Saturday, April 12, 2008

thank you for the concern but...

despite all my whining about the exam yesterday and how the afternoon test was like nothing in the study materials, there is no cause for legal action.

I was truly just griping about the shock of just how freaking hard that exam turned out to be. On the exam website, there is a list of all the reference materials that are used in formulating the questions and I didn't bother with bringing any of them. (In fact, there was only one question that referred to a reference material that wasn't on the list, and seriously, that one question isn't going to make or break you if you've been prepared for the other questions.)

I felt really underprepared for the exam as a whole, and that's my own fault. I had originally booked a room in downtown Seattle for the night before so that I wouldn't have to get up so early and thus possibly improve my chances of passing. I ended up canceling that reservation because I didn't feel all that confident (again, based on the having not studied all that much) and decided to not spend $120 on a hotel room. (And this is for a room with a bathroom down the hall. Verrrrrry expensive to sleep in Seattle, apparently.) Instead, I woke up at 4:30 on the morning of the exam to catch a bus between 5am and 5:30 to give me plenty of time to get to Seattle Center by 7. Now wouldn't you know it but it was that rare day when there were no traffic problems and I got to downtown Seattle by 6:15 and ended up hanging out in a Starbucks for half an hour. Then I walked to Seattle Center from Westlake, which is not all that far and is really quite a pleasant walk except that I am normally not carrying a box of books that weighs 30 lbs (15 kg). Although you have to supply reference materials, the exam administrators frown on backpacks. I didn't want to risk being denied entry because I may have overlooked a forbidden pencil at the bottom of my backpack. (You think I'm joking? Go to this site and check out the "Candidate Agreement".) However, there were several people with backpacks although most people used rolling suitcases (and a few people had hand trucks).

Despite having to carry a heavy box of books, I'm glad I did walk to Seattle Center because a young man with a rolling suitcase approached me with a very worried, almost panicked expression on his face, asking me if I knew where Seattle Center was. The only people going to Seattle Center at that time of day were employees, homeless folks, or wannabe engineers. Because he was so kempt as well as having a pretty snazzy suitcase, I assumed he was going to the exam and asked him so. Yes, he was. He had stayed in a hotel the previous night, and had misunderstood the directions the hotel staff had given him and he had been walking in circles for half an hour. He was Canadian and his firm did a lot of work in the US, which was why he was taking the exam. It would also explain why he was lost, since he asked for directions to "Seattle Center" (and not "the Exhibition Hall in Seattle Center") and was given directions to the Space Needle, which is also in Seattle Center and is a great landmark.

Anyway, I felt really unprepared going in, but actually felt really confident after the Breadth portion. I felt like I had a real chance, that even if I didn't know the answer, I had enough knowledge of the reference materials to be able to find out how to solve the problem. (As a last resort, you could always guess. That's a benefit to a multiple choice exam. (Not all PE exams are multiple choice. Civil engineering is, structural engineering is not.) However, the phrase "the answer is most likely:" really struck fear in my heart. Like one question gave the dimensions of building walls to be constructed with a certain size of concrete blocks and you had to figure out how many blocks you'd need. This is really a straightforward question but of course the answer I got--twice--fell in between two of options. I ended up going with the answer with the greater quantity than what I'd calculated, because the other option wouldn't provide enough bricks to actually construct the walls. Assuming I'd calculated correctly, of course. Of all the questions on the breadth exam, this one bugged me the most. Wouldn't you know that the same question appeared in the Depth exam as well, but in a more complex form. You had to figure out the cost of the wall, based on cost of bricks, labor costs, labor rate, salvage value, etc. A fairly straightforward question, even if the answer I calculated wasn't one of the options given so I ended up guessing it anyway.

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