Discussion Thread

PE Licensure - Your Experience

  • 1.  PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-05-2021 09:09 AM
    Since some states have started allowing PE candidates to take the exam before their 4 years of experience are complete, I wanted to start a discussion on your PE licensure experiences. I'll share my experience below to get us started.

    Here are some questions to consider sharing from your experience:
    -When did you take the exam?
    -Do you wish you'd taken it earlier or later?
    -What kind of preparation did you do for the exam?
    -If you are licensed in multiple states, do you have any recommendations on being prepared for applying in other states?
    -If you could give any additional advice to those seeking licensure, what would it be?

    Here's my experience:
    -I graduated in 2016, and Oklahoma dropped the requirement that you had to wait until your 4 years of experience were complete.
    -I sat for the exam in April 2019 after 3 months of studying using School of PE's review course.
    -I was able to apply for my PE license a few months before my 4 years were complete because per the regulations I was able to apply for part of my internship experience to count toward my 4 years.
    -I applied for my initial PE license through the NCEES Record since Oklahoma is one of a handful of states that allows you to do so. Hopefully this will make it easier for me to get additional PE licenses in other states in the future.

    Here's my recommendations:
    -Take a look at your state's PE requirements when you are graduating from college. This will give you an idea of what your options are. Some people also choose to apply in a surrounding state if the timelines are different there.
    -When I took the PE exam, the younger EI that I was mentoring also sat for the exam and passed after being out of school for only 1 year. I would recommend taking the exam 1 to 2 years out of school if you have that option. The longer you wait, the less of the general knowledge you'll probably remember from undergrad.
    -My final advice would be to keep detailed records of what projects you work on and what portions of the projects you specifically completed. This will make it much easier to complete your PE application since you have to list detailed work experience from the time your graduated up to your application for licensure.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 2.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-05-2021 07:59 PM
    Good idea for a topic Heidi!

    -When did you take the exam?
    I took the exam in October of 2018. I took it in NJ, doing the General section in the morning and Water Resources in the afternoon.

    -Do you wish you'd taken it earlier or later?
     As far as my understanding goes, I took it about as early as was possible for me. NJ requires 4 years of work experience before sitting for the exam, 2 of which need to be focused on "design" work. (More on that at the end). Note that having a masters removes one year of your required 4 years of work experience.

    So, I took it as early as I could, and am glad due to the general knowledge that I still (sort of) remembered, that Heidi brought up above.

    -What kind of preparation did you do for the exam?

    I did about a year of prep. 6 months were just going through slides and power points, which was probably only slightly useful but helped me get my head in the game.

    The next 6 months I would do problems for a few hours after work 2-4 days a week, getting more and more frequent as I got closer to the exam.

    I studied by going through the NCEES practice tests, as well as by going through PowerPoints from the School of PE that I was able to get my hands on.

    I did the practice problems over and over until I did almost all of them done correctly and within the time limit. For every problem, I made sure I had a clear tab in my reference manual that would lead me right to it.

    For problems that I still struggled with, I wrote them out in a binder in pen, with steps so that I could use it as a reference during the test.

    Overall, I would say that the test demanded more from me than just what I learned through the NCEES practice tests. However, if you do those problems and understand them well enough that you are able to read them, and immediately understand exactly what you are looking for and how you're going to find it (I had a tab for every equation in my CERM), that will go a long way towards helping you get at least 60% of the questions correct and still have time for the rest of the questions. For the remainder of the questions, I found myself turning to my geotech knowledge that I picked up during my internship, looking through my extremely tabbed reference manual, referencing some practice problems that I wrote out, and at a few points, checking in two textbooks that I brought.

    -If you could give any additional advice to those seeking licensure, what would it be?

    If your responsibilities are not design work, and the State Board that you need to apply to requests to see design experience, try to frame the work that you do as "design support."

    Everyone is different. Study and time yourself, and practice for as long as you need to. For me, practice problems that look as close to the real thing are what I learn best from, so I used mostly the NCEES practice tests. Some people who struggle with motivation or want structure from a third party may do better taking a class like from the School of PE. Tab the absolute heck out of your Reference Manual while you are working problems.  The test is about speed, not complex design work. By the time you finish reading a question, you should know how to approach it or know where to find it in your references. In that way, it is very similar to the FE/EIT exam.

    Feel free to ask me questions if anyone wants to know more.

    Christopher Seigel P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer

  • 3.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-05-2021 10:48 PM
    Since you mentioned the practice exams, I'll add this to what I originally said:

    In addition to School of PE, I did use practice tests we had available in the office. I did a couple 4 hour practice tests (general section for one, construction section for the other). Two weeks before the exam I did a full practice exam in one weekend. I tried to emulate the testing conditions as best I could, including the amount of table space I'd have to use. I took one week off mental break from prep leading up to the exam.

    I was glad I'd done that while taking the actual exam, because I had a good system down for not wasting too much time shuffling through my tabbed references. Not all the books and binders could be on the table at once, so having a system made the correct reference easier to quickly access in my crates.

