I wrote about the study materials I used in a separate post but, to summarize – Amber Book.
For those of you unfamiliar, Amber Book has you think of the 6 divisions as one big test. They recommend you take your tests spaced as closely together as you can because the information included on the tests can often overlap from one division into another. I decided to take this to heart and I took all 6 tests over a 3 week period, with two per week, for a total of 4 days where I had a test to take. Below is my schedule:
- PCM and PJM on the same day (week 1)
- CE and PA on the same day (week 2)
- PPD on Thursday (week 3)
- PDD on Friday (week 3)
Also, I took all of these tests via the online proctor option. I did this for several reasons but the primary reason is that there are a number of studies that have been done showing that your memory recall is better if you are in the same location as when you first memorized the information. I can’t quantify how much it helped me but, I do know that I was able to pass every test on the first try.
Did I have any issues with the online proctoring? Yes, but only once when the calculator malfunctioned, and I was able to close out and get back in without issue. I did have a hardwired internet connection with blazing fast speeds. On the morning of the tests, I would reset the modem, so everything had a fresh chance of success. I never had any issues with scrolling or searching so nothing to add there. I basically never used the whiteboard and only used it for the text function and that worked great. I also did get to use the new calculator for one test and absolutely loved it…. Then someone pointed out its rounding issues when rounding out to the thousands place (spoiler, the calculations are not that precise so it wouldn’t have mattered). The running history window in the new calculator is well worth it and it saves time from typing info into the whiteboard.
Below are my totally subjective difficulty rankings for the tests. I have 8 years of working experience and there were several surprises for me which I will get into in the individual test breakdowns.
Test Difficulty for Me
Very Easy PA
Below are my descriptions of the tests in the order I took them:
I thought this would be the hardest. I have zero experience in this area so this one was a real challenge for me. Amber Book does a good job in their course but, for this section, I feel like all the test questions were one or two degrees removed from the concepts taught in Amber Book. I had to use the method of eliminating the wrong answers to narrow things down. A trick I liked to do on the pick 6 was to select all the boxes and use the process of elimination to “unselect” the wrong options.
I had some experience at work with this one and there was a good amount of overlap of concepts with PCM. In fact, I had the exact same question pop up on both PCM and PJM. Believe it when Amber Book says to take the tests in quick succession, there is overlap among the tests.
Work experience helped me a ton on this. Any time in CA will help you get through this. I wasn’t too worried about this one and finished with 40 minutes left on the clock.
This is perhaps the only test I think I could have passed straight out of college. I thought for sure it would end up being the most subjective test but, it turned out that it is primarily comprised of logic puzzles. About 30 questions in, I realized this, and it helped me out. For many questions, there is a clear right/wrong relationship. It was one of the more taxing tests reading wise because a lot of the questions were a paragraph or more. It felt like a test full of case studies. I had “fun” on this test for about an hour but the long questions kept coming. Be prepared to read quickly and find what the questions are asking first, then go back and read the details.
I thought this test wouldn’t be that bad. I live PPD almost every day. I was wrong, it wasn’t easy. I know people say it is one of the harder ones and I would agree with them. I was about 30 questions in and was starting to worry because I was not certain on any of the questions I had just answered. The primary challenge was answering questions that relate to a totally different climate zone/seismic condition than what I am used to. There were a lot of seismic questions and, though Amber Book covers seismic, it doesn’t cover the topic in the depth that was necessary for the particular grouping of questions I saw on the test. After the first 30 questions, things began to get easier and I was able to pull through.
This was the hardest test by far. I live and breathe PDD every day at work but the way the questions were phrased really threw me off. Many of the questions seemed like you had to intuit what they were asking. So, every question felt like 2 or 3 questions and if you intuited wrong at any point, you would arrive at an incorrect answer. As an example - imagine being asked a specification question that was dependent on a code interpretation that was dependent on a drawing with no clear indication of what the construction type of the building is. These were questions within questions within questions. Where previous tests would have just given you the information you needed to solve the question, this test made you figure everything out. By question 60, I was sweating bullets, especially considering that I was currently 5 for 6 on the tests. I know I barely squeaked out a pass on this test.
- Don’t sweat the structural calculations. I only had 1 on PDD and I skipped it entirely.
- Don’t sweat the calculations in general. Yes, know your basic math, but trig is not part of these tests. Slopes are the hardest but, you won’t have to use SOH, CAH, TOA to solve anything. Concepts are key, not the math.
- Embrace the case study. After several tests, I realized that these are mostly gimme questions. What I mean by that is you can be 90% certain about having a correct answer for the case studies because most of the answers are in the case study materials. Use the search function and don’t read all/any of the case study materials. The goal isn’t to be an expert on the case study… the goal is to answer a question and pass your test.
- Go quickly. Don’t get stuck in a rut on a question; it is only worth 1 point. With that principle in mind, I honestly never had any issues with time on the tests. I was able to finish PDD with 9 minutes left but, I was able to go through the entire test TWICE, even after reviewing the questions I had flagged. I could see how time management would have been significantly harder before the reduction in the number of questions but, with the current format, it seems to me that time is on our side.
Thanks for making it this far with me! I enjoyed reading the breakdown posts made by others so I hope this contribution will be helpful. If I can pass these tests, you can too. Best of luck and check out Amber Book.
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