Disclaimer: This is rehashed from an article I wrote in August 2016 for GineersNow. Some parts are added or edited for clarity.
Every engineer working in the field has their piece on how they prepared for their licensure exam. Every preparation is different depending on the background and the ability to learn. And here is mine.
Right after I finished my civil engineering course, I knew that it was just the beginning of something bigger for my career. In the Philippines, where a diploma doesn’t automatically grant an engineering graduate with the prefix “Engr.” in his name, I need to take the professional board exam to be proven worthy of the title. While I oppose to this kind of thinking – that one cannot be an engineer without the license – I prepared myself to take the exam so I could practice in my field with dignity.
The Search for a Review Center
My first main thought in taking the board exam was if I have what it takes to take and pass it, with just the engineering education I got from my university. Traditionally, engineering graduates would search for the best review centers that will enhance and polish them. Rarely do engineering graduates brave the board exam through self-study. So I went with trend and enrolled myself in a review center that I know will propel me to my engineering license.
This is a critical choice since the review center you choose will dictate your study patterns and techniques. They also know the trends and tricks in the board exam – which items will come out, which topics will be focused on by the examiners. Self-study can’t teach that, so this is really an investment. And you’ve got to find the perfect fit for your learning curve by asking around.
Fear of Missing Out
I said to myself that if I want to take the board exam, I really have to want it bad – do whatever it takes to pass the exam, even if it means I have to make certain sacrifices along the way. I reminded myself on a regular basis that I have to work harder than usual in order to succeed, and I recognize that such entails struggles I have to face. I acknowledged that my license to practice engineering isn’t handed easy – it has to be earned.
I did punish myself for quite some time, isolating myself from my social circles. While they are out there enjoying their beers, I was in my room drowning into the depth of my engineering reviewers. Being a social drinker, it was a depressing episode of my life. But it has to be done. The secret to this is setting priorities. I will study now, and drink later when I’m already a licensed engineer. (And I did!)
Learning How to Learn
Of course studying for a midterm exam in college is far different from studying for the board exam. The board exam is the ultimate culmination of engineering learning, measuring if you hold enough knowledge to be able to work in the field as an engineer. You will face an exam wherein all of your engineering courses are in just one set of exams. One damn set! I had to make proper adjustments and set my study habits to be as stringent as it could be.
I almost never missed any of my review classes because I might miss something important that will come out in the exam. My review instructors may say valuable pieces of information that will save me later, which could be anything. I take down a lot of notes in my review classes even the motivational ones to keep me on track.
But more than just attending my review classes, I religiously studied on my own.
It’s important that I didn’t depend on my review center so much, but instead relied on my own capacity to study. After all, the review center is just my guide. I spent most of my time off of the review classes isolating myself with the engineering books, mastering formulas and absorbing concepts. I solved lots and lots of problems even outside of the study materials my review center gave me. When I do that, I make it a point that I am never to be bothered by anyone – my roommates – or anything – my smartphone. I should be laser-focus on studying.
For the entire time of my review months, I also had formula cards and review booklets with me so I could scan it whenever I have the chance. It helps when I’m commuting – instead of staring at a blank space, I looked at my cards so I keep reminded of the formulas and the constants. This is a classic case of studying intelligently rather than studying hard.
It’s a struggle to sleep normally in these situations, but I need to sleep to function properly. In the first few weeks of review, I experimented on reducing my sleeping hours and studying more. I noticed that my body functions were declining so I had to stop. It’s still best to give your mind and body time to rest so you can think efficiently when awake.
No Room for Cheating
Never did the thought of cheating come into my mind. I forgave myself for doing that in college, and I will never forgive myself if I cheated my way in passing the board exam. Even during the practice exams in review, I trained myself to answer them all on my own because I reckon it is for my own good.
No one can save me during the board exam but myself. I need to hold the answers if I want to pass, and I can’t do that if I cheat. What gain will I get if I choose to cheat? Nothing. I can’t fathom risking the life of other people from a design of an incompetent, cheating engineer.
