For about two years, after tutoring and helping students prepare for their FE exam, I have gathered some insights on a general pattern of bad or not-so-good study habits that probably lead to a student’s not passing result. This may include:
- Not studying the relevant topics
- Using outdated material
- Using outdated practice questions (the FE exam is always changing)
- Using the outdated FE Handbook
- Not making effective use of the calculator
- Only using the 2020 NCEES practice exam as their source of practice
- Just looking over the solutions to practice problems
- Not practicing time management
- Not solving problems under time pressure (i.e., a sense of urgency)
- Studying for 1 week, taking off a month, studying for another week, taking off a week – inconsistency with their study time.
- Cramming their studying for a few weeks days before their exam (bad, bad idea)
But today, I want to discuss a very important task I noticed many students failed to do before taking their FE exam. It’s a simple yet exhaustive one: TAKING A FULL-LENGTH PRACTICE EXAM.
First of all, the FE exam is not just about answering engineering questions. This is an exam testing your endurance, your ability to reason through engineering questions, and make a correct decision under pressure! You have to answer all those engineering questions in literally seconds or take 2-3 minutes to arrive at an answer.
Despite all the hours invested in content review (you can’t skip this), the best way to prepare for this exam is by taking full length practice exams.
So, what is the purpose of taking a full-length practice exam? Let’s discuss a sequence of 3 steps you can take to make effective use of your next practice exam.
1) Use the practice exam to test your time management and how you maintain your endurance under similar exam day conditions
One of the most common complaints I hear from students (myself included) is that they run out of time at the end of a section. This is normal, but we can be better prepared if we practice managing our time and building our endurance when taking full length exams. It is important to take the exam in a similar environment to that on your actual testing day. This means taking each section timed and with the breaks as scheduled. This will help you develop a rhythm for this exam and, most importantly, walk in on exam day with a time management plan ready to be deployed.
2) Use the full-length exam to see what questions/concepts you are struggling with – note these down
A practice exam will help you identify concepts with which you are unfamiliar or struggle to understand. You want to review every single question to understand what you got wrong. But that’s not enough. Don’t just review each question in isolation. Look for the BIG PICTURE. Often, we are not just struggling with a single practice question. It is likely the overall concept or the BIG PICTURE that we don’t fully understand.
This process is exhaustive, but those who do it because they are willing to go the extra mile are only ensuring a passing score.
You can develop a habit of creating a word document or a written list of these difficult concepts, topics, equations, or specific practice questions. Make sure to place a high priority on the big sections with the greatest number of questions. A breakdown of topics is discussed in this video. Understand and be strong in the majority of the big knowledge area topics. It is not worth wasting your study time on topics with a few questions, especially if you are weak in those topics. You can utilize time elsewhere and guarantee correct answers. This list can serve as a review on the days leading up to the exam. This will allow you to review your weaknesses in the days before the exam and hopefully perform well on those sections.
Lastly, a common mistake is not taking the time to review the practice exam or not reviewing the practice exam thoroughly to catch common mistakes and patterns. These may be small mistakes that you cannot afford to make. These may include: not converting units, not understanding the problem statement, misreading questions/answer choices, forgetting to write down a variable, forgetting to draw a force vector, etc., etc. Always keep a log of these mistakes!
3) After taking a full-length exam, review and redo the practice exam questions, and take it a step further by tackling additional practice questions targeting your biggest weaknesses
With your weak and strong areas defined in step 2, go back and review/redo the questions you got wrong or had a hard time solving. Again, make sure to place a high priority on understanding the big picture or the process involved instead of memorizing steps.
After doing that, go into every study time block with ONE goal. What is the ONE issue you need to work on for this section?
- If a certain section is your biggest issue, set aside time every day to review the topics that gave you trouble.
- If you are spending too much time reading the problem statement and trying to figure out what the question is asking, set aside time to practice extracting significant variables in the problem statement while noting any irrelevant jargon used in the problem statement.
- If you are ‘misreading questions/choices,’ Remind yourself: “For the next 5 questions I will focus on reading the questions very carefully”.
By having these small, targeted study blocks, you can focus on your issues while solving practice problems at the same time.