How to Pass the Engineering Board Exams: Tips from a Not-so Topnotcher

This is for you who’s looking for a practical inspiration, for that friendly motivation that despite your shortcomings, you hold a real shot at passing.


Passing the Engineering Board Exams is what separates an Engineering graduate from a full-fledged engineer. Even as different people have their own definitions of what truly makes an engineer, one cannot discard the fact that passing the Engineering Board legitimizes one’s profession as an engineer.

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For many, taking the Engineering Board is like facing King Koopa in Super Mario (okay, I am revealing too much about my age here), or securing a date with Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan. That is, it is highly challenging and requires extensive preparation. While select Engineering Board Exam takers already have the advantage of being natural geniuses or consummate information sponges, the majority burns the midnight oil for months on end to arm themselves with adequate knowledge to hurdle the grueling test, as I did.

Yet, for a wide gamut of reasons, many exam takers do not have entire months at their disposal to spend for studying. Some need to immediately find a job and start working right after college, to support their families or send siblings to school. Some already have their own kids.  Others will have to dedicate their days to other endeavors, like a family business or outreach programs, which will make inroads into the time they should be devoting to reviewing. While others prefer to enjoy a momentary ‘dolce far niente’, which oftentimes protracts till heaven knows when. Whatever the reason is, the bottom line is not every one that takes the Engineering Board Exam on game day is prepared. And it could be you.

Hence, I wrote this article for you. This will not make you a Topnotcher. I was not a Topnotcher, but guess what – I passed the Board. Through this article, I would like to share with you some tips, hacks if you may, that you can use during the exam day. These suggestions helped me save time and effort when I was taking the Electrical Engineer Board Exams, and no matter what type of Engineering Board Exams you take, I believe that these tips can come in handy.

1. Skip hard ones

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Give yourself an average of 5 minutes to solve a problem. If you cannot solve the problem within that time, it can be deemed a hard question, so skip it and save it for later. Doing this eliminates the chances of your spending too much time on difficult items and of not having enough time to deal with those that you actually can solve faster. This also helps in not getting discouraged in the process of answering the test. It is normal for any exam taker to panic and get dejected in the face of difficult questions. In my experience, I decided to take a nap when I noticed that I could not answer the first 10 questions. This helped me refresh my mind and start again. Had I not done that, my first setbacks could have derailed my mindset and dampened my spirit, which could have spelled the difference between passing and failing.

2. Eliminate improbable answers (Process of elimination)

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I will let you in a secret: Some items in the Engineering Board Exams are designed NOT to be solved. That is, the answer to some questions will be made quite obvious among the series of choices. Analyze the choices and evaluate the probability of their being the actual answer to the question. For example, in a particular question, if impedance is given and it is mentioned that it is inductive, you know that the current angle will be negative or more than 180 degrees. Hence, you can already eliminate the choices with a positive value or those less than 180 degrees.  Or if an item requires a whole number for an answer, take away those with decimal places. Some of the choices are too small or big to be the correct answer – take them out.

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As in the gameshow “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, when you limit the number of choices (like when a contestant uses the 50:50 lifeline), the chances of getting the question right increases.

See, sometimes your eagerness to start solving the questions in the conventional way will work against you. It is often beneficial to first look at the big picture and to be innovative in providing the answers.

3. Unit cancellation

Engineering Board Exams (Photo credit: Giphy)

In case you forget a certain formula, you can always use the unit cancellation method to arrive at the answer. For instance, you know that when a unit of measurement is divided by the same, they will cancel out. What remains will be the unit of measurement of your answer.

Let’s take a look at Work. The unit for Work is N•m. If, for instance, you are looking for the Force that is required to move a block of 1 kg to a distance of 1 m, you can see that some units of measurement can already be cancelled by just looking at the units of the given values. So you need not worry if you don’t memorize the formulas, because Engineering is actually not about memorization but persistent practice to solve different problems.

4. Know your calculator

Engineering Board Exams (Photo credit: Giphy)

Your calculator should be the extension of your life. You should treat it as your girlfriend. Therefore, know your calculator as you know yourself.

Knowing the capabilities and limitations of your calculator can hugely boost your chances of passing the Engineering Board Exams. You should know how to operate your calculator like the back of your hand. Ensure that you know how to correctly enter and derive values using your calculator. Be familiar with its onscreen elements and with what symbols and messages mean (so that you don’t commit the mistake of solving for degrees when your calculator was in radian mode all along). Familiarize yourself with all of its functions so you know what complex calculations your calculators can simplify. Capitalize on the features of your calculator and use them to your advantage. For example, the calculators available today are already able to directly solve standard deviation, matrix and quadratic equations, to name a few. Ideally, the calculator that you will bring to the Board Exams is the one that you have been using since 3rd year college, so operating it becomes second nature.

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5. Never leave items blank

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There is saying that one misses 100% of the shots that he does not take. So, in worst case scenarios or if you are really running out of time, if the test is not ‘right-minus-wrong’, I suggest that you provide speculative answers to all items. By providing an answer to all questions, you give yourself a chance of getting a point.

If you must provide speculative answers, I suggest stick with ONE choice/letter across all the questions. Do not randomize your answers. This way, you will have a better percentage of nailing some (or even the majority) of the items. Based on my experience in taking several professional licensure examinations and mentoring Board Exams takers, it is best to gamble on B or C.

In terms of verbal answers, I have observed that the choice with the wordiest answer is often correct.

The great equalizer

Engineering Board Exams (Photo credit: Giphy)

I did not write this article to condone mediocrity. Of course, as an Engineer myself, I encourage all of you to strive to excel in the Engineering Board Exams. Achieving an exemplary score at the Exams will go a long way, not only in securing a job, but also in creating a stable and sustainable career in Engineering.

I wrote this article to give a fighting chance to those that, for a variety of reasons, cannot afford to extensively prepare for the exams. I wrote this for those looking for a practical inspiration, for a nudge, for that friendly motivation that despite his or her shortcomings, he or she holds a real shot at passing.

This article could also boost the chances of passing of those who comprehensively prepared.

Passing the Board Exams is not the culmination but rather the commencement of one’s vocation as an engineer. I believe that the Engineering Board Exams is the great equalizer. Once one passes the Board, he or she puts him or herself on an equal footing with the ones who graduated from more prestigious schools, with the class topnotchers, with the teachers’ favorites, with the geniuses and the information sponges. At that moment, scholastic lines will disappear and they will all be known by one name: Engineer.

This article is sponsored by Altaaqa Global Caterpillar Rental Power

About the author:

Engr. Arnie de Guzman, RME, REE, PEE is a Senior Applications Engineer with leading global temporary power plant provider Altaaqa Global Caterpillar Rental Power. He has previously held vital engineering positions with international electrical industry leaders, including Aggreko, Siemens and Alstom. Engr. Arnie has been instrumental in providing electricity to key regions in the world, even to the most remote areas of the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and the Americas.

He passed the RME while still in college, and passed the REE Exams in his first take. He is now a PEE.

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How to Pass the Engineering Board Exams: Tips from a Not-so Topnotcher

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