Deciphering What to Study for the PE Exam

The reference books won’t help you decide what to study, it would be great if they had little Breadth or Depth indicators in the section headers… but they don’t. So it is upon you to decipher what to study.

Several times now, I have realized far too late that the topic I am studying in the CERM or AIO is not relevant to what I need. In most cases this is due to me stumbling into a section of a chapter that is for the depth test on the topic instead of the breadth.

Just today I was studying the Hydraulic Machines chapter of the CERM (Chapter 18). This section covers pumps and other hydraulic machines and things like efficiency, speeds, horsepower, changes in energy head etc. All of those things will be in the breadth section so it is good I studied them. However after covering speed, the chapter jumps straight into cavitation and suction which only appear on the hydraulic depth section. I will admit those things are interesting but I probably should been studying something that will be relevant to me.

The easiest way to stay on course is to constantly refer to the exam specifications on what to study:

Civil: Construction (design standards updated January 2012)
Civil: Geotechnical 
Civil: Structural (design standards updated January 2012)
Civil: Transportation
Civil: Water Resources and Environmental

I have also included links to these on the Breadth homepage.

Each exam spec sheet is split into a breadth and depth section (the breadth is the same for every test).

Print out the sheet for your depth. Print it out and keep it in your book, I use mine as a bookmark. I still haven’t figured out which breadth option to take (structural, geotechnical, or construction) so I printed out one copy of the breadth and then every depth option and stapled them all together so that I could compare and contrast my depth options.

Of course even this didn’t save me this evening from over-studying. I suggest picking a topic from the list before starting out and then stop at that topic and re-check the list. Maybe even check topics off the list as you as you feel comfortable with them.

About Conrad

I am a Civil Engineer. I work in San Diego and am preparing to take the PE Exam. I am interested in surfing, business, travelling, and spending time with my wife. Thanks!

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