When I was prepping for the P.E. Exam, I did what most of us do - ask anyone and everyone within about five cubicles who had recently taken the exam and what they did to pass. After taking the exam, I crafted a few ideas of my own and later even surveyed our users about their tips.
While there's a variety in the responses, this is the best of what we found:
As the last post alluded, there's now over 6,000 pages of reference material ranging a handful of different topics spread out over seven references in ten volumes. That is a ton of information.
Do I actually need to read everything?
No, definitely not. Not only is it difficult to digest every page, but study time can be much more effective elsewhere.
What is important is to organize the information for yourself so that you understand where to find critical information quickly. This has been done by creating a flow diagram which organizes references by topic, by using a formula sheet as your organizing tool, or it can be as simple as studying the table of contents from each reference.
The end goal with organization is that you feel comfortable knowing where material is located so that you can quickly get to it on the exam.
Give yourself a break. If you are at the point of preparing for the Fire Protection P.E. Exam, then you are already a highly accomplished individual in a great career field. You are highly intelligent.
The biggest indicator of those who don't pass the exam is not intelligence, but rather simply not giving themselves enough time to prepare.
So how much do I need to study?
It was rumored when I prepared for the exam and after taking I would agree, somewhere in the range of 120-200 hours of actual study time is a great place to be. While there is no minimum amount to guarantee a passing score, most of the people who do pass end up studying about that much.
What about people who do have a life?
Plan to succeed by dedicating time to study. It is an absolute pain when you have a life, a wife, and/or kids, but just imagine how great it will feel when you pass. Remind yourself that the studying is only temporary.
Create a plan
I prepared four nights a week for only an hour a night, and did two four hour sessions on weekends. That really was only a total of 12 hours a week for about 14 weeks.
I have sampled others who spend two eight-hour days studying on weekends but taking weekdays off, and a range of other plans. On the whole, those who tend to pass will put in 12-16 hours a week but also take specific days off.
Fight the Resistance
In The War of Art Steven Pressfield speaks to the struggle that creatives have to make progress. He calls anything and everything that stands in opposition to you reaching your goal as the 'Resistance'. For me in my prep journey, the Resistance was repeatedly venturing back to the kitchen to snack a few Cheez-its, checking Facebook one last time, oh and organizing my entire music collection. Because that's the most important thing I can do while studying.
Instead, dedicate a consistent, highly-focused time for you to prepare. You owe it to yourself to clear out the distractions and give yourself a chance to learn. The more focused you are in studying, the less time you'll actually need to do so.
Find that place
For many parents or just ADD people like myself, actually hauling the reference material to a library, to a conference room, or to somewhere free of distractions can result in more focused study.
3. Find an Advocate
If you've ever taken Financial Peace University and joined the Dave Ramsey cult like myself, you already know that accountability is a major indicator in people sticking to their plans.
Find someone to study with and ask them to hold you accountable for your study. If you don't have a good study candidate, ask a friend or your spouse to hound you about whether you're working your study plan. Make it painful by requiring you to bring in a dozen donuts to the office each day you don't meet your plan. Or in the case of your spouse as an advocate, self-impose laundry duty, clean the bathrooms, or watch The Bachelorette for each time you don't stick to it. Whatever it is, find an accountability partner so that you hold to your plan.
4. Teach Others
The best way to learn is to teach. Hence my appetite for creating this website.
If you have a study partner, divide topics and then teach them what you've learned. Detail problems and work examples. If you don't have a study partner, join our P.E. Exam Prep Facebook Group and join the conversation. Talk about what you find most challenging, ask questions, and discuss.
5. Practice, Practice, Practice
John Madden says that the team who scores the most points usually wins. In the same line of thinking, the better you are at answering questions the better you'll do on the exam.
Find any and every outlet you can for sample problems, and work and re-work until you feel very comfortable with the topic. We offer free daily sample P.E. Exam problems and even a full-length 80 question sample exam in our 2016 PE Prep Guide.
If you run out of questions, write your own (ie: teach others too) and post them on the Facebook Group. Either way, the more practice you can get the more comfortable and prepared you'll be for the exam.
You can do this!
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Joseph Meyer, PE, owns/operates his own Fire Protection Engineering practice in St. Louis, Missouri. See bio on About page.