f through the experience of taking the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. You spent countless hours studying and preparing followed then an exhausting day working through the 80 questions that stand between you and licensure as a Professional Engineer. Now you wait. As I think about my experience waiting weeks for the exam results, I think about the roller coaster of emotions I experienced in the time between giving it my all and passing the PE exam.
First off, no matter the discipline you choose, sitting for the exam is an accomplishment in itself. Whether it was 4-years of college, a decade or more of experience, or a combination of different paths, give yourself credit. Your hard work has provided you with an opportunity to advance your career. You earned it, don’t forget that!
Overall, I walked out of the exam room feeling accomplished and satisfied with the fact that I gave it my best effort in hopes that the results would be positive. Over the next five weeks, I waited – and waited for the results. The experience was a challenge, a roller coaster of emotion. I write this to share my experience with you in hopes that if you are also experiencing similar feelings, you can find some relief that you are simply not alone!
Test Day for Me
Test day for me started at 6 a.m. when I left my house. I had a 60-minute commute and two hours until the doors opened. I wanted to be early and I wanted to get myself in the right state of mind. Along with roughly 300 other candidates, we filed through the line entering the testing site and finding our seats. Sorting our materials and taking the last few moments to try to relax. The timer would soon start counting down the morning session’s time limit.
Long story short, my total time from leaving my hours to returning to my driveway was roughly 14 hours. I was physically exhausted and just looking forward to an evening without even thinking about studying. I barely ate lunch and really don’t think I had much of an appetite for dinner. The stress was still in a bit of a crescendo and slowly starting to diminish.
Phase 1 – A focus on the BAD
Initially, I remember focusing on the questions I knew I got WRONG. I walked out with a handful of questions on my mind that were extremely challenging in the exam room, yet smilingly simply in the real world. I specifically remember one geometry question that left me stumped, yet when I constructed the parameters in CAD, it took me literally 45 seconds to figure out I guessed WRONG. These things burned in my mind for at least the first week. Thinking about how if I only had more time, or practiced that one subject more, I could have done better.
You might be extra hard on yourself at this point, but don’t overdo it. Remember that you did get the opportunity to test on the merits of experience and knowledge. This is not a gimme by any means and my gut feeling is that you probably didn’t bomb the test nearly as bad as you thought.
Phase 2 – A Transition to Optimism
When I took the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, I remember the call to my wife in the parking lot telling her, “I was done and I am not looking forward to doing that again! There is no way I passed.”
A week later, I received the notification I had passed the FE exam. A few weeks after the PE exam, when I was continuing to be hard on myself, my wife reminded me of a similar roller coaster of emotions I had experienced after the FE exam. This lead the way to a boost of confidence. This gave me the opportunity to focus on what I had confidence in getting RIGHT. This small shift in mindset put a bit of bounce in my step and led to more confidence in the possibility that I might have just pulled it off.
Positive thinking is an emotional and mental attitude that focuses on the good and expects results that will benefit you.Tony Robbins
Shift into this phase and stay in it as long as possible! This is where your power lies. All of those classes, all of that studying, all of that formal and on-the-fly experience – the POWER OF YOUR EXPERIENCE has brought you to this moment in time and created the person you are today. There is an immeasurable value to this and it will continue to benefit you well into the future. Be positive, be optimistic!
Phase 3 – What Now?
As I gained confidence in my ability to pass the test, I began to question again, what if I failed? From this point, I bounced between the positive and negative, the confident to insecure, I wanted the results and I should have waited. I then began to wonder what others would think if I failed.
At this point, you should focus on the positive and do your best to stay in phase 2! What is done is done and the results cannot be changed. The waiting game can most definitely be stressful but it’s important to remember that you should do your best not to stress over things you cannot control.
Phase 4 – Results!
I was walking across the office when a co-worker who took the PE exam with me shouted from his cubical, “Two questions.”
“The results are out?” I replied as I made a U-turn toward my desk, pulling my phone from my pocket. I immediately saw the notification for an email from NCEES. My heart was racing, I began sweating. I am about to find out the results and learn the trajectory of my career. My phone begins to dial as I call my wife to tell her that the results are in…
The whole experience was a blur but I remember her asking me if I passed and I said I didn’t know. She then shouted out to me that I should not be doing the reveal live with her on the phone – it was stressing her out!
As I said before, I share this experience with you because I want to make sure you know that you are not alone. Thousands of others are in your shoes and a majority of you WILL PASS. According to NCEES, most disciplines have a 60-70% pass rate.
If you PASS – Congratulations! Celebrate and be proud of your accomplishment. You should also read my 3 Thoughts for a New Professional Engineer.
If you FAIL – I am sorry. Don’t give up and take a moment to appreciate and reflect on the positive and negative experiences. I challenge you to learn from the PE exam, your preparation, and your results. Use this to leverage your future and pass on your next attempt.