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How to Review for the PE Exam

by Cameron H.G. Wright, Ph.D., P.E.

So you’ve decided to take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Congratulations! Obtaining your Professional Engineering (P.E.) license is a significant step forward in your professional development. But you’re not there yet—in addition to the paperwork associated with applying to take the exam, you have to prepare for the exam itself. That means becoming familiar with the topics that will be on the exam, and engaging in some sort of review of those topics.

Previous articles in Today’s Engineer have discussed the span of topics on the three versions of the P.E. exam typically taken by electrical and computer engineers (see: www.todaysengineer.org/2008/Dec/PE-exam.asp and www.todaysengineer.org/2011/Apr/PE-exam.asp). This article will discuss some of the options available to help you complete a successful review so that you will pass that exam. What you’ll find here is not a qualitative comparison of the various review materials, but rather a listing of what is generally available. So shop around and make your own decision as to what seems to be best for you.

Your first impulse might be to just dig out your old engineering textbooks and start reviewing the topics on your own, using books with which you’re already familiar. That may sound like a good idea at first, but keep in mind that textbooks and review materials for the P.E. exam are written for two very different purposes. While you certainly can complete a review using your old textbooks, in almost all cases that is an inefficient method and will turn out to be wasteful of your time. Most P.E. exam candidates are working at full-time jobs and conservation of available “free” time is a high priority. If more than one person at a company or in a town is preparing for the PE exam, you may also find that forming a study group works well.

While the organization responsible for creating the PE exams, NCEES, makes available relatively inexpensive sample exams, the primary sources of review materials for the PE exam are professional societies, universities, and for-profit commercial companies. Professional societies typically have just a few options; universities may offer on-site and online courses; commercial companies specializing in the exam review field will usually offer more options. Professional society and university offerings are generally a bit less expensive, but may be limited in the types of review materials they provide compared to commercial companies, whose business is preparing and selling such products. So while I encourage you to investigate what is currently available from NCEES, IEEE-USA, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE), or a given university, here I’ll concentrate on the commercially available PE exam review materials for electrical and computer engineers.

There are two things to note. First, the widest variety of exam preparation products is available for civil engineers — the largest group of PE exam takers. In addition, there has been considerable consolidation of this business category in the last decade. Taken together, this means that there are only a small number of reputable commercial companies offering PE exam review products for electrical engineers today.

Before you look very closely at the available review materials, it might be a good idea to think about what format might work best for you. The traditional review manual, as a hard-copy book or as an e-book, is used by many (probably most) exam candidates. You can also buy a series of videos, distributed either on DVDs or by download, where an instructor leads you through a series of problems and solutions typical of the PE exam. In addition, you can take a course online — either live (possibly with interactive chat capability) or recorded — or you can attend an on-site course in person. There may even be other formats evolving as I write this. You don’t have to restrict yourself to just one of these options; for example, many exam candidates purchase a review manual regardless of whether or not they also partake in one or more of the other review formats. In my own case, I purchased an excellent review manual from Professional Publications, Inc. and that was the only resource I used for my exam preparation (of course, back in 1989 when I took the PE exam, there were far fewer options available).

To find commercial companies that offer specialized review materials to help you prepare for the PE exam you could perform an Internet search on the term “professional engineer exam review” or just “pe exam review” and get thousands of hits, but I’ll save you a little time and give you a summary of the top companies. Prices for the various exam preparation products may change without notice, so I don’t show any pricing info here.



Available options


Professional Publications, Inc.


Manuals, practice problems, sample exams, interactive online reviews, Exam Café (large online collection of exam-style practice problems) and on-site courses in California.

One of the oldest (since 1975) and well-known commercial exam review companies. Offers the widest variety of products.



Practice problems, study guides and sample exams.

Offering PE review products since they acquired Engineering Press, Inc. in 2003.

School of PE


Live webcasts.

Offering PE review products since 2004.



On-site review courses in San Antonio and Houston, Texas.

Offering test preparation courses since 1991.

MGI Management Institute


Distance education review courses.

In coordination with NSPE. MGI is a division of SmartPros.



On-site review courses for the power exam in New York City.

Partnered with Professional Publications, Inc.

As you can see, there are many options available to you for help in preparing for the PE exam. The level of detail in the material, the educational format and certainly the price covers a broad spectrum; only you can decide what is best for you. But I encourage you not to just dig out your old textbooks and try to prepare on you own. Investigate these products from the companies listed above, as well as those available from professional societies and universities. Join a study group if it’s feasible. Then go in and pass that exam on the first try!



Cameron H. G. Wright, Ph.D., P.E., an IEEE Senior Member, is a member of the IEEE-USA Licensure and Registration Committee and is an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Wyoming.

Comments may be submitted to todaysengineer@ieee.org.

Copyright © 2011 IEEE

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