“Every man of genius sees the world at a different angle from his fellows.”
— Havelock Ellis
I know what you’re looking for here, a nice laid out schedule detailing the exact steps you need to take, the exact practice questions you need to solve, the exact books you should bring to the mechanical pe exam. I get it. We’re engineers, we love following discrete steps to achieve our goals. We love where questions have only one correct answer. But we also love solving interesting problems… I’m sorry if this is a disappointment to you, but I don’t have an exact study schedule here for you to follow. All I can give you is some guidance.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
— George S. Patton
I’m sure you’ve done some searching around the internet so far for advice on what other people have done for their studies. People have probably advised you to “work through practice problems” or “become comfortable with your reference books” or “take a practice exam beforehand” or even “work through every problem you encountered during college and your career”. All of this is good advice (well, maybe not that last one), but you’re probably asking yourself, “Ok, that’s great, but HOW MANY practice problems do I need to work? HOW comfortable should I be with my reference books? or HOW LONG should I study for?”. These are all great questions and I can’t answer them for you, but I’ll try to give you some insight so you can figure out the answers for yourself.
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
The first thing you need to do when figuring out your study schedule is look at your strengths and weaknesses. Now, you won’t be eliminating the areas you’re strong in from your study schedule, you’ll just want to know which areas will need a bit more review. A good place to start identifying your strengths and weaknesses is to start doing practice problems. Now, some practice problem booklets out there contain problems which are a bit more difficult than what will be on the pe exam or just not representative of the subject manner. A good place to start working problems is the NCEES practice problems booklets. These books are put together by the organization who administers the test so they are a good example of what will be on the test.
“He who knows others is learned; He who knows himself is wise.”
—Lao-tzu, Tao te Ching
Once you know the areas where you need to brush up on, don’t rush off to do more practice problems in that area. Doing that would be similar to teaching a kid to swim by throwing them in the deep end. You might become more familiar with the material through a brute force method of working multiple problems, but the process will be messy and you might just end up with a phobia. Instead, take the time to go through your reference material to review the actual subject matter. Become versed in that subject BEFORE you go back to work on the practice problems.
When working on practice problems, don’t throw out the “easy” subject areas you might be more familiar with. Working problems in all areas to be covered in the PE exam is necessary. Working these problems is necessary for you to become familiar with your reference materials, which brings us to the next point.
“The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious.”
Don’t worry, for you to achieve “victory” on the mecanical PE exam there will be little to no things you need to organize that are “non-obvious”. However, the one main OBVIOUS thing(s) you will need to organize is your reference materials. You will need to be comfortable with the layout of information, where to look for specific information, and which books to bring to the exam.
This is why I said you still need to work those “easy” problems during your studies. You should make a habit of opening your reference books to the correct page of information for every problem you work. This will get you acclimated to your reference books. You’ll notice that some information is only located in one of your books and not the others, or multiple books contain the same information but one of them presents it in a more straightforward manner. Once you figure this out during your studies you’ll be able to harness this experience on the PE exam to save precious time when looking up information.
Now, some people will say “I have memorized all the information I need for some of the problems, I don’t need to use my reference books for EVERY problem I work.” I would agree with this. You’ll most likely come across problems during your studies and the actual PE exam that are straight forward and “plug-and-chug”(everyone loves these types of questions). If you feel confident enough on the exam to work the problems from memory, go for it. However, when you study for the PE exam you should use your reference books for each problem you work. Why? Well, on the exam day you’ll be in a different state of mind than you were during your study sessions. You’ll be fired up on adrenaline and chomping at the bit to take the exam. What if you encounter the deadly “brain freeze” during this? You’ll be happy that you took the time during your studies to become comfortable with your reference materials. I used a highly organized tabbing system that I explain how to do yourself in my eBook Mechanical PE exam Strategies. Whatever method of organization you use for your books, you should make sure you’re absolutely comfortable with it. Now, which reference materials should you use?
“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”
—Henry David Thoreau
A general statement as to what reference materials you should use during your studies is, to use whatever books you will bring on exam day. Now, which books should you bring on exam day? Well, that is the books you used during your studies obviously! This is something you’ll want to try and determine fairly early on during your studies by starting with some good (and highly recommended books). These reference books are located on the mechanical pe reference books page. Some of the reference books that you bring will be dependent upon which afternoon session of the test you plan on taking.
"It's not necessarily the amount of time you spend at practice that counts; it's what you put into the practice."
I’ll end this by saying everyone has a different amount of time necessary to prepare for the exam. I would give yourself a minimum of three months to be able to effectively prepare for the exam but you’ll need to tweak this time to your own needs. Blindly working through practice problems and rushing to look at the answers will do you no good. Invest in the time necessary to learn the material and apply it. Fight the urge to fast forward through your review sessions. A little more effort put into your studies now will pay off later when you take the exam (it will also prevent any effort you might have to spend to take the exam a SECOND time).