Saturday, October 24, 2009

Structural Engineering Liscensing Exam

I took the SE1 exam yesterday and wanted to share my thoughts on it.  I can't actually talk about the questions themselves as NCEES requires all test-takers to sign a non-disclosure agreement swearing to not discuss the actual questions.  I can give, however, give my general impression on the exam.

Most of the questions were relatively straight forward and easy to figure out.  The practice exam tests that I studied with were loaded with trick questions and wording that was designed to trip you up.  The actual exam did not seem that way.  Exactly 20% of the questions in the morning and the afternoon were bridge related design problems.  Given that my experience is in buildings and I have zero non-school experience in designing bridges, I decided to just completely skip these problems and come back to them after I was finished with all of the other problems.  This worked well, as the 32 non-bridge problems took me about 2 hours to do.

I went back through the bridge questions and began working on them in the order of whichever one I thought was the easiest.  Most of these problems I was able to solve not through extensive studying of the code, but by flipping to the index and looking up keywords from the question.  This took me to the correct section in the code and I skimmed through it looking for the information needed to solve the problem.  My strategy was to focus hard on the materials I did know, and could know all of.  That's 80% of the exam (and probably a passing grade).  Any bridge question that I got correct was just a free gift.

My advice to anyone taking them exam:
  • Bring the codes.  All of them:
    • IBC 2006 (yes, I used it)
    • ASCE7-05
    • AISC 360-05 (Manual of Steel Construction)
    • AISC 341-05 (Seismic Spec)
    • ACI 318 (Concrete)
    • ACI 530 (Masonry)
    • 2005 NDS (Wood)
    • AASHTO Bridge Spec
  • Learn where things are in the code.  You don't have to memorize it, but know how they lay out appendices, commentary and the like.  You may need to use some of these.
    • Learn where everything is in Structural Engineers Reference Manual. It came in handy for the geotech, wood and a few bridge questions.
    • Learn the AISC Manual of Steel Construction!  I cannot emphasize this enough.  Non-composite steel member design in the AASHTO spec is identical to AISC.  The beam tables and equations for moments and deflections in common beam conditions is handy.  AISC also includes a large number of useful charts and figured behind the Misc. tab at the very end of the book.  Forget what the equation for moment of inertia of a cylinder is?  It's in the Misc section.
    • Don't bother studying bridges if you're not already familiar with them.  Unless you have a full-time job working with it, you'll never understand it well.  You're better off focusing your time on the building design materials you aren't familiar with.  Learn where things are in the bridge code.

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