I’ve been writing about the PE exam for a little over 3 years now. In this time I’ve come across thousands of people who soon will take the PE exam. In those first few mins talking to them, I can get a good grasp on whether they’ll get their license this next time or not.
There’s a lot of things that aid in people not being able to take the test, but misconception about it is one of the largest factors.
Confusion on what the exam is and what it isn’t cloud their minds and get them focused on the wrong things. The exam isn’t an ultimate test of what an engineer should know. The exam isn’t a tool to judge one’s fitness to be considered an engineer.
It’s just another engineering problem.
But we’ll come back to that.
For all of mankind, (some) people have loved to run. When many people think of the Olympics, they think of sprinters like Usain Bolt breaking speed records.
But for all of humanity in racing there was one elusive goal which no man had been able to crack.
The 4-min mile.
Everyone had tried, and come up short. Common thoughts at the time was that it was impossible and that no man would ever run a sub 4-min mile.
Then came along Roger Bannister.
In 1954 he went against common beliefs and ran a mile in 3:59.4. The world was shocked, they had been wrong… it wasn’t impossible! But that wasn’t the end of the story.
The miraculous thing came not that year, but the following year.
27 other individuals were also able to run a sub 4-min mile. Today it’s not uncommon to hear of high school students who achieve the same feat.
So what happened? Why have so many other people been able to do the once thought impossible?
Common conception changed.
Every time the Professional Engineering exam in administered, some 30,000 aspiring people sit for the exam. And nearly every time about 1/3 of them fail.
But that’s not the unusual part.
The outcomes for first time test takers has approximately 3/4 of them pass. But for second (or more) time test takers… the percent that pass falls to almost a third.
Is there a fundamental difference in those who pass and those who fail the PE Exam?
Their resources they’ve got access to are almost certainly the same. The amount of time they study is often more than those who pass. So why do they keep failing?
The problem is in their beliefs.
If you’ve failed before, then chances are that you have (or do) say some of the following things to yourself and others:
- “I’ve just never been a good test taker.”
- “It’s been too long since I’ve studied this material.”
- “I haven’t seen any of this since college.”
- “How can they expect me to learn this?!?”
I said before that the PE exam isn’t what you think it is. Many people believe that the exam is a judge of whether someone is fit to become a licensed engineer.
But it isn’t.
My day job I design fuel systems for large airports and trucking companies. Do you know how many sections of the National Electric Code, the major code tested on in the Power PE exam, which I use on a daily basis? Three.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember there being an option for a PE Exam on fuel system design.
The point is that this isn’t a test designed to judge you for being a good engineer. Because I’m a damn fine one, but I work in such a niche that I was forced to take a test in something that I don’t regularly use.
It’d be impossible for the NCEES to come up with a test for every possible engineering profession.
So if that’s not what the PE exam is, then what is it?
It’s just another engineering problem.
You have an 8 hour exam, with 80 questions, where you can bring in unlimited printed resources, and you have to get at least a 75% to pass. The exact questions are never known because it’s controlled and they change every test.
So given that, how do you pass?
Roger Banister went against traditional thought at the time and knew that he could run a sub 4-min mile. That belief was so strong in his mind, he’d seen himself cross the finish line in time so often that actually accomplishing the feat was a mere triviality.
If you too want to break your own barrier that’s preventing you from being a Professional Engineer, then you’ll have to fix your mindset.
To start, if you have failed before or recognize yourself saying the things mentioned above…
You’ve heard of the Prato principal, right? 80% of your results are garnered by 20% of your effort.
If you don’t fix your beliefs, then like the men of pre-1954, you’ll never be able to run your sub 4-min mile. But if you realize it’s possible, that others who once held your same beliefs have done it, you can too…
So start today.
Every time you hear yourself repeating some of those horrible axioms mentioned above, shift your beliefs.
Turn “I’ve just never been a good test taker” into “I’m becoming a good test taker.”
Turn “I haven’t seen this since college” into “I’ve learned all of this before, and I’ll easily learn it again.”
Your mind can either be your biggest enemy or your biggest asset.
I choose asset.