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Generic questions regarding SE exam

Generic questions regarding SE exam

Generic questions regarding SE exam

I happen to live in Georgia when for me to get a PE license I have to take and pass the 16-hour SE exam. I have just a few generic questions that I figured people on this board might be able to answer. I've looked through these boards many times for work, just never signed up to post before.

1. How many hours do people generally put in for studying? I realize everyone is different but I've been studying now for about 2-2.5 months which consists of 1.5-2 hours per night 4 days a week during the weekdays and then 4-6 hours each day on Saturday and Sunday.

2. Is the NCEES practice exam a fair representation of the actual exam? Easier? Harder?

3. Has anyone ever used the ppi2pass book "Structural Engineering Solved Problems, comprehensive practice for the SE and Civil PE exams" by C. Dale Buckner? The problems seem fairly difficult in comparison to NCEES practice problems, the ppi2pass practice exam, and questions in the SERM. I'm just curious if the problems in this book are indicative to those in the exam?

Thanks in advance to anyone who answers.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I didn't realize that Georgia is like that. I've never heard that you could not merely take the PE in Georgia.

I've been studying since just after Christmas. I am putting in about 3-4 hrs per day, 3 days a week - about 10 hours total. I've made the decision that I started too late as I don't have $1000 of confidence about being ready for April. I will reschedule the test in October instead.

I am trying to find sample worked problems in timber & masonry. (The organization of TMS 402 makes little sense to me and giving me the most trouble.) I find sufficient free, accurate, and up-to-date code problems available in other areas. I have sufficient references but not sufficient problems which I think would help the most.

I have the NCEES and PPI2Pass book that you have. I did NCEES but I'm saving the PPI to use as a practice once I know the material better. I hope someone can offer an opinion on this.

Good luck and I hope that others can provide more opinion and guidance.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I'm here in Texas, but my understanding is that a common SE exam technique is as follows:

Break the 2 day SE exam into two smaller exams.

Study for the first day's sections ONLY, and then fail the second day sections.

Hopefully you pass the first day's sections. Then, sit for exam a second time and only study for the 2nd day.

I really have had several people tell me this a viable strategy.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Background: Took and passed both portions of exam in October 2013.

1. I studied about 10 hours a week for five months. 5 months x 4 weeks/month x 10 hours/week = 200 hours. Quality of studying is just as important as the hours. Maybe had music playing but no TV, no distractions. Family interruptions kept to bare minimum. Very purposeful and focused studying.
2. I thought it was a decent representation of actual difficulty. Same goes for PPI's practice exam. SERM problems are okay too, though thought they were maybe a tad easy.
3. I recall Buckner's Solved Problems book being comically difficult and in-depth. Makes it a good study though. If you can get 70% of the problems right in Buckner's book then you'll have very little issue doing the same on the real exam.

My study process was to read the SERM sections and do the SERM sample questions. Then go to Buckner's section for the same content and try and make my way through those problems. Also would go through a seismic solved problems book. I'm a building guy so bridge studying was mainly learning enough of the basics (mainly loading) so I could maybe knock a few questions off with simple calcs or even just looking the answer up. There's always one or two bridge questions that you can answer just by pulling answer from text or table in AASHTO. Don't forget to include AASHTO's index in your references, it's very detailed. But I wanted to focus on buildings enough that I could count on getting damn near 100% right on the multiple choice. Then any bridge question I could snipe off bought me a building question I could get wrong.

Saved the practice exams for the last month and did basically one day each weekend. NCEES gravity Weekend 1, NCEES lateral Weekend 2, PPI gravity Weekend 3, PPI lateral Weekend 4. Treated each weekend exam just like the real one. Timed, with my references, same calculator as I'll use during exams, no cellphone/music/TV, no checking answers during exam. Even included the lunch break between AM and PM sections. So shouldn't get tired or fatigued during an exam day, I've already done it four times in the last month. My last day studying was the Saturday before the first exam day, made a point to not study that last week to give myself time to rest and relax without cramming.

Everybody varies but never understood taking the exam days separately. If I'm going to kill myself studying for this thing while also working 40-50 hours/week, I only want to do it once.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam


Congratulations and great input! Your philosophy sounds similar enough to mine so I'll stick with my procedure. Regrettably, I needed to make a decision to apply to NCEES by tomorrow. I feel that if I had started studying one month earlier - 5 months total studying like you - that I would have been on track.