    The day of the exam, I left the morning section feeling like I'd really nailed it. It was easier than the practice tests. The afternoon, though, I left feeling like I'd been run over by a truck. It was much more difficult than the practice exams. My coworkers that took it the same day felt the same way. (We felt more physically exhausted than mentally exhausted from being tense and trying to work so quickly.) The important part was keeping my head in the game instead of getting overwhelmed.

    I think the prep course (graciously paid for by our company) and the practice exams really helped me get to a place where I could feel confident in my approach.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 4.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-06-2021 09:56 AM
    My advice is to take the exam as soon as you are eligible. In my opinion, real world experience is not necessary to pass. Also, while it's not true for everyone, life seems to get in the way the later you wait (weddings, kids, etc.).

    I fell under the old rules of needing experience before taking the exam, but the exam does not test my specialty (coastal engineering). This meant that I was 5 years out of undergrad (2 years grad school and 3 years working), which was the last time that I looked at several topics the exam tested. The School of PE course can be pricey, but it's definitely worth it in my opinion. It helped refresh my memory on topics as well as provided plenty of practice questions to get me into the "testing mindset." Maybe it's not as necessary if you've just finished undergrad.

    Unrelated to the exam, my other recommendation is to start keeping a personal resume of all your projects from day 1 of working. Someone gave me that advice when I started working and it helped immensely when completing the PE applications. It can be simple: project name, client name, dates worked, brief description of duties, etc.

    Erin Rooney P.E., M.ASCE
    Coastal Engineer
    Metairie LA

  • 5.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-06-2021 11:15 AM
    I second keeping a good list of projects. I was so glad my notebook of daily to do lists from my internship and first year working full time were still in my file cabinet. It helped immensely in filling out the information on the NCEES Record.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 6.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-06-2021 09:59 AM
    I really like this topic, as taking the PE exam is an experience you will never forget! Here is my experience with the PE exam:

    When did you take the exam?
    I took the exam in the Spring of 2016. I actually took the exam in a different state than the state that I lived in at the time, because the state that I lived in had strict requirements, that I felt were unfair to me.
    • Side Story - So I was living in Baltimore, and I was getting close to having my years of experience to take the PE exam. I submitted my application to the Board for        Professional Engineers, and they said that I didn't meet the education requirements. I thought, that is weird, as I went to Penn State and had a ABET accredited engineering degree. So I asked what specifically was the issue. The Board said that the issue was with some of my calculus classes, that at Penn State were combined into 1 class, but in Maryland they needed to be separate classes. I thought that was pretty nit-picky. At this time I was also looking to go back to school for my Masters degree in Maryland, and I figured I might have the same issue with my degree when applying to grad school. So I decided I would take the 2 calculus classes the Board wanted at a community college, and then everyone will be happy and I won't have any more issues with my degree. After taking the calculus classes, I submitted my application for grad school and was accepted. Great! I then submitted my application for the PE exam, and again was denied. I thought, "What is going on? I took the classes you wanted and I have the years of experience. What is the problem now?" After contacting the Board, they made the determination that since I recently passed the calculus classes, to have an equivalent engineering degree, that it was just like I received my degree, and that I would need to wait ANOTHER 5 years before I could take the PE exam in Maryland! Absolutely ridiculous. So instead of waiting to take the PE exam in Maryland, I took the exam in Maine, as I was already going to be on vacation there around exam time.

    Do you wish you'd taken it earlier or later?
    I wish I could have taken the PE exam when I initially intended in 2014, but my side story process took some time and with application deadlines, I missed at least 2 exams that I feel I should have been able to sit for. The only positive was, that by taking the calculus courses, and starting grad school classes during that time did get me back into school and study mode, so when I did finally start preparing for the PE exam, I had already got back into good study habits.

    What kind of preparation did you do for the exam?
    At first, I was studying with some of my coworkers who were also taking the PE exam in the Spring of 2016. But this didn't last long, as my coworkers weren't able to devote as much time as me to study, as they had kids to take care of. I then registered for a review course through the School of PE. Best decision I ever made! The best parts for me about the review course was that they paired down the information that you needed to know, provided you with their own reference material, and also gave general test taking tips to maximize your score on the exam. I highly recommend that anyone taking the PE exam take a review course. Some of these review courses can be a little pricey, but in the long run it is an investment in yourself, and you will easily make up that money with your higher earning potential of being a registered PE.

    If you are licensed in multiple states, do you have any recommendations on being prepared for applying in other states?
    I have been a registered PE in multiple states. Once you pass the PE exam and become a registered PE, it is a relatively simple process to become registered in another state. Most states will allow registered PE's from another state to become licensed in their state through a process called reciprocity. Essentially, the state you want to become registered in will look at the PE requirements for the state you are registered in and compare them to their own PE requirements. If the requirements from each state are similar, than the state will grant you a PE license in their state. Most states use NCEES Records as a way to transfer and verify PE exam information. You don't need to take the exam again, but you will need to pay all license fees in all states your are registered in. Applying for reciprocity is similar to applying for the PE exam, so it does take some time to make sure you have all of the required information together.

