Probabilities and Distributions and Percentages oh My!

We’re not in Kansas anymore. I remember back in college me and my fellow classmates would keep a running tab on our grades in every course. We knew exactly how the professor calculated our final grades. We had these spreadsheets that displayed how much the homework was weighted, what extra credit we received, how each exam was factored into our grades, and how much the final was worth. We were able to find out exactly how many points we needed to score on the final exam to get our desired grade. We knew the precise cut off of points that would separate us from a B and an A. I’m sorry to tell you all that this is NOT the case on the Mechanical PE Exam. I must confess the title of this post is misleading…there is no exact score you can calculate to ensure you’ll pass the Mechanical PE exam.

Rumors and Myths

After a brief search on the internet you’ll come across a whole spectrum of theories surrounding the subject of passing the PE exam. Theories such as “the exam is graded on the curve” or “they only let a specific number of people pass the exam each time” or “you have to score a minimum grade in each specific area in order to pass” are all prevalent. I’m here to tell you these statements are false. Don’t get caught up in these conspiracy theories. Focus on preparing for the exam and you’ll do fine.


Here is what really happens. The exam is 80 questions long (40 in the morning and 40 in the afternoon) and is graded pass/fail. Each question is worth one point and is a multiple choice format. There is no partial credit and you’re not penalized for wrong answers-you just don’t receive a point towards your score if you’re wrong. So what this means is that you should be careful filling in your answers. Make sure you’re filling in the answer for the correct problem number and that you fill in the scantron sheets fully.

Each exam will be evaluated for its relative difficulty and a passing score will be based upon what a competent engineer should be able to score. This passing score is determined by a group of experts in test administration. What this means is if the test is determined to be particularly difficult, the passing score may be adjusted down to account for this difficulty. Conversely, if the exam given contains a large amount of “easy” questions, the passing score might be adjusted higher. Just remember, you won’t know what this passing grade is so don’t expend any energy trying to figure out what score you’ll need to achieve in order to pass.

You have to fight that inner urge

We’re all engineers here. I know that we love calculating probabilities and having a firm grasp on what the outcome will be, but I’m sorry to say that this just isn’t the case on the PE exam. Sure, if you get a 99% on the exam, chances are pretty good that you’ll pass, but don’t worry about the cutoff point between passing and failing. You don’t need to focus on that. What you need to focus on is doing your best and learning the material during your study schedule.