California PE Exam
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Five Tests to be a Professional Engineer in California
- Take-home ethics and state law exam.
- Morning breadth exam- comprehensive exam of all engineering subjects.
- Afternoon depth exam- specific, in-depth exam on one of five main engineering subjects.
- California state-specific Seismic Principles Exam.
- California state-specific Civil Engineering Surveying Exam.
Collectively, the morning breadth and afternoon exams are officially called the "Principles and Practice" exam or "the PE exam" in all states and territories. The California state engineering exams are called "the seismic exam" and "civil surveying" or just "surveying exam" by examinees in the Sunshine State. The take-home is called "the ethics exam."
Which Depth Exam Will You Take?
There are 5 options:
California Professional Engineer Exam
Here is a more detailed explanation of the five exams.
The take home exam is exactly as it sounds. Download the exam from the bpelsg state site. Use links provided to find and read the state law governing engineers, ethics, and law you need to know. Read through and answer the questions. It's not as easy as it looks. You need to know this information while you practice professionally, so read it well. Most people mail this in with their application to sit for the exam. However, it is permitted to mail this in even after you have passed the other four exams.
NCEES Morning Breadth Exam: This exam is 40 questions in 4 hours. That works out to 6 minutes per question. This exam covers all the main subject areas, from math to geotechnical to thermodynamics.
NCEES Afternoon Depth Exam: Following a one-hour break, the afternoon session is also 4 hours for 40 questions, 6 minutes for each question. However, when you register, you must choose one of the five depth subjects:
- Water Resources & Environmental
Seismic Principles Practice Exams
Seismic Principles Practice Exams, 4th Edition
California Special Exams
California Civil Seismic Principles Exam: This exam has the lowest passing rate. Engineers not working in a structural capacity really need to study to pass this one. Be sure to read chapters 12 & 13 of the ASCE7. I highly recommend you purchase a book of solved problems. Be sure not to overlook this exam. It is 55 questions (increased from 50 since the October, 2012 examination.) You'll have 2 hours 30 minutes. This is 2.73 minutes per question.
Seismic Principles Exam Topic Breakdown:
- Seismic Forces (35%, 17 or 18 questions)
- Seismic Analysis Procedures (30%, about 15 questions)
- Seismic Characteristics of Engineered Systems (17%, 8 or 9 questions)
- Seismic Detailing and Construction Quality Control (10%, about 5 questions)
- Seismic Data and Design Criteria (8%, about 4 questions)
California Civil Surveying Engineering Exam: Not to be confused with the Licensed Surveyor exam, this has the same time and question parameters as the seismic principles exam: 2.5 hours and 55 questions.
If you have done a lot of surveying, and drafted the results in Terramodel, CAD, or similar software, expect to do well on this exam. My only prep for this one was 5 years of surveying and U/G storm water system design, a year of surveying for roads and sidewalks, and a one-day review of a surveying textbook (my only reference for the exam- I got it from the library.)
This exam seemed the most realistic to me. The problems were very much like issues encountered in the field during my work experience. Nevertheless, though most people fear the civil seismic exam more, it is the civil surveying exam more people fail to pass.
Best Book for the California Surveying Exam?
California Engineering Survey Exam: Not to be confused with the Licensed Surveyor exam, this has the same time and question parameters as the seismic principles exam: 2.5 hours and 55 questions.
If you have done a lot of surveying, and drafted the results, expect to do well on this exam. My only prep for this one was 5 years of surveying and U/G storm water system design, a year of surveying for roads and sidewalks, and a one-day review of a surveying textbook (my only reference for the exam- I got it from the library.)
This exam seemed the most realistic to me. The problems were very much like issues encountered in the field during my work experience. However, only 45% of those who take this exam for the first time pass. So, don't take this one lightly.
Also look at other options for the best book for the California Civil Engineering Surveying Exam.
Most Difficult Part of the California PE Exam
Most people worry about the afternoon depth exam. They should, it is difficult. However, that is not the exam most people fail. Each year, California examinees pass at a rate about 2% below that of the national average. The national average is typically about 64%. In California, it is 62%.
The lower rate is because California examinees have 2 additional exams for which to prepare. There are the Civil Surveying and Civil Seismic state-specific exams. Both of these exams have pass rates under 50%. Of the two, more people fail the surveying portion.
When polled, most say they are concerned about the seismic exam. However, it is the surveying exam that fails more examinees.
NCEES Structural Depth Exam
Most FEs in California work on smaller structures. Two-story homes, quadplexes, and commercial steel buildings are common. However, the Civil: Structural exam is not limited to these types.
So, even if you have been in practice for several years, proper study requires taking sample tests and working some PE exam practice problems. These will address larger buildings and force transfer in their design.
I highly recommend the Structural PE book from PPI. Sample PE exam questions, PE practice exams, and individual books for concrete, timber, and steel are all included. The best price is usually found on Amazon.
Structural Depth Reference Manual for the Civil PE Exam
The next thing you need is the single offering from NCEES. They sell a sample test, with solutions. It includes 40 morning breadth questions and 40 afternoon Structural Depth questions.
Update: Both the above, and many more titles specific to the Structural module are located on a page containing the current and top-rated structural depth module review materials. In the "Further Reading" block below, click over to "Professional Engineering Exam Study Materials."
Remember, the study materials you purchase today are tax write-offs. The cost is too small to itemize, so include them under "office supplies". You will keep your books and use them later for reference. (That advice comes from a tax professional I asked.)
California PE Exam Tip: Use a Box
Locations for the California Professional Engineer Exam
There are five locations where the PE exam is administered in California. These changed recently:
- Del Mar
You are allowed to request your exam location. However, the State Board of Professional Engineers reserves the right to assign you according to their needs.
You will receive a confirmation from California for your PE exam date and location a few weeks before the exam.
Side note: If you take your exam in Pleasanton, after the exam, grab a buddy or two and head to old city for dinner. Look for a Mexican restaurant built into an old 2-story home with a yard of tables of over-the-top Mexican decorations. The food is fantastica!
California PE Exam Locations
One location for the California Professional Engineering Exam.