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Engineering: A Creative Profession, Serving Society

Preparing for the Control Systems Engineering (CSE) PE Examination


Page Contents:

Author's Background
The Problem
The Solution - How I Prepared
The Day of the Exam - Tips
The Day of the Exam - What I Learned


Disclaimer: The following information is posted by Penn State as a service and possible aid to persons planning to take the CSE PE exam.  It recounts the experiences of the author as he prepared to take the 2001 examination - his sources of information, preparation techniques, materials, etc.  Some references and policies may have changed since 2001.  It is left to the reader to decide which information is applicable and useful in the present context.



Robert E. Shaw, PE
BSEE 1990, Penn State University


As the author prepared to take the October 2001 Control Systems Engineering, CSE, Professional E examination, he found that there were almost no sources of information to help him in his self-study program. This document tells how he solved that problem and went on to pass the CSE PE exam, in Ohio, in October 2001. In fact, his approach was so successful that he received a special award from the Ohio Society of Professional Engineers for getting the highest score in the state on the CSE exam. In this document, Mr. Shaw shares his experiences and knowledge, as an aid and a guide to others who are preparing for the CSE PE examination.

For convenience, all print references and web site links have been placed in tables at the bottom of the document, rather than interspersed throughout the text.

Throughout this document, Mr. Shaw references The Complete Moron's Guide To Taking The Control Systems Engineering P.E. Exam. Mr. J. A. Miller, the author of that Guide no longer maintains it at his original web site, but he has been kind enough to allow us to post it. Click here to see the Guide.

Author's Background
From 1990 through 1996 I worked in Chicago and central Illinois for several engineering firms, primarily in the steel and the foods industry. My work evolved to the point that I worked almost exclusively in the "controls" discipline Ė PLC programming, HMI programming, and control system design. In 1996, I began working for an Ohio OEM of water purification equipment. This experience gave me a wide background in final element selection (valves, transmitters, sensors, etc.). After five years of employment with that company, I now work at a government research facility. With eleven years of controls-type background, I thought that I would more easily pass the "Control Systems" PE exam, as opposed to the "Electrical Engineering" exam.

The Problem
Four months before the CSE exam and after receiving approval from the state of Ohio to take the exam, I set out to find study materials, reference materials, and review courses to help me prepare for the exam. I spent countless hours performing internet research and old fashioned library research looking for information. I quickly discovered that almost nothing existed to help prepare me for the exam. Aside from the Instrument Society of America, ISA, review manual. I couldnít find any example exams, review courses, or even another person who had taken the exam. I was alone!

The Solution - How I Prepared
I needed to know what to study and what materials to take into the exam. My exam preparation consisted of the following three steps:

bulletInformation gathering (Identifying what materials I needed to get)
bulletMaterial gathering
bulletActual Study

The following paragraphs detail how I handled each of these steps.

Information Gathering - I first obtained a copy of the ISA Control Systems Engineering Study Guide, worked through all the problems, and identified my specific areas of weakness. This was also a good measure of whether I should take the exam at all. I intended to focus my study time on these weak areas, but I didnít know any good reference materials for some of the disciplines.

The road to my salvation began at the The Complete Moron's Guide To Taking The Control Systems Engineering P.E. Exam web site. This site was created by an engineer who had taken, and passed, the CSE. Not only did this site provide helpful tips and study strategies, but it had a very extensive reference list.

Material gathering - I proceeded to either buy or borrow nearly every reference listed on The Complete Moron's Guide web site, along with many of the references listed in the ISA Control Systems Engineering Study Guide. Iím fortunate that my current employer maintains an extensive technical library, with very liberal borrowing rules. The items that I didnít have, and couldnít borrow, I bought - mostly over the internet. I found very reasonable prices at web sites like "" and "". I often bought an older edition of a reference book, just to keep costs down. I believe I spent less than $200 on books for the exam.

Note: The TI-89 discussed in the following paragraph may no longer be used during the PE examination.

I also bought a TI-89 calculator, based on recommendations from The Complete Moron's Guide web site. There are many good web sites from which you can download valuable programs for the TI-89. I downloaded programs for root-locus analysis, loop tuning, general control theory, and economics. I was unable to find any programs for valve sizing, but I  would really liked to have had one. Time permitting, I would have written one for the TI-89.

Please note the NCEES Calculator Policy regarding the use of calculators during Engineering exams.

Actual Study - Basically, I spent most of my free time, for about three months, reading and working problems. My study schedule had to be very flexible, since I was waiting for books from the library, or waiting for books to arrive in the mail. As soon as a new book arrived, I read it cover-to-cover, and worked all the problems I could. I found that, during the exam, I didnít need to know everything in the book, but I did need to be very familiar with my books so I could find information quickly. I used my new TI-89 calculator as much as possible to familiarize myself with it and the programs.

The Day of the Exam - Tips
I drove to Columbus the night before the exam and stayed in a hotel. I had bought a Rubbermaid Roughtote, with wheels to carry my books (thanks, again, to The Complete Moron's Guide web site). Transporting the books was no problem with the Roughtote. I had my TI-89 calculator, and a TI-30 calculator. Concerning what materials to bring into the exam, here are some suggestions I found helpful:

bulletDress light, and bring a sweater Ė you never know what the climate in the testing room will be like, and you have to be comfortable
bulletBring a lot of drinks Ė I had at least a gallon of water with me.
bulletPack a lunch Ė there is only one hour between exams, and I was happy I didnít have to wander around, looking for lunch.
bulletCommon sense things: extra batteries for the calculator, lots of pencils, big eraser, and a watch.
bulletI wish I had brought aspirin. I got a terribly debilitating headache during the morning exam. Fortunately, I found a nearby drug store, on my lunch break

The Day of the Exam - What I Learned
Here's what I found on the day of the exam.

bulletI used the simple TI-30 about 70% of the time. Only in complex computations did I use the TI-89.
bulletThe books I found most useful were Liptakís Handbooks, Fisher Control Valve Handbook, EIT Review manual, The Entire ISA Standard's Series, Feedback Control Systems, and the Glover Pocket Ref.
bulletI finished the AM exam is around two hours. I reworked all the problems and was done in three hours. I finished the PM exam in three hours, and reworked all the problems until the four hour mark.
bulletDuring the exam, the most important skill is the ability to find information quickly. Time is your enemy. This is where the studying really pays off. As long as youíre familiar with the reference material, you can find things quickly.

