I really wish it had been a Physical Education exam…

Update: What really matters is… I passed! But, you might still find my thoughts on the test useful.

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Well…after winding down somewhat from yesterday’s PE exam (in order to get licensed as a Professional Engineer in Florida), I’m still not sure how I feel about it.  To anyone thinking of taking it, my advice is…do more problems!  I don’t care how many you’ve done, it’s crunch time in the test when you only have about 6 minutes per problem. So, just to let it all out here (because my poor family is tired of hearing me whine…): After a couple months of studying and becoming a pseudo-hermit, I dragged myself out of bed at 5 and managed to report to the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando at 7 am.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that place is ENORMOUS, and we really had to walk at least half a mile to get to the exam room (and I was foolishly lugging my books without a rolling device to assist.  I think I strained a bicep.) The test started promptly at 8 am, and the morning session was not that awful.  For those taking the Mechanical Engineering exam, the “breadth” test in the morning covers “the basics,” most of which you will recall and probably not have too much difficulty with as long as you have refreshed your memory.  After a slight interruption by a fire alarm, I finished and felt somewhat OK about that portion. For the afternoon session I had chosen Thermal Fluids.  During my review process I REALLY wished I had selected HVAC, because Thermal Fluids covered a lot of applications which were only touched on briefly during school.  Hydraulic horsepower, water hardness, combustion…  studying for these areas was somewhat “new material” for me.  I realized that the classes I was best at in school were Thermo and Heat Transfer – and not so much Fluids.  Although I had most of the fundamentals stored somewhere in my brain, I found it challenging to apply them quickly in the limited time of the exam.  By the end of the afternoon session, I was out of time with quite a few questions unanswered and on the verge of tears.  Yep.  Fingers crossed that a few of those “C’s” I bubbled in were correct… After decompressing, I would say the test is by no means impossible, and the problems themselves would not be exceeding difficult… if you had 15-20 minutes for each one.  What is challenging is being able to immediately know what the problem is asking and either recall or know where to find the formula in your reference material (and then solve it with proper unit conversions and no table- or graph-reading errors in 6 minutes).  I covered nearly all of the material in the Mechanical Engineering Reference Manual and was familiar with that, but did not spend enough time doing problems.  My takeaway advice for those doing the ME PE…

  • For the morning session, if you have to allocate your time resources, don’t spend an inordinate amount of time cover the Machine Design material.  Although this area is about a third of the morning session, it is only 1/6 of the test overall (assuming you are taking HVAC or Thermal Fluids concentration area).  I found the problems to be mostly pretty simple and the time I spent reviewing that area of MERM was almost not necessary.  Maybe I lucked out with some simple tangential velocity problems and weld symbols, but I think if you have basic physics knowledge and good problem solving abilities, you could almost get through those questions with little preparation.  Obviously if you are doing this as your depth exam, disregard this advice.
  • Spend waaaaaaaay more time doing problems in your focus area!  I know this sounds obvious, but I did not do it and really wish I had.  All the questions on the exam count the same, so if you are well-versed in your focus area you should have a good shot at two thirds of the problems.
  • Follow general test-taking strategies – skip the problems that are going to take you too long and try to get the “easier” ones correct.  Again, obvious but I got caught up in a mindset of, “Oh, I KNOW how to do this one,” and then spent far too much time on some of the problems at the beginning of the second session.

All said and done, the PE seems “doable”, but you have to put in the time.  If you have been out of school a while, and particularly if your job doesn’t actually involve doing any work in the subject area of your test (as mine did not), then you really, really, really need to study and do a LOT of problems. Unless you happen to be a genius.  Which I am not. Well, I will be waiting and wondering if I passed for the next several weeks.  I honestly do not know what to expect when I get my results… but am trying to be optimistic so as not to torture myself over the mistakes I already know I made during the exam.  Everyone told me the PE Exam is NOT something you want to take twice, and I very much hope I don’t have to validate that statement. Thanks to everyone who gave me advice on the exam and/or put up with me during this process!  Let’s all keep our fingers crossed that I don’t have to do it again…

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