This review is about the online course I took in studying for the April 2017 California Engineering Surveying Exam. Having never taken a surveying course in college and learning most of it on the job, I needed instruction so that I could understand the basics. There are many courses that can teach you surveying from scratch, but I decided to go with the on-demand Civil PE Surveying Review (CPESR) course taught by Kirk Torossian based on reviews from engineerboards.com
Of all the courses I could find that have an online option, CPESR was the cheapest at $350. The course includes 12 hours of on-demand videos, practice quizzes, four timed computer-based test (CBT) exams, a reference manual with equations and example problems, and a cool transparent ruler.
Your references are one of the most important things you need on the exam besides your calculator, and I feel that the reference manual that comes with course is helpful for 90% of the questions encountered on this exam. The manual comes pre-tabbed with the important topics and relevant formulas. Relevant sections from the various surveying acts and laws are included and easy to find. All of the class video sample exercises are within the manual as well.
This manual is great for answering the many quantitative questions in the exam, but since it’s not a standalone book you won’t be able to find the answer to any specific “trivial” questions the exam sometimes throws at you. Because of this, I highly recommend purchasing an additional reference that covers every topic more in-depth, or perhaps a textbook. My personal suggestion is to purchase or borrow a copy of Dr. Mansour’s “Surveying for California Civil PE License” or Reza Mahallati’s “Civil Surveying Review Workbook” ($130 on his website). Each of these workbooks are part of each instructor’s respective course, so you should also consider weighing the CPESR course against these competitor courses as well.
Video Content & Online Interface
There are only 12 hours of on-demand video in this class. This doesn’t seem like a lot for the price you’re paying, but CPESR makes up for it by being concise and offering the best quality and presentation of any on-demand course I took while studying for the three PE exams. The videos are split into roughly nine sections of surveying topics, and they range from 30 minutes to two hours long.
The online interface is also easy to navigate and you can access the website and videos on most tablets as well (a bonus if you want to study in bed or on the bus).
Kirk’s teaching style is upbeat and kept me engaged. I’ve taken online courses that seem to drag on because of the seriousness of the instructor or a monotone voice, but this class isn’t like that. Kirk speaks very clearly and throws in some humor to keep things light. In the videos he’ll go over a topic, and then show you how to solve example questions directly from the reference manual.
Speed is emphasized in this class, and the really nice thing about the videos is that at times he shows the exact buttons to press on the calculator (a TI-89, which he recommends, but more on that later) so that you can maximize your speed, and he explains each step of the problem thoroughly and shows you a slow and fast way to solve a problem.
Overall, Kirk teaches and speaks to you more like he’s your gym buddy rather than a formal instructor, and this makes watching the videos and learning a relatively dry topic (sorry, but I’m a water resources dude) more enjoyable.
Computer Based Quizzes
After viewing the videos for each section, you are encouraged to take a quiz that tests you on basic questions about that topic and that builds on the previous topics. This is a nice feature that I appreciated because it kept everything fresh in my mind up to the end of the course. Also, the quizzes are setup exactly like the CBTs with four multiple choice answers to simulate the real test.
Computer Based Tests (CBTs)
There are four, 55-question, 2.5-hour long, randomized CBTs in this class, and they range from easy, to normal, to hard, to very hard. You can take these tests over and over, and each time you complete a test you receive the solutions, and your score is saved so you can gauge your performance over time.
Kirk’s advice is to take each of these exams at least three times to guarantee a pass, and while I only managed to take each one two or three times, I felt very prepared if not overprepared for the real exam. The questions are mostly solvable if you took the class, but he throws a few curveball questions at you that he did not cover at all (similar to the exam) and this is where having your additional reference really helps. All of the exams, especially the hard and very hard CBTs, had a few lengthy questions that were very difficult to solve within the time limit or required you to envision invisible triangles and know your trigonometry inside and out. However, by taking the exams over and over and learning from your (sometimes repeated) mistakes, you can finish even the very hard exam with time to spare.
Kirk highly touts the TI-89 calculator for this exam because of the easiness of using answers from previous calculations and its DMS buttons. Speed is the name of the game, and he even shows you how to use the calculator’s functions in addition to solving practice problems with it.
The TI-89 is indeed a fine calculator, but unless you already have it, I don’t recommend buying it for three reasons. First, it’s pretty expensive at roughly $130 online. Second, the TI-89 is not allowed for the National Civil PE Exam. But more importantly, entering DMS angles on it is a bit cumbersome compared to my favorite calculator, the Casio fx-115ES PLUS (only $16!). I’ve actually written a post on this topic if you’d like to make an informed decision for yourself. Either way, you’ll be fine taking this class and the exam with or without the recommended TI-89 calculator.
The 12 instructional hours you get from the CPESR course videos are relatively short, but the quizzes and CBTs are where you get the most bang for your buck. I truly believe that there is enough variety of questions in the CBTs that if you can learn to comfortably answer each one in all of the CBTs, and bring another reference, you will find that the real exam is a piece of cake.
I did not have any experience in surveying before taking this course besides looking at construction plans and skimming through Cuomo’s Surveying Principles for Civil Engineers (which is a good starter book for surveying newbies). However, when I took the real exam I finished early and felt that it was on par with the difficulty level of the “very easy” to “normal” CBTs offered by CPESR.
CPESR prepared me well for the CA Surveying exam and passing on my first try, and I would recommend it to anyone considering it for their exam preparation.