Snooki and entropy – Studying for the FE/EIT exam, part III

Snooki and entropy - My science career rebooted! blog - Heather Fireman JacksonThroughout the time I was studying for the FE/EIT exam, I always had Tetris dreams, but they changed every night. They morphed from sines and cosines when I was reviewing free body diagrams to Cp and Cv when I got to thermodynamics.

But everyone knows dreams always pull together random things from memory and current experience. Mix studying for the FE/EIT exam with all the escapist TV I watched whenever I got some free time, and naturally I dream of Snooki trying to calculate entropy.

I was about halfway through my study program and on a roll. The more re-acquainted I got with the engineering subjects, the more confident I felt. But if I’m totally honest, the FE/EIT exam is more of an exercise in solving textbook questions fast.

Let’s review the evidence. Lindeburg’s FE Review Manual was an effective study aid, and I highly recommend it. It is also an extended orientation to the Supplied Reference Handbook. This is the bound book of equations provided by NCEES (the engineering licensing board), and it’s the only reference allowed during the exam. Surprise! Unlike nearly every exam you faced in school, on the FE/EIT, they just give you all the equations you’ll need on the exam (almost all of them, anyway). Success therefore depends on knowing the right equation to apply, where in the 264-page handbook to find it, and what all the variables mean, for they’re not defined in the handbook.

Some topics covered on the FE/EIT exam, like bioprocessing, were new to me, a materials science and engineering major. Others I was intimately acquainted with, such as thermodynamics, but we took a different angle – materials scientists focus on chemical reactions and phase equilibria, not heat engines. Free body diagrams came back to me like riding a bike; the Carnot cycle not so much.

Either way, taking the time to work some problems across the spectrum of engineering topics doesn’t just help us prepare to solve exam-style questions the day of. Speaking the language, practicing the moves, inhabiting the mindset – it all helps give our inner engineer a workout.

Even if I never again need to calculate the enthalpy or entropy change in a Rankine cycle, at least now I’m better acquainted with the processes in a steam turbine. If I intend to make a career troubleshooting engineering materials in industrial applications, more familiarity can only be a good thing.


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