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Best Surveying Book for the California PE Exam

Updated on February 7, 2016

PE Study Materials

All the best PE Exam Materials in one location!
All the best PE Exam Materials in one location! | Source

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Search the biggest online book sellers. This is what you will learn: there are few books worth considering to assist in preparing for the Civil Surveying exam of the California state-specific exams.

After reviewing all the available material, and disqualifying the out-of-date titles, I put together a list of titles available on Amazon. The photo to the right of this text links to that resource. The text beneath the photo is the link.

Note: I updated the offerings of the available surveying review books (February 7, 2016.) The general trend was that all the authors improved their works. Good news for you!

Which part of the California PE Exam do you think will be most challenging?

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User Reviews

One way to know a book's value is to look at the average user review ratings. Even better, read the reviews. Read the highest rated 5-star review, then read through the 1's.

Negative reviews reveal two things. First, a lot of fiery, scorching reviews are written by people who are just too stupid to spell, employ correct grammar, or otherwise qualify themselves as people who might possibly put a good book to good use.

Second, a negative review can reveal severe problems such as "My study partners and I were frustrated to realize many of the problems have incorrect answers."

Expert Tip:

Super tip: With the benefit of one of the oldest PE exam blogs on the Internet, and several articles, I can share some wisdom with you. The #1 PE exam subject searched for in the weeks following an April or October PE exam is:

California Civil Surveying Exam

It is representative, too. The surveying special exam tops the list of re-exams. In polls on my blog and in articles, examinees say they have the most concern over the seismic portion of the exam. That is wise. Immediately behind the surveying exam (by just 1%) is the seismic special exam, when it comes to failing.

However, here is my opinion on this: Examinees rightly view the seismic portion with respect. But, they underestimate the surveying exam. And, my experience is this: I agree the California Civil Seismic exam is the more difficult test. The surveying exam is easier. In fact, if you get the basics down, you can pass the surveying test.

So, be sure to purchase a quality surveying book immediately. And, review it well. It will be worth the time and money investment.

If each of these men weighs 160 lb., what is the deflection of this 20' long W18x35 beam?
If each of these men weighs 160 lb., what is the deflection of this 20' long W18x35 beam?

The Five Subject Areas of the California Civil Surveying Exam

The California state-specific exam has just five subject areas to study. The first, Standards of Practice, requires you to read two documents.

I. Standards of Practice (6%)
II. Equipment and Uses (8%)
III. Field Measurements (28%)
IV. Calculations (33%)
V. Data Application Procedures (25%)

The majority of the remaining material, after some light reading, are the remaining three subject areas: Field measurements, Calculations, and Data Application Procedures. These comprise 86% of the total.


120 Solved Surveying Problems

I originally left this title off my list. It is 11 years old, and the ratings were too low. However, a recent review gave it 4 stars, bringing it back into consideration. The reviewer wrote, "I did every problem in this book twice a week before the test, I passed the exam." Another reviewer gave it 3 stars, elevating the average to 2.8 stars. Of further note, those in the past who rated the book low cited the price:content value in a low rating. So, if you find a good price (3rd party sellers on Amazon), add it to your cart.

However, questions cycle in and out. So, recent reviews are more representative than older reviews.

Both reviewers cautioned: this is a decent book. But, it does not stand alone sufficient to prepare you for the exam. You will need another study book.

Fundamentals of Surveying

This is actually written for those preparing for the fundamentals of surveying (FS) exam. It has two 4-hour exams inside, to practice under test conditions, and to identify weak areas.

Reviewers on Amazon said the book was good, useful, and prepared them for the FS exam. But, they also thought the cost was too high for an 80-page book.

One writer recommends 1001 Solved Surveying Fundamentals Problems, by Jan Van Sickle as a superior value. (See below.)

This may very well be the best book for the California Civil Surveying exam. However, look at the 5 topics included in the civil exam (shown above), and don't waste time on material that does not apply to you.

Civil Surveying Sample Exams

This book is an interesting option. Reviewers rate this book at just 2.8 out of 5 stars. However, it remains one of the top-rated surveying exam review books. And, you need to practice taking exams. So, you need the sample exams offered here.

Still, this makes it the top-rated book for the special California Civil Surveying Exam.

The cost on Amazon varies- third party affiliate sellers can post and sell new or used books for whatever price they choose. I've seen this title go for as low as $40 (and free shipping.) If you see it less than that on Amazon- it's a steal, don't pass it up. So, be sure to look on Amazon.

If you see a title you like, but want to keep shopping, add the title to your shopping cart. You can always delete it later. (Change the quantity to zero and updated the cart.)

Surveyor Reference Manual

On Amazon, this book has a 4.9 average- brought down by just one 4-star review. Several reviewers gave this book the highest rating of 5 stars. Those who rated it highly posted words and phrases like "indispensable" and "a book to behold."

For the previous version, there were also many great reviews, but one person flamed the book. The hater cited, in all caps, that the book does not have enough definitions or explanations. Another person commented that this book is better as a mathematical reference of equations than as a reference for professional exams like the FS, FE, or PS and PE exams.

The manufacturer's description makes it clear this Surveyor Reference Manual is only for surveying exams. See the reviews. One person posted photos showing the contents and said that there are "many geometric illustrations" and the solved problems are excellently explained.

1001 Solved Surveying Fundamentals Problems
1001 Solved Surveying Fundamentals Problems

The absolute highest-rated surveying test problem book available. 500 pages.


1001 Solved Surveying Fundamentals Problems

This is the best rated surveying review book on the Internet. It averages a 4.8 review. One of those who gave it a 4, did so because his copy had writing in it. The other 4-point rating gave a slightly more legitimate reason for the 1 point deduction- "there is no index or listing of the types of problems in the book."

I guess that reviewer overlooked the Table of Contents.

A used copy goes for $100. But, don't balk at the cost. Remember- you can resell yours at market prices as well. Your real cost will be shipping. Consider it a rental with option to buy.

Surveying Principles

This one has an average 2.8 of 5 stars on Amazon ratings. However, this is a second edition. The first six reviews were for the 1st edition, and averaged just 2.17 stars. Apparently, some improvements were made, and the average rating for the 18 reviews posted about the 2nd edition average 3.06- a respectable rating. It's still not perfect. Six people gave it a 1 to bring the average down. But, another six gave it a full 5-star rating.

So, the 2nd edition is really a 3.06 star book.

At 176 pages, it has a little more substance than some of the other options. Just looking at recent reviews from 2012 and 2013, three people gave Coumo's Surveying Principles one star. Ouch.

But, one gave it 5. And, this particular review is the most informative. He bought several books, and says this one is the best. Be sure to read this part of his review: is almost entirely plan views, topo maps, construction plans, grading, and a whole lot of foresight, backsight questions.

Make absolutely sure that you have a calculator that can convert to and from degree-minute-second format very easily (I recommend the Casio FX-115).

Bring a ruler or scale because there is always one question that requires you use it. Know how to use it.

Be really good at vertical and horizontal curve layouts.

Well, that is a great bit to know.

Highly Recommended by Reviewers

Read through all the reviews for all the available options, and you will find something surprising:

The best options seem to be products prepared by Shahin A. Monsour, a Civil Engineering professor and 23-year veteran PE review instructor.

He has options for both the Surveying Exam and the Civil Seismic exam.

These products were formerly available only through former students. They were rare. If one was available, and you wanted it, you had to buy it immediately. Now, it appears Mr. Monsour has an account on Amazon and is selling them.

Do you Survey?

If you are currently working as an engineer, does your work include any survey work? Examples: field surveying, road design, storm water design, etc.

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