I have most of the references that you mention. I will buy Buckner's Solved Problems - harder is good. For seismic questions, I'd like to know of a good seismic solved problems book. Looking at the Seismic Design Manual, I see it has lots of worked problems, but I fear that these are overly complex for the test and a time waster. I'm concerned that the worked problems in the books listed above may cover you only for the issues addressed in the problems. Any book recommendations?

Thanks in advance.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Weab, I'm using the SEAOC Seismic Design Manual (which is all seismic design examples) and Williams seismic & wind forces book.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

All this studying you guys are getting in is making me nervous.

I've nearly finished my overview/tabbing of the SERM. That's it so far.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Lomarandil, I'm an overstudier (I don't think that's a word) who worries, hence the reason for this thread.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Based on my somewhat limited experience, the 200 hour rule is pretty spot on. The people I know that studied for less than that took multiple tries to pass and the people that did more than that passed both sections first try.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

When I took the exam in 81, I spent 40 hours attending the 10 week review course, and probably an additional 40 hours organizing my notes and reviewing material. Nothing more.

I had the added advantage though that I was working, doing what was going to be in the exam anyway. In other words, I was already doing a portion of the exam every day.

No worries and passed it the first time. May not work for everyone else though.

I tried not to over prepare to the point of being worried and psyched out. For the week before the exam, I never even cracked open a book, except at work.

I was still stressed, but not as bad.

Mike McCann, PE, SE (WA)

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

When I took the SEII I studied for less than 8 hours total and passed on the first attempt.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I don't know how many hours I studied but I do know it was nowhere near 200 hours.

The test is difficult. It's hands down the hardest test I've taken. I take tests fast and I really had to cook to finish. I'm not trying to intimidate anyone but want people to be prepared.

The biggest tip I can give is have your code books tabbed so you can quickly get to a relevant section. You will not have time to learn during the exam. That being said, don't be scared to try. You'll probably never feel like you're 100% ready for the exam.

Before I sat for the exam I worked for an AE firm and had experience in a wide range of structure types and construction materials. That experience was an excellent foundation. I can imagine the examinees with limited experience in one or more the big four building materials will have a much tougher time.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I'm in the same boat as Lomarandil. I haven't put in much time other than tabbing refereneces and working a few problems. I'm starting with the lateral portion first and see how that goes.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I took and passed the October 2011 test. I'm not sure whether there have been any format revisions (at that time Friday was vertical loading with multiple choice in morning and long answer in afternoon, and Saturday was lateral in similar breakdown).

Here are my thoughts:

1) The NCEES practice exam is one of the best study methods, and make sure to take this booklet with you to the test as some problems might be almost exact carbon copies.
2) If you can afford to do so in your schedule, I would recommend taking the Wednesday and Thursday off work, immediately prior to the test, with Wednesday being a day to study perhaps 5 - 6 hours and Thursday just take completely off, sleep in so you feel rested, and just the final double-check that you have all your materials in order. Otherwise, take Thursday off with little work done, and then you'll head to Friday feeling refreshed.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Agree with taking time off, though I took the Thursday before to relax and the Monday after to recover.

Seismic solved problems I used was Baradar's I think.

200 hours may seem excessive for some, but I like to practice a lot harder than I play. By that point you'll have your codes tabbed but won't need the tabs, you'll just open to the section you're looking for. By that time some of your look ups to the tables will be to just confirm what you already know is the answer. By that point the exam won't seem that difficult, 16 hours of exam is a cakewalk after 200 hours of purposeful study (not to mentioned working in the field full-time). By that point, if you're a quick tester you may find that not only do you not have a time crunch but that you have plenty of time to double- and triple-check your work and maybe even leave a little early.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

mountain cabin for 10 days right before the test. just me and the wife and 12 hours a day. not sure what she did... maybe she read something or took walks.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

OP the 2012 IBC SEAOC Structral/Seismic Design Manual Volume 1 is by far the best resource I've studied from for lateral. I'm also taking the exam in April and I have went through this booklet which only took about a week, but doing that alone and I zoomed through most of the lateral questions in PPI practice exam. Trust me it's a great resource as it breaks down ASCE chapters 11, 12, 13, and 15 into simple problems you will see on the exam. Also, I agree PPI's practice problems book (not to be confused with the practice exam) is difficult and IMO you can use that study time in a more productive way by studying from different resources.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam


Good thing I have that manual and plan on starting to go through it in a week or so.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Just wondering how the studying paid off for those who took the April exam. Any fresh tips for those of us taking the October exam? Taking it in GA as well.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam


All the studying paid off as I passed both days on my first time taking the exam. My most important tip would be to make sure you first create a study schedule of some sort and stick to it, even when it gets difficult. Have an idea of when you want to start and finish studying a certain material or topic.

