How I studied (and thankfully passed) the Mechanical PE Exam: PART 3

Figuring out how to study for a test that is more than six months away doesn't have to be a daunting task.

As discussed Part I and II, when I was preparing for the PE exam I received advice all over the map on how to study. I heard people who spent a year studying and others who said they took a couple days off before the test to begin hitting the books. I felt at a loss for where to begin, how to apply, what materials to purchase, and how much to study. This post, Part III, focuses on studying strategy.

Three keys to your study strategy are to know where and when you are the most productive at studying, form a master plan leading up to exam day, and perform an early assessment of your strong and weak categories.

  1. Where and when are you most productive? After trying the library and my desk at work, I settled on my dining room table at home. This spot was free from interruption, and a closer walk than the library. I attempted going straight from work to studying and found my brain just wasn't ready to switch gears. Likewise, i failed miserably trying to bringing study materials on car rides, flights, and other occasions where i had only an hour to look things over. I really was able to hit a groove when I could dedicate between two and four hours to studying, usually weeknights, after work. In the 90+ day out phase of studying, I dedicated Monday nights to PE studying.
  2. Form a (somewhat flexible) Master Plan: Throughout the studying process, I had a beyond healthy amount of anxiety about whether or not I was studying enough. My resolution, with about 100 days until the test, was to make a more definitive plan. Up to that point, my study habits were largely driven from compulsion or, as said before, pure anxiety. I made a plan to slowly step up my studying regiment and assess my progress along the way with self-made tests and timed exercises. As I progressed faster or slower than the timeline, I made adjustments to the plan.
  3. My method of gauging my starting point was by reading the MERM handbook (see part II for more on this book) cover to cover and testing myself on the example problems throughout. I made note in the table of contents which chapters went well and which were more of a struggle. Though I wanted to hit the practice problems for my strong categories, I labored through my weakest subjects and spent a majority of time there. As I continued, as described in my Master Plan below, I ended up feeling a level of comfort with my comprehension that led me to abstain from an in-person or online review class. 

My Master Plan:

365-90 days out:
Frequency: 1 night per week for 2-4 hours
Content: Read through every applicable chapter in the MERM, solve the example problems in the chapter. Note in the table of contents your competency grade (A-B-C-D-F)

90-30 days out:
Frequency: 1 night per week for 2-4 hours, 1 weekend day for 2-4 hours
Content: Complete all practice problems for each applicable chapter in MERM (no practice tests yet?)

30-7 days out:
Frequency: 2 nights per week for 2-3 hrs, 1 weekend day for 2-3 hours
Content: Complete 20 questions of a practice exam in two hours (actual pace of exam). Go through solutions after and resolve errors. For reference, my first couple scores were in the 60% range and slowly improved to a consistent 90% +/-

Last week: 
Frequency: Every night for 2-3 hrs. I opted to take a vacation day the day before the exam.
Content: Nothing but practice problems and the sample exams all under the clock. Record your results and track improvement. Gather all your materials, place book tabs, and don't work late.

The PE exam is sometimes the only test that engineers take after college and it comes four years after last using study prep habits. Take all the time you can to prepare well!

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