The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of my book Engineer Your Own Success: 7 Key Elements to Creating an Extraordinary Engineering Career.
You are allowed to bring as many books to the P.E. exam as you wish, which is why on the day of the exam people will literally show up with wagons full of books. While I understand it can be tempting to have every possible piece of information with you, you must be careful of placing too much emphasis on your reference materials. The most important aspect of passing this exam is budgeting your time. You have to answer 40 questions in each of the two 4-hour sessions so you will need to be judicious with your time.
My point is that the more books you plan to use, the more time it will take you to browse through them searching for the answer. This takes away from the examination time resulting in answering fewer questions. My recommendation is to purchase an engineering reference manual for your discipline and do all of your studying using this guide. Michael Lindeburg is the author of many good engineering reference manuals. Taking this approach allows you to really get to know one complete manual, which you most likely will be able to use to answer 75% or more of the exam questions.
You can still bring all of your other books and have them there just in case you need them. However, the reference manual approach should save you a lot of time and also take away that feeling of constantly being rushed and not knowing where to find pertinent information.
Be sure to flag all of the pertinent sections of your reference manuals with tabs. For example, if there are certain charts or graphs that you will have to use throughout the exam, place a tab on those pages and label the tab “XYZ chart.” This will save you a tremendous amount of time. If you do not flag the appropriate sections of your books, you may find yourself wasting time flipping through pages instead of solving problems!
Of course you will need a calculator for the exam, however, the NCEES only permits you to use certain types, so be sure to check their website for the list of approved ones.
Also, make sure that you bring a dictionary to the exam. That’s right – a good old-fashioned dictionary. Someone who I asked about the exam told me to do this and I answered two questions correctly because of their advice. Many times an exam question will simply ask for the definition of a word. All you have to do is look it up in the dictionary!
So, when collecting your books for the exam, bring what you feel is necessary to succeed, but keep your pile of reference books to a minimum.
The rest of Chapter 2 will discuss the importance of obtaining certain credentials in your career as well as providing strategies to help obtain them.
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
The Engineering Career Coach
Author of Engineer Your Own Success