Here's what I suggest to those preparing to take the CSE PE examination.

bulletGo to the The Complete Moron's Guide web site. Follow those recommendations whenever possible.
bulletGet a TI-89 calculator, download some software, and get really familiar with it. This is a very powerful tool that can save a lot of time
bulletStudy as much as possible. The more familiar you are with the references, the better
bulletGet as many of the books on the print reference list below as possible. Review The Complete Moron's Guide reference list, and get as many of those as possible. All the references listed below, and on the Complete Moron site were valuable during the exam.
bulletWork all the problems in the ISA review guides until you understand where your weaknesses are. Then strengthen them. The ISA review guide is pretty indicative of the actual exam.
bulletNo loose papers are allowed in the exam. However, in Ohio, spiral-bound papers are allowed. I had a good deal of material processed and spiral bound at Kinkoís, and it helped. (Check your state's regulations, first, if you plan to do this.)
bullet Review the NCEES web site. It provides a breakdown of specific disciplines, and their approximate percentage of examination.
bulletIf necessary, travel to the exam locale the day before and get a good nightís sleep. The night before the exam, I performed a "dry-run" drive from the hotel to the exam site so Iíd be familiar with the route, the travel time required, and the parking facilities.
bulletFind what calculators and reference materials your state permits at the exam. Regulations differ by state. Do this early, so you can practice with the calculator and materials you will be permitted to use at the exam.
bulletJoin your local ISA chapter, and go to the meetings. Itís good for the profession, and youíll make some good contacts to help you prepare for the exam. After all, ISA is the organization that really pushed for CSE recognition ten years ago.
bulletCall your local colleges to see if they have any relevant review courses. This didnít work out for me, but I understand that Auburn University had a good class at one time.
bulletBe familiar with codes and governing bodies (NFPA, ISA, OSHA, etc.). I had difficulty here, simply due to lack of familiarity with the reference material. This is very "dry" reading, and I didnít read it as thoroughly as I should have.

By following the suggestions on The Complete Moron's Guide web site, a lot of hard work, and a little improvisation, I found that I was well prepared for the exam. There were no real surprises on the exam. There were problems I couldnít solve, but the material was familiar, and time was more of a factor in these cases. There are some specific areas of weakness that I wish I had studied more, but I canít really discuss those without revealing specifics of the exam.

The following table contains a list of the printed references I took to the exam.

Title Author
Instrument Engineer's Handbook on Process Control Bela Liptak
Instrument Engineer's Handbook on Process Measurement and Analysis Bela Liptak
Fisher's Control Valve Handbook  
Electrical Engineer Review Manual Raymond B. Yarbrough
Instrumentation for Process Measurement and Control  Norman A. Anderson
Feedback Control Systems Phillips & Harbor
NFPA 85C, 497, 493, 8501 and 8502  
ISA's Standard Library for Measurement and Control - Vol 1  
The Entire ISA Standard's Series  
A Farris or Consolidated relief valve catalog  
Tuning of industrial control systems  
Control Valve Primer - A User's Guide Hans D. Baumann
Pocket Ref Glover
Flow Measurement Engineering Handbook Richard W. Miller
An NEC Handbook  
Omega Engineering, Inc.'s The Temperature Handbook Omega Engineering
Fisher's Regulator Handbook  
A Crouse-Hinds (or Appleton) catalog and Code Digest  
Electrical Instruments In Hazardous Locations  Earnest Magison
System Identification  
Temperature measurement in industry  
Technical Bulletin T150-1 Engineering Handbook for Neles-Jamesbury Control Valves  
Fundamentals of Process Control Theory Paul W. Murrill
Schaum's Outlines on Feedback and Control Systems Di Stefano III, Stubberud, Williams
Elementary Differential Equations Rainville & Bedient
Digital Control System Analysis and Design Phillips & Nagle
Schaum's Outlines on Laplace Transforms Murray R. Spiegel
Purdy's Instrument Handbook  
Safety Shutdown Systems: Design, Analysis and Justification Gruhn and Cheddie
Schaum's Outline on Engineering Economics  
Flow of Fluid Crane
EIT Review manual  
ABB Kent-Taylor Flow Data Reference Book  
ISA's Fundamentals Of Industrial Control  
Process Instrumentation Applications Manual Bob Connell
ISA Handbook of Control Valves  
ISA Handbook of Measurement Equations and Tables  
Process Control Strategy and Profitability Page S. Buckley
Grinnell's Pipe Fitter's Handbook  
Cameron Hydraulic Data Ingersoll-Rand
The Control Of Boilers Sam G. Dukelow
Protecoseal's Handbook on Flame and Detonation Arresters and Protecoseal's Technical Manual on Vapor Control and Fire Prevention  
A Daniel's Catalog  
A Groth catalog   
ISA's control Systems Engineering Study Guide, 2nd ed.  
ISA's control Systems Engineering Study Guide, 3rd ed.  

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