The Fear of Failure
Over the course of preparing for the board, I can’t help but think of this significant what if: what if I fail? It’s a lingering possibility that cannot be removed from anyone in taking the exam.
I don’t like the idea of failing the board exam. I mean, who wants to take the board exam only to fail it? What I did was consistently think of escaping that route. I focused my attention in improving myself rather than pulling myself down. My mantra: I can do it!
Why do I have to take the board exam twice if I can pass it on my first take? My target was to pass the board exam as if it’s a matter of life and death – if I pass, I get to live; if I don’t, I die. It sounds funny as a motivational piece of advice but it worked with me. So I got to live.
Having the Faith to Pass
Beside the thought of not failing is having the faith to pass. I have to believe in myself that I can survive the exam. If I can’t do that, who will? I am the one to take the exam after all; I am bound to have that conviction. It’s not difficult to convince yourself this as long as you really want to be an engineer after the board exam.
Studying engineering, especially civil, is difficult but what pushes me is to achieve my long-time dream. “It’s just one set of exam,” I said to myself. “After these struggles I will be able to live my dream,” I convinced myself even more.
I’m not one who follows a religion – I believe in an indefinite supreme being – but I meditated for peace of mind. When I’m relaxed, I could think properly. And that’s exactly what I needed to pair with my convictions.
Aiming for Topnotcher
I was an average engineering student. The thought of being a topnotcher amuses me, but I taught myself to believe that there is a possibility. I mean, who doesn’t want to belong in the board exam’s top ten? That’s an achievement.
Being one of the best in a multitude of board exam takers can be done, even for someone like me. I want to be included in that league but the thought of being not there doesn’t frustrate me at all. If I get to place in the board exam, it’s just a bonus; if I don’t, it’s fine, as long as I belong to the passer’s list. But still, I aim to become a topnotcher by not holding back in my studying. That’s what topnotchers do, right?
Preparing for the Judgment Day
Few days before the judgment day, I just scanned through my notes. I did not involve myself into intensive review – or solving many problems for that matter – anymore as that would just ruin what I have already learned. My style was to stress myself on the onset of the review and relax as the board exam day comes near. I believe that the board exam is not one to cram.
Even on the eve of my board exam, I did not do any studying. Instead, I divulged into what could make me happy and stable: food and sleep. I could not be stressed on the day before my board exam so I chose to keep it cool.
The Judgment Day
The judgment day came and it’s time to show to the world that I am ready to be a licensed engineer. I brought with me the right amount of poise on the testing room – I was driven to pass.
Never try to be overconfident by finishing faster than anyone else. Damn those who show off by submitting their testpapers first. It’s not a matter of speed but a matter of answering correctly. I took time to review all my solutions because I know the board exam problems are almost always tricky, as how my review instructors put it. Use your time until the last minute if possible, there’s no need to rush. It pays to double check.
There are questions that really are a source of panic, because they were never studied ever, or they were never familiar to you. Rattled at first, but I tried to remain calm. It happens because you can’t know everything. I had my fair share of that in all sets of exams but I chose to find the questions I could answer and make sure they are correct. Just try to answer those alien questions the best you could, by approximation or alternate methods.
Instructions are part of the exam so I also see to it that I followed the instructions. I can’t stand it if I failed because of the failure to shade properly or write my name incorrectly.
I finished the board exam hoping for the best but expecting the worst. Coming home from the testing center, I was counting my possible correct items and I figured I might not be able to make it. I can never be sure until my answer sheet is checked. I cannot be relieved until I see my name in the roster of the new licensed civil engineers.
I Became a Full-Fledged Engineer
And so I did find my name in the list. All those head-cracking and nerve-wrecking experiences brought me to my success. Now I’m a civil engineer who is able to work professionally.
The struggles were all worth it.
Engr. Dion Greg Reyes passed his licensure exam in May 2015. He worked with a construction firm, a digital publishing company, two solar companies prior to entering the insurance industry. He writes blogs on the side.