What are the Different Types of PE Exam Questions?

PE exam questions are defined in two ways:

  1. By discipline
  2. By morning or afternoon

There are five disciplines of the PE exam:

  1. Construction
  2. Geotechnics
  3. Structures
  4. Water and Environmental Engineering
  5. Transportation

The examiner, NCEES, broadly defines each discipline. However, there are overlaps. Unlike in College, where courses identified disciplines, the PE exam is a little loose. It’s not always possible to peg a problem. For example, a problem with traffic data may be filling a geotechnical slot with a pavement content. Or a design for temporary works is a construction problem, but looks like a structural one. Remember, you’re being assessed on your worthiness to practice as a professional Civil Engineer. So these nice clear disciplinary distinctions which were so useful in a college curriculum, should not remain so absolute to the practicing professional. A drainage challenge could be an environmental, transportation, or geotechnical problem. So, don’t look for clearly defined disciplines every time. Sometimes, it’s messy.

The Morning and Afternoon Sessions of the PE Exam

The PE exam has broad based multi-disciplined questions in the morning exam, and discipline specific questions in the afternoon exam. The morning questions tend to be a little “lighter” spanning a mixture of all five disciplines. The afternoon questions are a little deeper and can often rely on detail codes or design guides. Each afternoon is labeled by one of the five disciplines, but beware. Each exam includes other sub disciplines. For example, transportation will have geotechnical questions. So this means that the ambiguity persists in the afternoon questions. Some afternoon questions may look like morning questions, and vice versa. Similarly, the construction afternoon exam will not consist of only construction questions.

How to Prepare for the PE Exam

So what does this all mean to you and how should you prepare, in terms of problem types? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Decide on your afternoon emphasis early, and stick to it – you’ll have to identify it when you register.
  2. Prepare for all five disciplines because you’re going to have to address all five, and it will give you a boost the middle of the big day if you’ve got a good “AM” exam behind you.
  3. Focus on the simple to complex for your emphasis (PM) problems.
  4. Make sure you look at some more complex problems in the four other disciplines because it will help you to tackle to tackle the unexpected.

Practice Test Questions

The 300+ problems in PEreview.net are coded with little hard-hat icons. A one-hat indicates it’s likely an AM question, a three-hat likely a PM, and a two-hat sits somewhere in between. But you’re likely to get through the exam if you know your emphasis, but don’t emphasize it too much.