IStructE exam tips: What the examiners are looking for


If you're sitting the IStructE exam in January, you should be thinking about what the examiners are looking for when they mark your paper, so that you can give it to them and they can grant you that pass. The IStructE publishes examiner's reports, where the examiners who set each question discuss how candidates did, what they got right and where many slipped up. They're an invaluable resource that we recommend checking out and having a good read through. You can find them here.

In your exam answer, the examiner wants you to demonstrate that you are a competent structural engineer, who can carry out structural design, and communicate your design and your ideas clearly to other people, both technical (e.g. other structural engineers) and non-technical (e.g. a client).


Different parts of the exam demonstrate different skills:

  • Section 1a focuses on scheme design, to show that you have a good understanding of how to layout a structural system to support a building, and that you can select some sensible approximate sizes and understand roughly how a structure will go together.
  • Section 1b tests your ability to communicate technical concepts clearly to a non-technical client.
  • Section 2c tests that you can follow through a detailed design calculation and arrive at a sensible answer.
  • Section 2d tests that you can communicate your design in the form of drawings, and that you understand what a connection will look like.
  • Section 2e tests that you have a general understanding of construction, how a structure can be built and roughly how long it may take.

There are some things that the examiners can't test, because of the limits of the exam format. They are not testing your knowledge of every design code, you just produce a few design calculations to demonstrate that you have the ability to do them.


Like most good exams, they try to put something unique and unpredictable into each question, to make you have to think on your feet and respond to unexpected criteria and problems. This is a really important part of the exam. Examiners put a lot of effort into preparing their questions, and they really like to see how the candidates go about solving the particular challenges that they have written. You will need to have a good foundation of knowledge in your area of structural engineering in order to best solve these challenges.


However, there are many aspects of the exam that you can prepare for, with a very good idea of what you'll need to do on the day. For example, if your material of choice is steel, you will know that you are going to be designing a steel beam and column and can prepare exactly how this goes. You can have a template in your folder with you, and the only thing that changes are the forces and geometry. You also know that you will be drawing plans and sections, so you should practice these until you are confident in reproducing them in a clear and efficient style.

Further Guidance – Exam Information Pack

We launched our IStructE Exam Guidance Pack specifically to help candidates prepare for their exam. This contains further explanations on how to answer each section, complete with a worked exam answer marked by an IStructE Chief Examiner.

Extra Further Guidance – Forum

Need any more help? Put your question in our Forum, and someone might be able to answer it.

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