I attended the exam preparation day on 8th December 2017 ran by experienced duo Peter Gardner and David Lowe at IStructE Headquarters in Bastwick Street, London. Peter and David have been running the course for a long time, and you may have noticed that many ‘example solutions’ from IStructE are by Peter Gardner.
What does the day involve?
The day was fairly structured but felt quite relaxed. It included:
- Time for networking and introductions at the start
- Working through each part of the exam question and what is expected (from the examiner's perspective)
- Explanation of how the exam is marked
- The two presenters highlighting their view on the most important areas and how to do well in them
- Going through a possible solution to past question
- Reviewing, making notes on and discussing two past questions
- Opportunities for question and answers throughout and at the end
Was it worth it?
It probably depends on your experience and confidence level as to how much you will get from this course. Much of what was presented is on the CD that IStructE issues once you have signed up for the exam, and on the whole was quite similar to other courses I have read or heard about.
However, it was good to get a very experienced view on the exam and be able to ask questions in person. In some cases, it actually raised more questions because the two presenters had different views on certain points. Although slightly worrying to people who like everything to be neat and clear, to me this emphasised that you need to justify your approach to the question and demonstrate your confidence to work independently as a competent engineer. As well as interaction with the presenters throughout, there was also a specific time in the afternoon where you could speak to them about specific questions you had in a smaller setting.
Fortunately, my company paid the course fee and on that basis it was useful and worth attending. I think the day overall would have just been worth it if I paid personally, because of the interaction with the tutors who are past examiners!. [Editor's note: The Structural Exam also offer mentoring services with Bob Wilson, a Chief Examiner – see our note at the very end of this blog post] I also spent time practicing, preparing and thinking about the exam during my journey down to London from the East Midlands which was also valuable time – particularly when it can be hard to find time at work and at home!
What did I get out of it?
Here are my five main takeaways:
1. On calculations: Be roughly right and don’t waste time
“It’s better to be roughly right than precisely wrong” – John Maynard Keynes
There simply is not enough time to be calculating many things in detail. You have to be really critical of your own work and only do calculations on the details that make a significant impact to your scheme.
2. On priorities: A strong Part 1(a) is the key to a good answer!
Peter Gardner, in particular, emphasised that if you can produce a good scheme design with distinct and viable options, then the rest should be essentially straightforward (and mostly graduate level work).
3. On presentation: Clarity in communication is crucial
In particular your scheme sketches (functional framing, vertical and lateral load transfer) and drawings (see number 5 for comments on level of detail). This complemented what Bob mentioned in the equipment to take into your exam to assist your drawing.
4. On your chosen scheme: Pick your final scheme combination carefully
Ideally you are looking for two options for foundations, floor slab, main grid, floor, lateral stability options, movement joints etc. Then make sure you are careful to package your chosen scheme so it suits your skills, time constraints – as long as it is not artificially easy and the options can co-exist!
Package your chosen scheme so it suits you – within reason!
For example, a 5m x 5m grid in-situ concrete floor with a moment frame, versus a 10m x 5m composite deck with steel beams/columns and braced simple frame – I would recommend the second one because of reduced deflection, cheaper foundations etc. But also because that’s what I have more experience in!
5. On the level of detail: Provide enough detail for a Quantity Surveyor to price
Your calculations may only give you details for your 6-8 chosen elements, but you will doubtless need more information than this on your drawings so use experience, L/D ratios and rules of thumb to add sufficient detail (i.e. reasonable sizes).
Having seen several courses, I would still recommend The Structural Exam's Guidance Pack as the best place to start.
However, if you want to spend a day with other people in the same boat, speaking to and learning from experienced examiners then the IStructE exam preparation day could be for you. The next course is running on the 25th May 2018.
If you’re not able to travel to London or are interested in more intensive mentoring, The Structural Exam also provides some tuition so get in touch with us.