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NCEES Construction Depth Exam

Updated on February 11, 2018

Five Afternoon Depth Module Options for the Civil Exam

The exam is 120 questions in 4 hours for the morning breadth exam. One hour is allotted for lunch. Then, the afternoon depth exam is 60 questions in another 4 hours.

The morning exam is the same for everyone. For the afternoon 60, each examinee must select one of the five afternoon module options:

  1. Environmental and Water Resources
  2. Transportation
  3. Geotechnical
  4. Construction
  5. Structural

The Construction PE Depth Exam is one of these five afternoon modules. The other four are: Structural, Environmental and Water Resources, Geotechnical, and Transportation.

Must-Have for Civil Construction Exam

PE Civil: Construction Sample Questions and Solutions
PE Civil: Construction Sample Questions and Solutions

The sample questions and solutions books from NCEES are the closest approximation of the type and intensity of problems you will find in the afternoon depth Construction module.


Construction Depth Exam

The construction module is typically chosen by those who have academic training, work experience, or career goals which align with the content of the construction depth exam.

Bachelor's degrees that make a good match for the construction depth exam are degrees like:

  • Construction Engineering
  • Construction Management
  • Civil Engineering

Work experience indicating an advantage in the construction depth exam is anything related to the subjects covered. The afternoon subjects for the construction exam are:

  • Earthwork Construction and Layout
  • Estimating Quantities and Costs
  • Construction Operations and Methods
  • Scheduling
  • Material Quality Control and Production
  • Temporary Structures
  • Worker Health, Safety, and Environment
  • Other Topics

Careers for individuals with Construction Management, Construction, Civil Engineering, or similar degrees include the following:

  • Project Management
  • Construction Management
  • Engineering (esp. design build)
  • Civic agencies

Civil PE Construction Module, 4th Edition, (Fifth Edition Also Available)
Civil PE Construction Module, 4th Edition, (Fifth Edition Also Available)

If you purchase this book, be sure to purchase the 4th edition. Earlier editions received negative reviews.


Construction Book to Avoid

Construction Depth Reference Manual for the Civil PE Exam
Construction Depth Reference Manual for the Civil PE Exam

PPI's reference manuals are typically a go-to for any NCEES exam. But, not this time. The reviews on this one are abysmal. One reviewer says, "You can get the same material (only accurate) out of Lindeburg's 12 CERM edition." (Of course, the current edition is 14th for the CERM.)


Toughest Part of Civil Construction PE Exam?

Which subject from the PM exam do you expect to be the most difficult?

See results

Civil Engineering Reference Manual for the PE Exam

The best book for the Civil Construction exam is very likely the Civil Engineering Reference Manual. Michael R. Lindeburg authors this book. His works are typically reviewed much higher than the average review.

The one topic not included in the CERM is surveying. This subject is also one that tends to cost examinees points.

However, many construction topics like activity-on-node diagrams are included in the Civil Engineering Reference Manual. Many things are covered in the CERM's massive volume that are not covered in other titles.

Common Mistakes on the Civil FE Exam

Officially, NCEES does not release FE Exam results. However, they have begun selling analytic data to universities and colleges. These campuses require engineering students to take the FE before graduation. Part of the marketing is an example report.

The topics in which Construction majors in their junior year performed worst are these:

  • Soil Mechanics and Foundations
  • Structural Analysis

This data comes from the FE Civil afternoon portion. You can use this knowledge to help you understand where you need to invest a little more time. For a more thorough breakdown, see the chart below.

Applicability for the PE Exam

Extrapolating this to apply to PE examinees with Construction degrees assumes the same reasons for this reduced performance continue to exist. These reasons may include: subject is too broad to cover adequately; review books under-emphasize these topics; academic courses under represent these aspects of engineering; and/or the courses covering these topics typically are taken in the senior year, after the FE exam is taken by engineering juniors.

Whatever the cause, the broader class of all students in Civil Engineering programs also performed worst in:

  • Soil Mechanics and Foundations
  • Structural Analysis

These are the same deficient areas as for the Construction majors. So, in your own study, be sure to give some extra attention to these two topics.

Where are these subjects in the afternoon portion of the Civil Construction exam?

Soil and foundation design concepts are involved in more than one subject area of the afternoon depth exam. The Geotechnical portion obviously necessitates you knowing these concepts and principles. Under material quality, there is soil testing. Withing the Other Topics category, there are deep foundations and earth retaining structures to be designed. So, be sure to invest time reviewing Soil Mechanics and Foundations.

Structural analysis is also on the Civil Construction PE exam. You will find analysis of structures in Construction- Temporary Structures- Construction Loads. The entire structural portion of the morning breadth exam will have aspects of structural analysis, too.

While it is most likely these subjects will be your weak areas, you must test yourself first to know for sure which topics are your strengths and which are your weaknesses. Be sure to buy and take a sample exam as soon as possible in your study period.

National Average Performance on the Civil FE Exam by Construction Majors

# Questions
Nat'l Avg Correct
Points Lost
Soil Mechanics and Foundations
Structural Analysis
Hydraulics and Hydrologic Systems
Environmental Engineering
Structural Design
Construction Management
This table shows the topics where the most points are lost by Construction majors on the FE Exam. The two toughest subjects are Soil Mechanics and Foundations and Structural Analysis. The best performance subject is Construction Management.

Takeaway of the FE Results for the Civil Construction PE Exam

Notice that examinees actually performed worse (53%) on surveying questions than they did on Soil Mechanics and Foundations (58%). However, because there are fewer questions related to the latter topic, the point value effect on your score is less.

The chart lists subjects in order of points lost. The greatest loss is at the top.

Space & Material Management: Exam Hack

This trick will save you more than you think. Use a box to carry in your books. Then, lay it on its side to make a shelf. All your books are visible. Easily find and replace books. Practice like this. You will agree- it saves, time and frustration.
This trick will save you more than you think. Use a box to carry in your books. Then, lay it on its side to make a shelf. All your books are visible. Easily find and replace books. Practice like this. You will agree- it saves, time and frustration. | Source

Design of a Concrete Beam (PE Breadth Sample Question)

Free Video for the PE Exam

You Tube hosts millions of free videos about everything. I want to caution you if you use You Tube as part of your review. I watched a video on timber design. The author of the video (yes, a P.E.) made three mistakes.

The video here, a concrete beam bending moment capacity example problem, looks correct to me. There is one important thing to note. In using the area of the steel, he uses 0.31 inches squared. When I calculate #5 bars, I always use .3070 inches squared. Most of the calculations I see use four places for these areas. With manufacturing tolerance, that may not make sense. But, I just want to point out the 1% increase in area. This is going to make his answer slightly different than the one I would derive.

And, here is the point I want to share: The 4 answers you will see on the exam will not be very close answers. They will differ by enough to allow for the idiosyncrasies of individual engineers.

Tips and Resources to help pass the PE exam.
Tips and Resources to help pass the PE exam. | Source


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