Tips And Strategies

Exam Prep Strategies

As is the case with any test, when it comes to passing, how you study may be just as great a factor as how much you know.  Here are some tips that may help with passing the Power PE Exam:

While the PE Exam is definitely a knowledge based test, it is also very much a time test.

The exam consists of forty questions in the 4 hr morning exam and forty questions in the 4 hr afternoon exam.   This equates to an average time allowed of 6 minutes per question.  

Four major components play a major factor in how well you perform in this fleeting moment of time.

1. Your knowledge of the subject material

2. Your use of references

3. Your familiarity with solving problems in the required time frame

4. Your mental outlook

Your knowledge of the subject material

It goes without saying that the better your knowledge of the subject material, the more it will help you pass the exam.  You'll probably get tired of hearing this, but definitely begin preparing for the exam as early as possible.  Utilize the syllabus provided by the NCEES on it's website to narrow the topics down.  Develop a structured plan of study. COMMIT to it! Adjust to hit the areas you need help with the most.

Your use of references

While knowledge is a great tool to have.  You are here to pass a test. Keep in mind, that on an exam such as the PE Exam, there is a lot of material that is covered, and questions can come a wide array of areas.  There are few people who can hold and access information from so many areas.  Lucky for examinees, the governing bodies realize that most engineer's work in offices with references.  To their credit they extend this concept to the PE Exam. You are allowed to bring in bound references.  

The ability to find the information you need in an efficient manner at the moment you need it may be the most critical factor in taking the exam.  As mentioned earlier, this is a time test.  Knowing the correct answer tomorrow won't do you any good on the test. You need the answer soon!  For this reason, it is important to be focused and prepared.....So:

Build a library of references you feel comfortable with.  Books such as Wildi's Machines, Grainger & Stevenson's Power System Analysis and the classic Art & Science of Relay (free) provide great in-depth technical knowledge.  The Electrical Engineer's Guide to Passing The Power PE Exam puts together concepts found in these books along with many that are not, in an organized fashion that is aligned with the NCEES Power PE syllabus.  A good power electronics reference and the Current NEC Code book are also valuable.

Practice solving questions using your references.  You will develop a core of references you rely on for detailed info.  You need to know your references!  Put tabs on   frequently used book sections to save time during the exam.  You don't want to spend all your time on test day looking for things.  You want to be efficient.

Start your own notebook - One thing I advise all examinees to do is to build your own notebook. While loose papers are not allowed on the exam, three ring binders are allowed.  This allows you to use your own notes written in a manner you understand.  Many states also allow solved problems in your notebooks.

Your familiarity with solving problems in the required time frame

Once you feel familiar with your references, practice solving questions using your references with a goal of answering within an average of six minutes.  Practice exams are great for this. The goal here is to simulate test speed.  One method is to find about ten to twenty solved problems in a certain area of study.  Using your references, solve the problems in the most efficient manner you can using a stopwatch or clock.  Shoot for an average of 6 minutes per question.

Your mental outlook - challenge or burden

Your mental outlook can play a role in success or failure.  The facts are there. 8 hours of high-level questions at a quick pace in a stressful situation, many times in dismal surroundings.  Turn this around mentally.  Try to see this in a positive or challenging manner.  In my own experience I took the exam in the basement of the Tallahassee Civic Center, which is a really bland and ugly place.  On top of that, I had a concrete wall in front of me the entire time.  Instead of looking at this as a miserable burden, I looked at it as a challenge.  It sounds silly now, but I imagined myself in the TV show "Alias" in a sort of torture chamber, and my attitude was bring it on.  I actually enjoyed the situation as much as I imagine any human could.  This may sound like a minor factor, but try to look at exam day as a challenge that you can't wait to measure yourself with.  If you prepped as mentioned above, you should be used to using your references and solving problems efficiently.  You belong there.  If this isn't your first time at the dance, remember, a lot of very smart people take multiple attempts to pass the exam.  Don't feel bad. Feel determined, don't give up and focus on your preparation.

For all of you you have made it this far and are making the commitment to pass this exam.....I salute you.  You've already accomplished something just by being here. Now let's finish the job.  I wish you the best of luck in your journey to pass the Power PE Exam!

Exam Day Tips

Before exam day:

  • Spend an hour here and there trying to time yourself while working exam type problems. Use the same references you expect to use during the exam. Have a goal of a six-minute per question average. This will help you prepare for the pace of the exam.

On exam day:

  • Bring a digital timer (check your board’s rules for this, they tend to change).
  • Bring extra batteries or an extra calculator. Know that if you use the Casio fx-115 type, you will need a small screwdriver to change out the battery.
  • Try to avoid a late night before the exam.
  • Earplugs if you’re easily distracted.
  • Be ready for a battle. If the first couple of questions are difficult, skip them and move on. They do this to psyche you out.
  • Make sure you go back and answer ALL the questions, all are counted so you could get lucky with a good guess.
  • Bring drinks and a light lunch that won’t make you tired for the afternoon exam.
  • At lunchtime many people talk about the exam in a negative way. Don’t let this talk allow you to lose motivation for the afternoon exam. It’s a tough test and you won’t really know how you did for a while. Focus on being at the top of your game for the afternoon.

Best of Luck on the exam!

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