5 Reasons Why You Might Not Pass the Civil PE Exam

Reasons You Might Not Pass the Exam

Do you dream of being a professional engineer’s license holder someday? Then you are one of many civil engineers in the US or looking to get a license in the US. Becoming a professional engineer is an achievement that marks the peak success of an engineer. And since the status is so high, the road that leads to it is understandably tough.

No matter how talented and capable you are, you cannot earn the PE license without relevant civil PE exam prep. You could feel completely satisfied with your preparation and still not clear the test. Do you know why this happens even after you give it all during your studies and practice?

In case you don’t, we can help. The differences between each student failing this exam can be vast. Some might not have referred to all the rules and PE exam prep study guides provided by the NCEES – including following their specifications. Another reason could be that the individual doesn’t do well with timed tests, and time management is a concern.

However, there is a pattern of mistakes that many candidates frequently make as they start this journey. Here we are going to discuss these mistakes one by one. If you are making any of these, the chances are that’s why you might not be able to clear the PE exam.

Here are the top reasons below:

1. Wasting Time on Difficult Questions

Time is your biggest asset and worst enemy in the exam hall. And you do not have the luxury to waste even a single minute. Therefore, while taking the exam, do not spend too much time on a difficult question. If there is any doubt in your mind regarding answering a question correctly, skip it and come back to it later.

Each second you waste trying to solve a problem you are not confident about could prove costly as the exam goes on. Since you get 8 hours to do 80 questions, it helps to crush the ones you are confident in solving first. This way, when you start brainstorming the tough questions, you would already have other answers completed as a safety net. Poor time management is more often than not the reason behind a good candidate being unable to clear this test.

Guessing on many questions at the end of the exam is a waste and usually a recipe for disaster. By answering the easiest problems first, you’ll free up some time to focus on the harder ones at the end.

2. Not Preparing for the Exam Effectively with Practice Tests

When you enter the exam hall, you have 8 hours for yourself to justify your civil PE exam prep. Yes, you have to be careful with how much time you spend and on what, but that doesn’t mean you rush or panic through the exam. Always try to stay composed when taking the test. The more you rush, the less are your chances of doing well. Give appropriate time to each question, just not more than necessary.

When you take this exam for the first time, the overwhelming feeling of anticipation and fear is natural. How do you overcome it? Preparation. Not just with courses but with timed PE practice exams. Solve as many practice tests as possible so that you can get comfortable with the process and not feel too intimidated when taking the actual test. Putting yourself under this pressure will help you when it’s time for the real exam. Do not go into the exam without taking at least one breadth exam and one depth exam in a real, timed, environment.

3. Overconfidence can be a major factor

For many, if you are applying for the civil PE exam, it means you have been in the civil engineering industry for some time. You probably have the required knowledge, work experience, and other qualities to be a sound engineer. This confidence that you gain over time can eventually turn to overconfidence when you take the PE exam. This test is the ultimate challenge and therefore requires an extreme amount of effort and dedication.

Forget if you were the best student in your college and a great engineer at work. Here, you are just a student trying to clear a test and learning all that the NCEES could throw at you. Even if you find a topic well within your grasp, give time to study it well. Perhaps, there are things you missed or didn’t understand. It’s important to start from zero when preparing and taking the test to give your best.

In general, students study for 3 to 4 months for this exam. Typically putting in 2 to 3 hours a day for a total of almost 300 hours of study time. If you’ve been out of school for some time, you may need more. It would be best to treat this almost as a part-time job and put in the time required to prepare for this properly.

While overconfidence can be an issue, it is still essential to go in with the knowledge that you prepared the best you could and that you’ve given yourself the best possible chance of passing.

4. Not knowing the right reference materials to carry

Students mostly find it a significant advantage that NCEES criteria allow them to carry different reference materials to the exam hall. With the exam currently open book, the question should be asked if you should do it. If you should, what do you carry? What not to? When you take a lot of reference material with you, all it does is confuse you. Where you are already on a time-restraint, do you want to waste half of it going through the guides?

What you should be doing is organizing your references before the exam – knowing exactly what is where. This way, even if you have to refer to the document for something, you won’t be going from page to page. Prepare easy-to-read notes while studying to help you find anything you need in seconds while taking the test.

As the exam transitions to computer-based testing in January of 2022 you will still have the new reference handbook and codes associated with your particular depth exam at your disposal. It’s essential to use and understand those with clarity, and it may help with this specific issue as to why people haven’t passed the exam.

5. Not resting your mind and body before the exam

You have months to prepare for this exam. Whether you enroll in a PE review course or study a PE exam prep study guide, you will feel like this has become a new part of your life with so much time dedicated to learning. It is essential to finish all preparations two days before the exam, as this will allow you to have enough time to freshen up your mind and relax too.

The day before the test must be for resting. Eat healthy food, get a good night’s sleep (or try to), and do things that relax you. Walking into the exam hall with a stressed mind and restless body will undoubtedly affect your thinking capabilities. Even before entering the exam room, do not discuss topics with other candidates. Just stay in your zone.

As the exam goes CBT, it will be helpful to be in just a cubical with a computer by yourself. Without crowds of people all taking the exam, hopefully, some of these future changes will help reduce stress and give your mind and body more focus on the task at hand.


Do any of these reasons mentioned above sound familiar to you? Hopefully, these have opened your eyes to be aware of them so you can stay clear of them during your civil PE exam. Every candidate has individual strengths and weaknesses. But when you identify the primary factors that could affect the results, your PE exam prep becomes a lot easier.

If you have recently applied for this test, visit Civil Engineering Academy now. Here, you will find civil FE and PE review courses to join. Additionally, you can also get NCEES-based practice exams to work. Visit the website to make the best use of their resources and let’s pass this exam!

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