For instance I mapped out my study progression before I started studying. I started with basic structural analysis, then progressed thru vertical design for each different material (steel, concrete, wood, masonry), basic lateral analysis, Seismic loading, Wind Loading, steel seismic detailing (AISC 341), concrete seismic detail (ACI Ch 21), masonry seismic detailing, wood seismic wind/detailing, and lastly Bridges. I then left the last 3 weeks solely for practice exams and problems.

I put in over 300 hours over the course of 4+ months which wasn't always fun to do on top of my job and other things going on in my life. With that said, in the end it was all worth it as I don't have to take it again.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I probably ended up studying somewhere between 120-150 hours. Was able to pass both bridge segments first go round. Who knows how close I was to the pass/fail cutoff, but I came out of the test confident that I passed at least one of the two, and that I might have passed both just depending how my educated guesses fell.

(That said, I have always been a good test taker and still have decent study habits). I felt that the SE was much more of a time crunch than the PE, so good testing skills and strategies certainly helped. In fact, I was a little surprised at how many of the questions could be "gamed" by logically eliminating responses.

Strategy wise, I sorted all of the multiple choice questions at the beginning by subject -- that kept me from flipping back and forth between references, and allowed me to focus on the subjects I was strongest on.

The name is a long story -- just call me Lo.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

As a three time failure I'm not sure what advice I can give, but here it goes.

1. How many hours do people generally put in for studying?
-300 hours if one have some background experience in it. If one has experience it can reduce this time dramatically, especially for the lateral stuff.

2. Is the NCEES practice exam a fair representation of the actual exam? Easier? Harder?
-It is a previous test so it is one of the best representations of it. Also, some of the questions have a way of being reused so you might see some of hte morning multiple choice questions on your exam.

3. Has anyone ever used the ppi2pass book "Structural Engineering Solved Problems, comprehensive practice for the SE and Civil PE exams" by C. Dale Buckner? The problems seem fairly difficult in comparison to NCEES practice problems, the ppi2pass practice exam, and questions in the SERM. I'm just curious if the problems in this book are indicative to those in the exam?
-No, the "Structural Eng Solved Problems" is comically/tragically more difficult than the exam. I went through most of that book and I felt it did more damage than good because it encourages "nuking" the question.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Congratulations AtlAC on passing your exams. There are so many aspects to the study of structural engineering that it must be very difficult to know what to study. Fortunately for me, I did not have to go through that process after graduation, and I suspect I would not be able to pass a 16 hour exam at this time, even after more than fifty years of relevant experience, but I do admire the dedication shown by young engineers seeking SE registration. Good work!


RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Quote (swearingen)

Question: Has anyone ever taken the PPI2Pass classes? If so, how were they?

I teach 1/2 of the PPI course. Ask 20 engineers how they thought of the class and you'll get 20 different responses. However, this spring we had a majority favorable response to the course evaluation so I'd say most people found the course useful.

I think the biggest thing will be what do you want out of the course? Have you taken the 16 hour SE exam before? Also, bridges or buildings?

Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I'd like to speed up with the course. Tips, tricks, and tables that I may have heard of but never used. I have taken the exam and for the first time in my life, ran out of time on an exam. It was the buildings version.

-5^2 = -25 winky smile


RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Quote (swearingen)

I'd like to speed up with the course. Tips, tricks, and tables that I may have heard of but never used. I have taken the exam and for the first time in my life, ran out of time on an exam. It was the buildings version.

Hmmmm, that's a tough one. In that I mean I don't know how well I can objectively suggest something for you in that regard. I'm sure pretty much every course has tips and tricks they give. In the interest of not trying to advertise for PPI on the board I'll try to be as objective as I can, but just like Josh on here works for RISA, neither of us can be truly objective.

