The FE Exam Perfection Trap
Perfection is the enemy of the FE exam. One may think “I want to perfect my studying by knowing everything so I can pass this exam without a doubt”. On the surface, this sounds fine. Who doesn’t want that perfect score? Yet there’s a problem with this kind of thinking. This “mental framing” is likely to put us in a position where we’re constantly trying to achieve the impossible. This constant drive towards perfection will likely drain us and eventually make us feel like we have “failed” because our measure of success is never attained.
Yes, perfection is impossible. Perfecting your FE exam preparation is impossible.
Everything other than perfection is. Small wins, small losses, big wins, big losses, mistakes, errors, good study days, bad study days, and even plenty of failures.
Perfectionism can lead to procrastination. We may put studying on hold and wait for that “perfect moment”. Or even, we may study for months yet wait to take the FE exam until we feel “100% ready”. We wait for the right moment when everything is perfect. Yet, we never take that leap forward even though we can adapt and do whatever it takes to do our best.
If perfection is not possible, what should we strive for when studying for our FE exam? What should we strive for when learning that next concept? What should we strive for when unraveling that next practice problem?
DOING JUST GOOD ENOUGH
There’s a fine line between perfection and doing just good enough. When solving an FE problem, we may try to get the perfect answer. That will likely waste a lot of our time. Rather than getting the perfect answer, we should strive towards making plenty of mistakes and learning from them until we learn the right steps to get the right answer. An answer that’s good enough. There are no perfect answers!
Perfectly learning a concept or topic takes a lot longer than learning it in a way that’s just good enough. This can be a difficult lesson to accept, especially if you’re a high-achiever who goes for the FE exam. I know it was difficult for me to accept when I studied for my FE exam. I always felt the urge to “learn everything”. It was impossible and I had to accept this a week before my exam date. I was forced to change my mindset with the appropriate, gentle, and realistic self-talk. This was only an exam and I felt like I studied just good enough for months to give this exam my best shot. Whatever happens from there is out of my control. I’m going to keep on trying no matter what.
The FE exam tests far too many engineering topics to spend time learning them perfectly. The exam has too many questions to spend time answering them all perfectly. The exam is way too long to maintain perfect thinking. Even if you’re a high performer, the human brain cannot sustain that level of performance for over 5 hours. Remember this: you don’t need to do perfectly to pass this exam! As a matter of personal experience, I believe striving not to be perfect on exam day will set us up to do just good enough to get that passing score.
The earlier you accept this the better things will be. This is an exam strategy we can practice and apply before our exam date.
Perfecting your FE exam studies is impossible. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t need to study every topic perfectly. We do need to get things right. We do need to build our fundamental conceptual understanding in a way that’s just good enough. That’s the mindset we should bring to our next study session and our exam. Getting something good enough and moving on is a huge achievement. Reward yourself for that because you’re moving forward on a trajectory that’s just right for you. You can always work on improving to become even better. But if your goal is perfection, you will never achieve it.
So, how will you do just good enough today?