    If you could give any additional advice to those seeking licensure, what would it be?
    Four things:
    • Take the PE exam as soon as possible. There are a number of reasons for this. The material is fresher, you more than likely have less responsibility and distractions (house and kids), and the sooner you become a PE, the more years you have earning a likely higher income.
    • You need to be motivated and focused. Taking the PE exam is a big commitment. It will take several months of studying and hours of solving practice problems. I don't feel the PE exam is something you can "cram" for in a few days, or even weeks. 
    • Outside of the PE material itself, you need to be able to know your reference material well so you can quickly find answers during the exam. The PE exam is an exercise on your engineering knowledge, but also on time management. If it takes you more than 2 minutes to find what you are looking for in your reference material, you probably will run out of time during the exam to answer all of the questions.
    • Prepare yourself for a 8 hour exam. Many people who have taken the PE exam say how mentally and physically drained they are afterwards. That is because we don't typically spend 8 solid hours mentally straining ourselves. Take time to build up to 8 hour practice tests. Start at 2 hours, then 4 hours, then 6 hours until you feel comfortable taking 8 hour practice tests. Also know from a physical standpoint how much food and water you need to get through a 8 hour test. You do get a lunch break during the exam, so use this to your advantage. After eating lunch, know f you need some last minute practice problems, or need to listen to some music to calm down. Use the time to benefit you the most.

    Doug Cantrell P.E., M.ASCE
    Professional Engineer
    Durham NC

  • 7.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-06-2021 11:15 AM
    What a frustrating process! I'm glad you were able to take the exam elsewhere. I think sometimes people in review situations become so far removed from the reality and impact of their decisions that all they can see is the checklist.

    I like your advice on building up to the full exam length. I knew from taking tests like the ACT that I did worse on later sections than if I took that section alone because I don't do well in complete silence. I had to get myself used to that, and I took music to listen to during the break.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 8.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-06-2021 10:15 AM


    Excellent topic.  

    I graduated in 2010 with my BS and in 2012 with my MS.  I took the PE exam in Minnesota in April 2015, with 3 years experience plus my master's degree.  I was able to count some of my internship and teaching experience towards the experience requirement.  I took the general portion in the AM and the geotechnical portion in the PM.

    I took the exam as soon as allowed by the state of Minnesota, and it worked out pretty well.  I started studying 3 months before the exam.  I don't recall the specific reference book I used, but it was a PE prep manual with references and practice tests.  I used my old college textbooks (hang on to those, kids) and CERM for the studying.  I found the geotechnical portion to be relatively simple (main practice), but had to brush up on water resources and fluid mechanics. I ran through the entire manual, one topic per week to determine where I needed to focus my efforts.  I completed multiple practice problems from the reference manual.

    During the exam itself, I didn't find myself struggling for time due to my preparation.  The test problems were of similar difficulty to the practice problems, but sometimes required less steps/derivations to arrive at the answer.

    My original PE application was through the state of Minnesota, but approximately three months after the test I became a NCEES Model Law Engineer for applications to multiple states.  Over the next year, I became licensed in four additional states, and I am currently licensed in nine total.  The initial reaction of the cost to send to each state was poor, but the value was realized in the time savings of each subsequent application ($75 is cheaper than 4-6 hours of PM labor + transcript expenses).

    My recommendations for any engineering graduates - get licensed, even if it's not your main job function.  Getting the license when you are relatively young and the general material is fresh is the easiest way to achieve this professional status.  The cost to maintain a license is relatively low and is usually covered by the employer.  In addition to being able to sign project documents, the status gives you some "soft power" when discussing technical topics with clients, colleagues, and teammates.

    Joseph M. Rozmiarek, P. E., M.ASCE
    Principal Engineer
    Roseville, MN

  • 9.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-06-2021 11:16 AM
    Thanks for sharing your experiences! I'm glad my professors emphasized the importance of getting our PE licenses. I can't imagine trying to get it later in my career when the aspects I don't use in my job aren't close to fresh from school.

    Heidi C. Wallace, P.E., M.ASCE
    Tulsa, OK

  • 10.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-07-2021 09:29 AM



    Great discussion on PE Licensure and advice for fellow engineers who are yet to take the exam. I specifically wanted to mention that ASCE also offers a review course for all five depth disciplines. The course is 8-week long  is focused on exam topics; the reference materials includes handouts, practice problems, free recordings, access to instructors and discussion forum. Member can also access other free resources for PE Civil preparation in AccessEngineering, a free technical online resources for members.

    Charu Gupta Aff.M.ASCE
    Manager, PE Exam Review
    Reston VA

  • 11.  RE: PE Licensure - Your Experience

    Posted 04-09-2021 01:18 AM