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If you hope to become a structural engineer, you’ll have to pass the SE exam to prove you know your stuff. It’s a challenging 16-hour examination administered over two days and it’s something you probably only want to do once. While the exam is open book, you still need a thorough grounding of the material before you set foot in the test room so you know which parts of your study materials to turn to for information. That’s where an SE exam prep course can help.

The SE exam differs from the FE exam and the PE exam. If you have not already taken the FE and PE exam, you may be interested in checking out our guides on the best prep courses for each of them.

We evaluated several industry-leading SE exam prep courses based on their comprehensiveness, accessibility, resources, and support options for students to determine which ones offered the greatest value and gave students the best odds of passing. In the end, we whittled down the options to our top three.

PPI was our favorite because it had the most comprehensive study materials and it gave students the option to learn on their own or with the help of an instructor, depending on their preferences. But everyone learns a little differently, so we recommend checking out all of our top three picks below before making up your mind.

The 3 Best SE Exam Prep Courses

CoursePrice
PPI$15 - $2,990
School of PE$0 - $1,490
American Society of Civil Engineers$1,295 - $1,895

The Most Important Features: Access, Comprehensive Content, Study Materials and Student Support

Here’s a closer look at the categories we evaluated each SE exam prep course in to come up with our top three.

Access

We focused our search on online SE exam prep courses so that anyone with an internet connection would be able to attend, no matter where they lived. Most SE exam prep courses are self-paced, so students can review the materials on their own schedule, but some offer live courses, either instead of or in addition to the self-paced course materials for students who require extra assistance or learn best in a classroom setting. PPI and School of PE stood out here because they offered both self-paced and live online courses to suit all learning styles.

Comprehensive Content

A good SE exam prep course should cover all of the key concepts and question types that will appear on the exam. All of our top three performed well in this category and earned high praise from former students, but PPI stood out once again, offering over 70 hours of study materials to help students gain a thorough grounding in all of the key concepts on the exam.

Study Materials

A typical SE exam prep course includes a series of lessons, a question bank, and practice exams. Lessons may be either text-based or video-based for online courses or in person if you choose a live course option. Your course should also include reference materials you can take with you on exam day to help you quickly locate the relevant facts and figures you need. All of our top three did well in this area, but PPI gives you the most flexibility in terms of which study materials you buy so you can purchase as much or as little as you need.

Student Support

SE exam prep courses are usually a big expense and the material can be quite challenging, so the top courses try to assist students in any way they can. PPI and the American Society of Civil Engineers offer free trials to students interested in seeing if the SE exam prep course is right for them and they also offer pass guarantees, which enable you to retake the course for free if you fail the exam. All three of our top courses also give students tools they can use to reach out to other students and instructors if they have questions about the material.

Full Reviews of the Best SE Exam Prep Courses

PPI Review

Best for comprehensiveness

PPI is easily the most flexible of the SE exam prep courses listed here. It enables students to choose between live and on-demand courses and it lets them purchase course materials individually or in bundles and pay in the way that’s most convenient for them. Either way, you’ll receive a thorough grounding in all of the important topics covered in the SE exam and plenty of support along the way if you choose PPI.

What to Expect

PPI gives students a choice between live online courses that meet three days per week in the evenings or on-demand courses that students can review at their own pace. Few SE exam prep companies give you both options, so it’s a good company to choose if you want a say in how you learn. Students in the live course choose the schedule that matches the date they plan to take the exam. They also get access to the PPI Digital Learning Hub and all of the on-demand course materials.

Its on demand course is primarily composed of video lectures, but you also get a number of print reference materials you can take with you to your exam and have on hand for the future. As you go through the course, you’ll get to practice the concepts you’re learning with questions that are similar to those you’ll face on the real SE exam. This can help you identify areas you may need to review further before the exam.

Students in its live online course can interact with other students and ask questions of the professor and they also get a passing guarantee. If they fail the course, they can retake the on demand course again at no additional charge. Those who are unable to pay for the full cost of PPI’s courses upfront will be glad to know there are payment plans available and you can get discounts by bundling PPI materials together.

PPI Details

CoursePrice
PPI California Civil Seismic Building Design, 12th Edition Index$15
PPI Structural Engineering Reference Manual, 9th Edition Index$15
PPI Study Schedule Buildings for the Structural Engineering Reference Manual$49
PPI Study Schedule Bridges for the Structural Engineering Reference Manual$49
SE Learning Hub$59
NCEES Structural Engineering Practice Exam$80
Concrete Design for the PE Civil and SE Exams$95
SE Structural Breadth Six-Minute Problems, Sixth Edition$100
Bridge Problems for the Structural Engineering SE Exam$104
California Civil Seismic Principles Practice Exams, 12th Edition$105
California Civil Seismic Principles Solved Problems, 12th Edition$105
Steel Design for the PE Civil and SE Exams$105
Structural Engineering Solved Problems for the SE Exam$110
SE Structural Engineering Buildings Practice Exam, Fifth Edition$115
California Civil Seismic Building Design$120
Structural Engineering Reference Manual$205
SE Vertical & Lateral Forces On Demand Course - Monthly Renewing$485/month
SE Vertical & Lateral Forces On Demand Course - Three Months$1,185
SE Vertical & Lateral Forces On Demand Course - One Year$2,385
SE Vertical & Lateral Forces Live Online Course$2,990

School of PE Review

Best for affordability

School of PE enables you to gain the knowledge and skills you need to pass the SE exam the first time at a price that’s quite a bit lower than many of its competitors, especially for students who prefer to learn on their own. Those who need a bit of extra assistance will appreciate the live course option that adds additional lectures and gives them direct access to licensed engineers who can answer their questions.

