While preparing to take the mechanical pe exam, many people get frustrated with the tricky, wordy, not absolutely clear problems they have to work through. “These questions are multi-step”, “why don’t they just straight out ask me what I’m supposed to solve for?”, “these questions will take me more than 6 minutes to finish” are all responses I see from people preparing for this exam. A logical follow up question by these people are “why are these types of questions on the exam? Are the test preparers trying to trick me?”. Well the short answer is no, they’re not trying to trick you. So why are these types of questions on the exam? Why are questions phrased in a way that asks you to give an answer that “most nearly” matches the one you calculated?
Because those types of questions are what you encounter in your career as an engineer!
When have you had a customer come to you and say, “this is the exact problem I’m having with my system and here is the necessary information you need to solve it, now give me the answer!”. Not likely… Typically the customer comes to you with a vague problem or discontent with the present operation. They then throw a variety of information at you which may or may not be related to the problem and then expects you to come up with a solution.
As mechanical engineers we have to be able to drill down to the real problem at hand, utilize the information and data which applies while eliminating excess noise, and then deliver a solution. The mechanical pe exam writers realize this and have generated questions to reflect these issues.
You’ll need not only technical problem solving skills during the exam but also organizational skills and communication skills. You need to be organized enough to arrange the information given to you in the question to apply it effectively. Drawing free body diagrams, writing down all the knowns, and underlining the true question being asked helps with this. Communication skills will be tested by figuring out whether you truly understand the question being asked. Are you easily turned down the wrong path, solving for something the problem doesn’t ask? Take time to read the question and truly understand what is being asked of you.
Some of the questions on the exam will truly be killer. You’ll be staring at it as if it were written in Swahili. This is ok. Mechanical pe exam scores aren’t released, but even if they were I doubt anyone has ever scored a perfect score on the exam. The test preparers don’t expect you to ace the test. Skip these killer questions and return to them later if you have time. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing the exam authors are testing your judgment skills in these cases. Will you be distracted by the hard questions or not lose sight of your true goal of passing the exam?
Once you realize that difficult and (at first glance) tricky questions are appropriate for the mechanical pe exam, and that you’ve encountered them many times during your career, you’ll be able to effectively prepare yourself for what you need to do during the exam.
Study hard, prepare yourself mentally, and good luck on the exam!
P.S. Check out my mechanical pe study guide. You’ll find some additional preparation tips, review advice, and exam information in there. This guide isn’t available anywhere else on the net!