In Canada, all applicants for professional engineering or geoscience licence are required to pass the National Professional Practice Examination (NPPE). The NPPE, or PPE as it is called in some provinces, is based on professionalism, law and ethics. Currently, 12 provincial and territorial associations are using a common multiple-choice type exam with 110 questions administered by the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA). For many a candidate, it’s the first time of facing exam again, years after leaving college. Having helped many candidates to prepare for the NPPE, with a huge success rate, I would like to share eight tips / techniques to studying for and passing the exam:
- Use the learning method that is most convenient for you: NPPE requires an in-depth study program in order to pass. If time is on your side and you’re a book-loving type nothing works better than munching the two textbooks and the other supporting publications recommended for the exam. But it’s a tall order for many, especially if your job consumes a substantial part of your day or you simply don’t enjoy reading on your own. There are now many learning centres and platforms that help prepare NPPE candidates, either in traditional classroom settings or online. They vary in what they offer: some only provide a bank of practice questions, some supply prepared notes of key points (which they call ‘cheat sheets’), while some offer self-paced video lecture modules. From the onset, decide on what method you want to adopt. If you decide that self-study is not for you, choose a learning centre or platform that offers what you need the most. Not having clarity about this till a couple of weeks to the exam could seriously hinder your preparation.
- Do not let the sizes of the textbooks fool you! A common mistake by NPPE candidates is assuming that there will be more questions from the law textbook than the ethics textbook, going by the sizes of the two books. But the weighting in the syllabus reveals that more than 40% of the questions are actually derived from the ethics textbook and only about 30% from the law textbook. If you have ample time to spend on all the study materials the marks distribution may not matter to you, but if you’re pressed for time and have to prioritize, it’s a smart move to look at the latest version of the syllabus on the APEGA website and pay attention to the marks distribution in the syllabus.
- Study by topics, not by textbook chapters: A candidate once told me: “When I registered for the exam with six weeks to prepare I allocated two weeks each to the law book, the ethics book and the collection of other reading materials. I later discovered that some topics on ethics and professional practice that I had already studied in the law book were also covered in the ethics book. Likewise the subject of intellectual property covered in the law book was discovered to be treated more extensively in some of the other publications recommended for reading.” If you’re going to self-study, the advice is to use the syllabus as a guide to study by topics. For each topic study across all the books and the other publications where they’re covered. This strategy will save you some time.
- Look for some reading materials outside of the recommended materials: Section C of the syllabus lists risk management and quality management as parts of the topics to be studied, but they’re not covered in the recommended reading materials. And yet questions do come out from those topics. Do you then go and read whole textbooks of risk management and quality management? No. APEGA has some publications on those topics and they are only few pages long. I would recommend these two APEGA publications to any candidate wanting to include study of risk management and quality management in their preparation: Guideline for Management of Risk in Professional Practice and Guideline for Professional Practice.
- Start your preparation early: Whichever preparation method (Tip #1) you decide to adopt it is important to start it early. Have a look at the outlines of the materials to cover and make a realistic study schedule. If you’re adopting self-study I would recommend a 2 – 3 month preparation period. If you’re relying on a learning centre, ask the centre for advice on how much preparation time is required. The target should be to complete all materials with some days left for revision before the exam.
- Study the topics deeply: NPPE questions are not set to assess you merely on ability to recall basic facts, but on your comprehension of facts and ability to apply them to new situations. Candidates who have not studied deeply will likely find themselves only able to narrow down the answer to one of two choices from which they’re unable to pick the correct one. As you study, pay attention to details, reflect on the points and see if you can relate them to your past experiences.
- Practice Practice Practice! It helps to get some questions to practice; they will act as a reality check on your level of preparedness. APEGA as well as some learning centres offer practice questions for a fee. But candidates need to know that practice questions alone are not sufficient for preparation and therefore they cannot replace actual studying of the topics.
- Keep things simple! Familiarize yourself with the exam centre location before the exam day. Arrive early and maintain a positive attitude. Do not panic; instead, remind yourself that you have prepared. If a question seems too hard at first glance, skip it and answer all the questions you know, then return to the ones you left blank.
The pass mark is 65%. This doesn’t look like a lot, but each question is a true test of knowledge and good preparation is the only antidote to falling short. Following the above tips will go a long way in landing a candidate in the pass zone.
Got more tips? Please share them with us in the comment section below.