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RE: California SE exam

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At 02:14 PM 02/24/2000 -0500, you wrote:
>Thank you for your insight regarding the California SE exam and the
>NCEES Struct I & II exams.  What is your evaluation of each of these
>examination systems?  

        The unique California positioning of SE is that SE is a "title" one
may use; it is in effect a follow-on specialty of the basic PE practice
branch of Civil Engineering. In the Calif PE Act, CE includes structural
work without restriction. Certain other state statutes restrict public
schools and hospitals to SE's, and reportedly City of L.A. somehow restricts
high-rise buildings to SE's. 

        California tests CE's using the NCEES CE Exam, supplemented by
state-written "special" exams in (supposedly) seismic principles and
engineering surveying principles. There have been recurring protests that
the term "principles" has not been honored, and that excessive complexity
and sophistication have been inserted as an artificial barrier to high pass
rates. Before the mid-1970's, California used a home-written CE exam that
contained required seismic problems and land surveying problems. The pass
rate ran around one-third. With use of the NCEES CE exam, which did not bear
seismic or LS problems, pass rates ran above 80 percent. Both "calamities"
were cured by introduction of the special supplemental exam portions.    

        The NCEES Struct I exam has been characterized as an "entry-level"
PE exam, akin to the NCEES CE exam, where the Calif SE Exam has been held
out as being a "mastery" exam. I gather indirectly that the NCEES Struct II
exam also is well above "entry-level"

>Is somenone (in your opinion) more qualified to
>design structures (especially in high seismicity regions) if they have
>passed the Californis SE exam as opposed to the NCEES Struct I & II?
        I'm not going to judge an engineer by the color of his or her exam.
The Calif SE Exam is definitely seismic oriented, as is the experience
requirement to get in to the exam. To my knowledge it is not much
wind-oriented, nor bridge oriented after a trial at including bridges. I
have no special insight on NCEES Structural I and II exam content. 

        Passing an exam is a very good measure of the person's ability to
"pass" the exam that was taken. For the Calif SE Exam, in addition to basic
competency, that ability, more than anything else, turns on how well one can
replicate the solutions favored by unseen, unknown problem writers and
graders who have their own habitual perspectives. Working among those very
people while acquiring the ordained experience is highly recommended.
Knowing the equivalent of Calif SE prejudices, idioms, accents, and
mannerisms does count a lot to the acceptability of one's problem solutions.
Maverick ways, regardless of technical merit, are a disadvantage. For
example, despite exam instructions that clearly give equal opportunity, ASD
solutions in steel design are standard; LRFD solutions foreign and
unwelcome. That may be easing under pressure since litigation exposed it.
Solutions notably more expert and sophisticated than intended by the
examiners are likely to be scored poorly; if in multiple choice answer
format a superior answer can easily be a "wrong choice" and get zero credit.
No appeal of multiple-choice problems is permitted anymore. 

>I would like to eventually take the California SE exam, but my
>experience is generally limited to Zone 2 seismic design, which is of
>course much less restricive and complex than design in Zone 4.  What
>would be your recommendation to me as far as becoming eligible to take
>the California SE exam?  I know that one must have engineers with a
>California or Western States SE license be their references, or that
>SEAOC can provide an evaluation of past work in order to qualify
>experience.  Could I qualify, if I only had experience in Zone 2 or 3

        Look up the qualifying and application reference requirements in the
Board Rules. See the Board's website at
Look under Laws and Regulations, the Reg. portion, and look up "plain
language pamphlet" (which however may not be up to date) under Exam Info. 

        I am not aware of experience explicitly depending on seismic zone of
project location.

        The special "Engineering Surveying" part of the Calif CE Exam ought
not to delve into property boundary legal issues, or other "Land" surveying
issues. Newly licensed CE's are no longer authorized to do land surveying,
so the surveying tested on should be limited to the kind used in design and
layout of civil engineering works. What actually is tested I don't know.    

Charles O. Greenlaw  SE    Sacramento CA