I suppose I'll just tell you how I feel in my opinion the PPI course would help you in that regard. First off, I regularly try to put my own personalized input on useful tables, handy reference documents, and other items of note that I found useful during my own studies and exam experience, or what others have pointed out was useful for them. We often reference useful documents as well that you may not have (SEAOC volume 1, PCA Notes on ACI 318, masonry TEK notes, etc.) and we will point out key tables and references in the texts you have that you may not normally use in practice (for example you might normally have a spreadsheet for those). The final thing I personally do is I've created a number of quick reference documents and flowcharts for various topics that I felt were common enough on the exam but had limited pre-made quick references that filled those areas. For example, I've attached a very useful flowchart I made for ELF procedure per ASCE 7-10 (disclaimer: don't sue me if it has an error and you fail the exam or use it in real design work... I'm fairly confident it's 100% correct but nobody is perfect).

All that said, the PPI course doesn't focus entirely on tips and tricks. That wouldn't make sense. People of all skills and backgrounds take the exam, both buildings and bridge engineers. Thus, we spend a lot of time on getting people familiar with common core elements of various structural materials. Overall you'll likely find much of the course is basic review. The other main component is self-study. The course can only cover so much. Self-study is always going to far outweigh the work in most review courses (EET is the one crazy exception I've heard, someone told me they put a ridiculous amount of contact hours into their course). Some people like the PPI courses approach and feel the course really helps them push themselves and stay on schedule. Others feel it's not detailed enough or that it's too basic. As I said in my previous post, ask 20 engineers who take the course...

From the above I'd make your own judgement if the PPI course sounds useful to you.

One final thing. We did a survey recently of exam takers and while I can't release the details yet (and the sample size wasn't big enough and was only from this Spring) the vertical course takers pass rate was significantly greater than the NCEES average rate. Clearly we're doing something right there.

Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

I took and passed both in the same test cycle and I kept track of my study hours. I don't recall everything but... I had it all written down and in spreadsheet form so here goes:

Total study duration: 99 days
Study days: 81
Days off: 18 days
Total hours: 206 hours

The first thing I did was compile references and create a study calendar based on what I thought I needed to study most ( I stuck to this VERY strictly. It was the only way I could stay on track).

I created the following categories and associated number of days required to study them:

Analysis (3 weeks)
Steel (2 weeks)
Concrete (2 weeks)
Foundations (0.5 weeks)
Masonry (1 week)
Wood (2 weeks)
Bridge (2 weeks)
Review (1.5 weeks)

I studied everything in order of what I already understood best (so wood and bridge were last because I understood them least and wanted them most fresh). At the end I reviewed everything for 1-2 days per material and took a day of rest before the exams.

I purchased/borrowed/downloaded all the required codes (except the AASHTO, I used one version old, it didn't matter)
The most important additional references were the SERM, PPI sample questions, NCEES sample questions, SEAOC manuals, and my own cheat sheets that I made for common design elements for each code.

I read the code references pretty thoroughly and highlighted/tabbed/annotated what I could. I studied basically the entire SERM and did every practice question in both practice books I had (FYI, both have mistakes and I noticed many. there are errata documents posted by both PPI and NCEES, find them on their respective websites).
I categorized all the practice questions in both books by the categories listed above and studied them with each new category.

By the end, I felt very confident in myself but not so much after walking out of the test. I literally used every second of the 16 hours (as did everyone else in the room). I was sure I would fail at least one day by the end of it.

During the test there is not much time, if any, to refer to examples. Some of the multiple choice questions are very long and it takes long enough to just get the code equations/values/references to solve the problem. If you don't already know how to solve it you're going to have trouble finishing. There are also a lot of questions that try to trick you with odd scenarios.

The NCEES practice exam "felt" like the real exam but lacked the "trick" element.
The PPI practice exam had longer problems than the real exam, so it felt "harder," but it also lacked the "trick" element.

I found that if I didn't immediately know how to do a problem I would skip it and focus on problems I already knew how to do. I ended up guessing on a handful each day due to time constraints but they were problems I didn't know how to do anyway and left for the end.

The written portion is easier in my opinion. There are many parts/aspects to each problem so you have a lot of wiggle room to explain yourself and "engineer" a solution whether or not you're 100% capable to solve that particular problem. I still used the full time each day during the written portion.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised when I found out I passed both. I would've been happy with passing one day but somehow it all worked out.

