to prepare for the exam and references to carry into the exam. My approach was to define a budget and then buy the most highly recommended resources that I could within that budget. I also built my resources as I took practice exams to help shore up my weaknesses. Borrow references from coworkers who have taken the exam recently and/or buy used versions to help minimize the cost.
When buying references, you should first purchase a manual or guide that will be your go to. Most disciplines have one or two references that are highly recommended that cover most of the exam topics and contain many of the most important formulas and tables. Throughout your time preparing for the exam you will become more familiar with the topics that may require you to purchase more in-depth references to help you strengthen your weaknesses.
Practice exams were an integral part of my preparation and I would highly recommend taking as many as you can. I believe I took about 5 or 6 during my preparation. In my experience, the practice exam released by the NCEES is a must have, but other than that, you will need to hit the internet to determine the best practice exams for your discipline. You can spread the purchase of these practice exams out throughout your study schedule as you should be spending about one or two weeks on each practice exam depending on how compressed your schedule is and taking 2-3 in the last couple of weeks before the exam.
Revisit Your References After Practice Exams
You should be utilizing your references during your practice exams and becoming familiar with how useful each reference is and how often you will use it on the exam. As you become more and more familiar with your references, you will realize which references will be your go to during the exam and the areas that will require you to acquire additional, topic-specific references.
Take practice exams
Simulate the Exam
Find a quiet place where you can sit undisturbed for 4 hours at a time. Place all your references and materials around you as you would for the exam. Put in earplugs and put on your exam approved watch. This is one of the most difficult and most beneficial ways to prepare for the exam. It requires you to set aside five to nine hours at a time. In the early days of your preparation, I would recommend taking practice exams in two 4-hour sessions over two days. Eight hours is a long time, and it will help to build your mental and physical stamina slowly. Don’t worry about low scores on your first few exams. You will be surprised at how quickly you will improve your score just by becoming familiar with your reference materials in the first few practice exams
Stick to Your Strategy
Develop or find an existing exam strategy and use that strategy. The most popular strategy that I encountered was to take the exam in multiple passes. The most comfortable method I developed during practice exams was to take the exam in 4-5 passes.
- Go through and mark all the questions that pertain to codes (NEC, NESC, etc.)
- Answer as many of the non-code questions as you possibly can until the 2-hour mark. Do not get stuck on a problem. You will begin by flipping through and answering all the questions that you immediately know how to answer. The goal of this pass is to answer more than half of the questions on the exam. During practice tests, I answered close to 30 questions in this pass. During the actual exam, it was under 25, but I cannot recall the exact number. If you start losing steam at the end of this pass and are really struggling to find a question that you think you can answer correctly then just move on to the next pass.
- Next is the code question pass. There are a couple of reasons that I and many others like doing this pass second. For many, this is one of the easier portions of the exam and it’s nice to give your brain a rest and chance to stop thinking about the calculation heavy questions. It also means you only need to access all those code books for this pass. This pass should not take you much longer than 30 minutes.
- This is the time to really dig into the tough questions. You should be down to less than 10 remaining questions and about 1.5 hours left. The goal of this strategy is to have as few questions as possible remaining at this stage, therefore giving you a longer average time to answer the tough questions. You should be wrapping up this pass by the last 10-15 minutes of the exam and moving on to part 5…
- At this point in the session, depending on how prepared you are, you should use the last couple minutes to guess and/or check your work. There is no penalty for wrong answers. At this point, there are going to be some questions that you’ve read over several times, and maybe attempted a few times, but just cannot come up with a satisfactory answer. That’s okay. This exam is pass or fail. Just take a guess.
Use Your Resources
One of the most important functions of taking practice exams is becoming efficient with your references. Highlight, tab and mark in your exam as you study. Tab the indexes and table of contents in all your references before taking your practice exams.
Grade Your Practice Exams, Track Your Weaknesses, and Revisit
Grade your practice exams soon after taking them and set aside some time to revisit your weak areas. Most people will only be able to take a full practice exam during the weekend. This means that you should use shorter study sessions during the week to grade the exam and go over problems that you got wrong. You should also take some time in between practice exams to go over topics that you are unfamiliar with and do more practice problems out of your resources to strengthen your weak areas. You also may find you need to acquire more references and/or tab and highlight areas in your current references to help you use your references more efficiently.
Trust the Process
The road to and preparation for the PE exam is not a short one. You’ve probably had at least 4 years of college and a couple of years of work experience at this point. Ideally, you are about 4 months out from the exam when you start this process, but it can, and for most people will probably be compressed into a couple of months. Try not to get frustrated. Take as many practice exams as you can and fit in some time in between practice exams to develop a strong library of resources. Remember to stick to the plan and try not to forget why you are doing this. Thanks for reading and good luck.
how long to study for pe exam
Preparing for the PE and wondering how long you should study for the PE exam? I’ve been there before, twice actually. And I’ve also looked at a lot of data from other engineers to find out how long you should study to pass the PE exam.
Generally, you should study for the PE exam for about 200-300 hours if you want to pass. The average study time is around 215-230 hours over a 3-month period. Few engineers study less than 100 hours or over 300. You may think you need less time, but studying more is worth it if it means you pass.
How you study, including where, when, and what, has a major effect on how much time you have to put in to pass. If you choose the right resources, it will be easier to make an effective study plan and pass on your first (or next) try.
