The Holiday Spirit and that looming PE Exam

When the winter solstice brings us Christmas and all the other end of year festivities, there’s a natural break.  For the majority of us, the holidays are a break from work.  It’s also a time when treadmills and exercise bikes sell.  It’s the time when we resolve to change something.

For the young Civil Engineer, it is the time when the PE Exam looms.  Colleagues who took the exam in October have just got the results.  For a small majority (as the NCEES statistics show) the results were good.  So for a chunky minority, and a group of PE newcomers, the holidays are overshadowed by the exam that still must be overcome.

So what can this College Professor and PE Coach offer?  Well, if you’re heading for the exam in April, the very best advice is to start preparing early.  If you’re like my undergraduate students, you are familiar with cramming.  You know how to procrastinate.  And you know how to work really hard when you’re close to a test.  Sadly, this well practiced technique won’t help you for the PE.  It is a bad habit because you simply can’t cram this exam in the way you did in College.  It’s such a different kind of exam.  It’s like taking two exams for your entire Junior and Senior years.  Amusingly, these stages are called “years”; laughable because few undergraduates get through them in two years.  Most take more.  So you’re preparing for the PE exam that addresses content that you acquired over perhaps 36 months.  Worse, much of the material is a hazy memory and while it can be dug out, it’s not that easy.  And worse, there’s so much of it.

All this means that you need to take a completely different approach to this exam.  You must prepare as a runner prepares for the Olympics.  You must work at it gently, but consistently.  The mind has a mind of its own.  It needs time to assimilate, process, and sort.  This is why 20 minutes a day for 100 days is so much more powerful than 5 hours a day for a week.  Certainly, the one-week immersion is much better than nothing.  But it’s less effective.  Like a crash diet, it’s unnatural and the benefits are temporary.  Worse, it’s nasty.

So my young Civil Engineer, if you’re preparing for the PE in April, start preparing today.  You need to put in about the same time as you have getting to this fourth paragraph.  Get your materials together.  Choose your method of preparation.  Identify the total.  Divide it into 100 little bite-sized pieces, and start nibbling.  If you’re thinking of the October exam, your commitment will be even less.