Taking the AM Exam before your CM Exam?

This post is written by guest blogger Roger Faires, MEng (Hons) CEng MIStructE, Director of Kirkwood Structures, who is kindly sharing his experience going through IStructE's exams.

How have I sat two professional reviews, three IStructE Membership exams but failed only one of them?

It is not a trick question, but rather a strategic decision I took early in my career. I chose to become an Associate Member of the IStructE (AMIStructE) before becoming a full Chartered Member (MIStructE). It might be a curious decision as I had a Masters degree (back when that or a matching section was required for Chartership) and a fair bit of experience.

The beginnings

If we rewind to the year 2011, I was 4 years out of university. I had been involved in the IStructE through the Young Members Panel and was well aware of process to Chartership. I’ve even given presentations to University students encouraging them to follow the IStructE route, as opposed to other institutions. I was also aware of the immense work involved, not just in the IPD but in revising. I was working for a small firm and concluded that it would be difficult to get structured support or benchmark my development, so I choose to step my approach to being Chartered and applied to sit the Associate Member Professional Review Interview and its respective Exam to be an Incorporated Engineer.

The process was very similar to a Chartered Member application, the IPD is set out with very little difference from a cursory glance, but when you read the wording carefully, say, Ability at design, the requirements are subtlety different. I prepared my lever arch portfolio and sat my Professional Review Interview; it was clear the interviewees were not as used to AM applicants and there was much consulting with the guidance, but I’m always confident talking about engineering and I managed to pass.

Associate Member Exam

Looking back now the best explanation of the exam is that it is a test of maturity

My preparation for the exam was difficult, I utilised the guidance on the exam CD given to all candidates and a work colleague helped and gave comments on my mock papers. Looking back now the best explanation of the exam is that it is a test of maturity – are you mature enough to know that the solution you present is based on proven engineering principles, and have you focused on all you need to ensure the relevant information is there for the examiner to understand, all within the 7 hour time limit?

This is a common problem for graduates who are hurrying to become Chartered, which can often cause disappointment when they fail their exams.

I had been working on long span steel structures and was lucky enough to have an exam question about an aircraft hangar. The question posed a few challenges, the roof stepped for the tail fin, this interrupted the roof diaphragm and there were internal structures and large doors which didn’t allow for bracing on one elevation. It should be noted that the AM exam does not ask you to provide two solutions so it was trusses all the way. I managed to satisfy the examiners and passed, which was a great achievement. I was now a proud professional engineer, IEng AMIStructE!

Next step – Chartered Member Exam

The following year I applied for Chartership, I thought I could recycle my portfolio, but I must admit I found that as well as the subtle difference with the wording on the IPD some of the project examples were a year old and I had completed further work, so there was a fair bit of rewriting necessary.

I passed the interview first time and sat the CM Exam. I stuck with long span steel, but with the 2 solutions I ended up leaving myself a portal frame to justify and the frame tables I used were not deemed enough for justifying the sizes, and subsequently failed the exam. Portal frames are best designed with software!

I came back the following year and in keeping with the recent work I had been doing designed a shorter squat building with one option in Cross Laminated Timber and the other in steel and slim floor. I was delighted to pass and am now a Chartered Structural Engineer.

So was it all worth it? At the time it suited me really well. However the structure of the exam has changed a little now and if I were in the same situation now I think I would be inclined to use the wider community of tools online, such as The Structural Exam's Exam Guidance Pack and Forum, to understand where I am first. Also since the CEng exam can be taken every 6 months, you can time your sitting to suit your circumstances much better. I did unfortunately ruin 3 Easter holidays in a row with my revising!

Now 4 years on from becoming qualifying as CEng MIStructE I believe I have matured as an Engineer even more and have set up as my own consultancy, Kirkwood Structures, focussing on timber structures. I feel the effort and personal application for the AM and CM exams makes you a more confident engineer, and I continue to enjoy being a Chartered Structural Engineer.

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