What to Expect

School of PE offers Lateral Forces and Vertical Forces SE exam prep courses. Each course consists of refresher classes that go over key topics you are sure to see on the exam and delves into the theory behind them. You’ll also learn about some common question types that often appear on the exam. This component takes approximately 36 hours to complete. You’ll also get roughly 24 hours of workshop sessions where you practice and solve questions that simulate the ones from the actual exam.

The on demand course is primarily taught through video lectures, all of which are taught by subject-matter experts with years of experience in their field. You can start studying these materials as soon as you sign up and review them on your own time from any device. Students who enroll in the live online course will also receive access to a series of live video lectures in addition to the on demand course materials.

You can try out School of PE‘s on-demand SE exam prep course materials for free for 30 days to decide if it’s right for you. Like most SE exam prep courses, it’s not cheap, but it’s pretty affordable compared to its competitors and you can pay for the course over time rather than all at once. You get a lot for the price, especially if you enroll in a live course because you can reach out to your instructor during class or afterward with questions. Students in the online course can also send questions to an instructor through the online learning center. And students in both courses are eligible for a free retake if they fail the SE exam.

School of PE Details

CoursePrice
30-Day On Demand PreviewFree
On-Demand Course$1,190
Live Online Course$1,490

American Society of Civil Engineers Review

Best for clear study schedules

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) live online SE exam prep course is a perfect fit for those who need a structure and a support system to help them stay on track. The course is taught entirely online, though you can go back and review the topics covered on your own time, and you can reach out to your instructors or set up a study group to help you with any material you’re struggling with.

What to Expect

The ASCE SE exam prep course meets for two hours twice per week and takes place over 11 sessions. Your start date depends on when you plan to take the SE exam and you can view the latest course schedule on the ASCE website. Each course is taught by several instructors that specialize in different areas so you know you’re being taught by a knowledgeable engineer at all points throughout the course.

There is no on demand course, but students in the live course can go back and rewatch the course lectures if they need to review the materials. They also get access to handouts and other study materials and they can form study groups with other students in the class. This option, along with the regularly scheduled class sessions, can help keep you on track if you’re prone to falling behind when studying on your own.

The course price is pretty reasonable, especially if you’re already a member of the ASCE. Approximately 90% of ASCE’s SE exam course students pass the SE exam on their first try, but if for some reason you don’t, you may retake the course free of charge. And of course, you always have the option to reach out to instructors or your study group if you run into any questions.

American Society of Civil Engineers Details

CoursePrice
ASCE Member Price$1,295
Non-Member Price$1,895

Frequently Asked Questions About the SE Exam

Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the SE exam.

What requirements do I need to meet to take the SE Exam?

The SE Exam is an examination some states require professional engineers to pass if they hope to become a licensed structural engineer. Check with your state licensing board to see if this is necessary where you live. 

Each state licensing board has its own requirements you must meet in order to determine if you’re eligible to sit for the SE exam. There are also registration fees you need to pay in order to sign up for the exam. 

How do I apply for the SE exam?

Once you’ve met all the requirements, you may schedule your SE exam. There are two SE exam test dates for the Vertical and Lateral exams each year, one in April and the other in October. You can view the test dates for the current year on the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) website.

NCEES partners with Pearson VUE to administer its computer-based tests. You can schedule your exam for one of the approved dates at any Pearson VUE testing center near you. The test is open book, so you are allowed to bring your study materials, but personal items, like cell phones, must be placed in a locker for the full duration of the exam to prevent cheating.

How is the SE exam structured?

There are two SE exams — one for Lateral Forces and one for Vertical Forces. You must pass both of them in order to become a licensed structural engineer, though you don’t have to pass them both on the same test date. As long as you pass both within a five-year period, you qualify for licensure.

Each test is broken down into a morning and an afternoon session, which together take eight hours to complete. The morning section is the breadth session and consists of a number of multiple-choice questions covering a variety of structural engineering topics. The afternoon session is the depth session. This consists of essay questions that focus on a single area of structural engineering. You may choose either buildings or bridges to focus on, but you must choose the same option for the Lateral Forces and the Vertical Forces section.

What if I fail the SE exam?

Failing the SE exam on your first try is not uncommon. Only about 40 percent of first-time test takers pass. It takes about 10 to 12 weeks to get your grade after you’ve completed the exam because the essay questions must be graded by subject-matter experts and cannot be evaluated by a computer. Once your results are in, you can view them through your MyNCEES account. You’ll also get a notice in the mail.

If you do not pass a test, you’ll receive a diagnostic report indicating which questions and concepts you handled well and which ones you ought to go back and review. Use this report to inform your studies and spend the next six months reviewing the material you struggled with before you try the SE exam again. You will have to pay the registration fees again in order to retake the test.