Saturday, April 09, 2005

Structural Engineering Exam

This morning I took my 5th and 6th exams [out of 10 required] towards getting my license to practice architecture in California, the Golden State.

(Piece of an I-beam I scavenged from a jobsite)

The exam topics: General Structures, and Lateral Forces [lateral forces are earthquakes and high winds - things that push on buildings sideways as opposed to gravity which just pulls straight down]

I've been meaning to get my butt in gear and start wrapping up these exams and get the license overwith. I took and passed my first four a year and a half ago and then back-burnered the whole thing. So earlier this week at my day job, a junk fax came through from this guy who offers seminars and refresher courses for people like me who want to jumpstart their exam study effort. Bonus: there were seminars on General Structures and Lateral Forces on the schedule for Friday afternoon/evening. A quick phone call confirmed that there was space available and I could register and pay at the door. Great!

Then another stroke of luck: the testing center had appointments available for Saturday morning and I could take both tests. Excellent. Refresher course, some late night cramming from the study guide I borrowed from a friend weeks ago [which has been staring up at me from the table by the piano as I practice my piano or sit and knit instead of reading up and practicing how to size a wood beam,] then, get some sleep, up early, and go right in there and ace the exams.

HA! What a fun fantasy that was while it lasted.

After suffering through Friday afternoon traffic for an hour and a half to get to the seminar [at some hotel in Newport Beach of all places. I cringe when I have to go to Orange County, unless I'm driving through to go visit my cousin Ed in San Diego,] I arrived about 15 minutes late. No worries though, there was a parking space right in front. I love it when I get rockstar parking. Too bad it never happens anyplace its actually difficult to park.

So the guy had already started his presentation and said to come on in, he would get my registration info on the break. The setup wasn't too shabby. Coffee and tea in the back of the room, linen tablecloths and a pitcher of water with a stemmed glass at each chair, with little jars of candies and mints sitting around just in case you needed a little bump of sugar to help stay focused.

There were about 20 people there; 'this guy does ok' I thought to myself. It became clear that it wasn't a larger organization putting this together, it was basically just this guy with his script and his xeroxed study handouts and his fax list of architects' offices to whom he sent out his schedule a few times a year. At $150 for the whole evening per person, he was probably going to pocket an easy $2,500 after he paid for the room, and his instructions were to bring cash.

When I arrived he was reviewing the preliminary material on test taking strategies, the format of the exams, stuff like that.

Then he got to the actual material that I came there for, the structural problem solving. Thats the part that sometimes involves trigonometry, and always involves a complicated bunch of equations and variables that are hard to keep straight [for me anyway]. And he goes whipping through it like lightning! Wait! I put my hand up. Why do you multiply that by 10? Where are we in the book? His pages had been copied and copied over so many times that many of the page numbers were cut off at the bottom of the page. His explanatory text and sample problems weren't laid out together so you had to keep flipping back and forth. The equations crashed into one another on the page, see illustration.

In case you are having a hard time understanding the formulas in this picture, its not that you don't know anything about structural engineering, believe me. Its that the manual is crap.

Now I started getting a little angry. I drove all the way down to freakin' Orange County, and gas is expensive! The exam is tomorrow! This seminar was my ticket to passing the exams and now things were looking dire. The exams cost me $100 each. If you fail you have to wait 6 months to retake it, plus another $100. No way was I going to stay for part 2 of this garbage. My only hope was to pay my $80 for part one and ditch out at the dinner break, get home as fast as I can, and cram from the study guide.

Then he glossed completely over concrete construction, not even a sample problem, although he acknowledged that there could be some concrete problems on the test. Great.

It was when he started rambling, and I really mean rambling, about history, that I decided he didn't deserve a dime of my money and I was going to make a break for it as soon as he ended the session. The history lesson included such gems as "well, there could even be questions about pre-historic architecture, you know, like the Egyptians, the pyramids and such," and "I would say the historical period started with the Ancient Greeks" and then some really retarded comments about the Acropolis and the Parthenon that I can't even try to recreate.

Then he sort of ended with something about Sir Christopher Wren and St. Paul's Cathedral in London, although he admitted he couldn't really remember what its structural-historical significance was.


This morning, during the General Structures exam, with one hour, three minutes and eight seconds to go, my computer at the testing center crashed. I panicked. I called the administrator over.

I got to resume my exam from another computer.

If I don't like my score, I get to take a free do-over.

Occasionally, in life, there is justice.


Blogger Phideaux said...

Hmmm, 2500 dollars cash just to dupe a group of eager architect students with a substandard study guide... Perhaps this might be a future career to consider.
Oh, also, Mercury (the planet & god that controls communications and commuications technologies) is still retrograde -- very interesting that your test computer freaked out. Mercury/Hermes is also the so called "trickster" god. Funny your computer should crap out at the end off all this nonsense. Good news that get a free do over though.

But where is the justice in anyone ever having to go to orange county? That's just wrong!

1:37 PM  

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