I'm sure I can say more on the subject but back to work...

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

GA does not require you to take the SE exam to become a licensed engineer (even if you want to focus in structural). The Civil exam is sufficient. The only (2) states that require you pass the structural engineering exam to do any structures is IL and HI. All other states allow structural design based on education, experience, and/or competence but may limit the building size or function after which you do need an SE designation. CA is an example of this. If the building is over a certain story limit or a school or hospital, then you need to be an SE.

My exam experience was:
I studied very little, but I have daily experience with different materials building structures. My job is not focused on the manufacture of a certain type of building or product. I went through PPI's example problems and I took that book with me to the exam. I took both days in a row the first time and failed both sections (I feel just by a little). The next time I took it, I only took the first day and passed it. Then 6 months later I took the second day. Again, I did very little studying before the exams because I felt my job provided the experience required. I also took sample calculations (in a binder as required) to the exam that had things like a concrete beam analysis, snow/wind/seismic force generation, soil test. I marked with tabs in the PPI book examples that weren't so familiar to me (which came in very handy). Yes, the practice problems (six minute solutions) from PPI is a good book to study and take with you to the exam.

You do not need to sign up for both days and purposely fail the second day as someone said earlier. Just schedule one exam at a time. (2) days of exam is a lot to prepare for. Cut it in half by splitting it up. It may take you an extra 6 months (or save you time if you were to fail both sections in a single first).

Juston Fluckey, SE, PE, AWS CWI
Engineering Consultant

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam


I don't want to pick a fight here or anything but do you happen to live in GA? For the past few years the state board will not accept applicants for the 8 hour Civil PE if you practice Structural Engineering (http://www.seaog.org/SE%20Rule_Rev_16-9-7.pdf). I just passed the SE in the state of GA because when I applied to sit for the exam they don't give you the choice to pick the PE or SE exam, they decide for you. While the state of GA doesn't recognize a title of SE, they do require passing the 16-hr exam to be a licensed PE if you practice structural engineering.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Just wanted to report back here. Like most had been told, for the past few years GA would not allow applicants to sit for the Civil PE with Structural Depth. I confirmed this with the secretary of state before applying a few months ago. However, when my approval letter came to sit for the exam, it explicitly stated I was approved to sit for the Civil PE with Structural Depth. When I asked the same contact in the Secretary of State's office, he quoted a new board rule that allows people to sit for the Civil Structural PE as opposed to solely the SE. He did mention I could take the 16 hour exam if that's what I prefer.

Now this is purely speculation on my part, but I'm assuming that since the proposition to introduce an SE license in Georgia died last year in the senate (and wasn't brought up again this year) they decided to change the licensing rules to allow for structural engineers to once again sit for just the PE. I imagine the reason they required structural engineers to sit for the SE license the past few years was they were assuming the legislation would have no problem passing. Again, speculation on my part.

But in any case, I was approved to sit for the Civil Engineering PE exam with Structural depth in Georgia this fall. Anybody else approved for just the Civil Structural PE this fall?

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam


So I slaved for 4 months studying for an exam that one cycle later they wouldn't force me to take? I'm only kidding but did you send in a letter or anything requesting to sit for the civil PE with Structural depth. I know some people I used to work with who are structural engineers but don't design buildings and sent in a letter saying their work is more geared toward the civil PE and the board allowed them to take the 8 hour exam.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

AtlAC I didn't send a letter, though I was considering doing so. My main focus is bridges so the SE really would have been overkill for me, but I was waiting until I got approved for it to send an appeal letter. Obviously that isn't required now. I wonder if they had been getting a lot of those kinds of appeals the past few years and if that too played a role in switching back to allowing the Civil Structural PE.

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

@AtlAC @DETStru

would you be able to share your study schedule here? I am planning on taking the exam in April 2018 and your schedule could help me start somewhere

RE: Generic questions regarding SE exam

Budding_SE: If you're taking both parts you need 6+ months and about 300-400 study hours. If you're taking one part you'll need about 4 month and 150-200 study hours. A review course can help structure things a lot for you (but isn't required if money is tight). This exam is very easy to fall behind in your studies (work overload, life events, etc.) so be realistic with yourself how much time you can devote to studying.

Professional Engineer (ME, NH, MA) Structural Engineer (IL)
American Concrete Industries

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