Making a study plan isn’t easy, unless you get outside help. Other engineers might give you recommendations for their study plans, but by far the easiest way is to just purchase a prep course. I highly recommend School of PE. It’s how I passed and how many of my friends did, too!
I’ve done some research to find out what other engineers’ experiences were while studying. I also found some tips on how to plan your study and make it more effective.
Let’s get into it!
How Long Other Engineers Have Studied
I looked at a few different sources online to see how many hours other engineers studied for the PE exam. I calculated averages of all the good answers I could find on each thread. Here’s a summary of what I learned from each:
- This EngineerBoards thread showed that the average time people studied was about 230 hours. There were some older responses from around 2010 in here, so I mostly included those in recent years.
- One Reddit thread I found had an average of 215 hours studied. There were a lot of these and I didn’t average all of the threads I could find, just one of the most recent.
- A survey of those that took the Power PE showed that the most common amount of study time was 200-300 hours, with over 500 hours coming in second. That surprised me as anything over 300 was an outlier in my other sources.
While this isn’t the best way to get the exact statistical average of how many hours people study for the PE, it’s the next best thing. Most of the answers gave a range anyway, and most people didn’t actually record how much they studied.
So this may not be precise, but it’s accurate enough to give you an idea of how long you should study, which is all you really came for, right?
There were a few other things I learned while scanning through the comments that were golden advice for studying, which we’ll get into now.
Advice for How Long You Should Study for The PE Exam
By far the most common thing people said when talking about how long you should study was “it depends.” That’s a sort of cop-out answer, which is why I’ve focused on the numbers. But in the end this is really the truth.
How long you need is really up to your confidence levels. But like I mentioned earlier, you are going to be much happier over studying than understudying. If I had studied more hours and passed the PE on my first try I would have made thousands of dollars more from getting my license sooner than I did.
A lot of the comments confirmed this, too. They didn’t mind the extra work because they were much happier feeling completely confident on test day than if they had just tried to wing it. I had a cousin go in without studying much and he really regretted it! Thankfully he passed on his second try though.
Another huge piece of advice I saw was that it’s way easier if you take a course. And I completely agree. This is the #1 advice I’d give you if you were in the room with me right now asking for tips on passing the PE. I only passed after I invested in School of PE, and I don’t think I would have passed if it weren’t for them! I’ll talk more about that in a minute though.
I also saw that those who studied under 100 hours didn’t usually pass on their first try. Even then, there were not very many people who had studied that little and passed. They were the outliers. I’d say maybe 1 in 20 of the answers I saw mentioned studying less than 50 hours. So don’t think you can get by easy, it’s pretty rare to be able to pass with so little practice!
The most interesting comment I saw was something that I felt even after I’d bought School of PE’s course. The person mentioned how they were 100 hours in and went from feeling good and even ahead of schedule at times to feeling completely hopeless at others. I think this kind of thing is inevitable and you should be prepared for it. Even when you’re on the right track that sudden fear that you’re not going to pass will strike randomly.
I hated when I felt this way, especially because I’d invested so much time and money into preparing. But this brings me to one last piece of advice that I’ll end this section with.
You’re going to need to ignore how you feel and just keep working if you want to pass the PE exam. Even when you’re imperfect. Especially when you’re missing a lot of problems. Don’t let discouragement and fear make you give up. Keep working and you will pass!
How Many Hours I Studied For The PE Exam
I studied for 126 hours on the first try and failed, then over 300 hours on my second attempt and passed. On my second attempt I took School of PE’s course and it was way easier. I didn’t have to waste time making a study plan and finding resources to study, which probably took the first 5-10 hours of my study time on my first attempt.
School of PE is worth the money if you want to pass the PE exam. Check out my review of them right here to learn more about how they helped me. Or you can just go to their website and sign up for a trial to see what it’s like!
Planning Your Hours and Study Time
Most of the people in these threads mentioned they started studying around 3-4 months before test day. Any earlier than that and they’d forget some of what they’d study at the beginning. And any later and they’d end up with not enough time.
3-4 months was about right for me too. I took the test in April and October of 2019. I started studying in January for the April exam and in June for the October one. I wish I’d had more time for my attempt in April though, so to be safe you should go with four months.
A lot of the time what people will do is study in the morning, evening, or on weekends. You want to take your available free time and just plan on using it for hours of studying. It’s tough to do when you’re working full-time, but it’s well worth it to become a PE.
1-2 hours in the evening and 4-6 hours on weekends seemed to be pretty common for most people.
Say you plan to study for 3 months. If you put in 2 hours each evening and 6 hours on weekends, that comes to 264 hours of studying. That’s perfect, especially because it leaves you with some wiggle room. You’ll need that for days that you’re too tired or weekends you want to take a break and go on vacation!
While you’re studying, it’s vital that you maintain your health. Spend time with other people, exercise, and get enough sleep in the hours that you’re not studying. Don’t just sit around your house and watch YouTube. Help your brain get the recovery it needs and it will reward you with an awesome performance on test day.
No matter how many hours you put in, working hard to become a PE is worth the effort. It feels amazing, as well, to know that you took on a massive challenge like this and beat it. I know that’s how I feel after passing the PE and getting my license!
If you want to pass the PE, shoot to study for about 230 hours. Start 3-4 months before the exam and use weekends and evenings to study. And to make it all way easier, buy a course to help!