My IStructE Chartership Journey – The Exam, by Maria

We are delighted to welcome back Maria, who is sharing her journey to becoming a Chartered Structural Engineer. In the past she has talked about her journey through the portfolio, her interview and now she shares her experience through the exam.

We encourage readers to share their experience going through their Initial Professional Development and application process for IStructE Chartership. If you have a story that you’d like to share about your Chartership experience, tell us about it in the comments, write a blog post about it, or share in our forum.

The Chartered Member Exam

Ah, the infamous exam. It was a topic I wanted to avoid as much as possible as a graduate engineer for fear of the day I would actually have to sit the exam.

Now coming out of the other (successful!) side, I can confidently say that it is possible. Yes, it takes a lot of work in preparation but it is completely do-able so don’t spend too long worrying about it… just go for it!

Preparation for the exam

Be prepared to put some serious hours into preparing for your exam!

You need to collect a folder of information you can reference quickly in the exam and you must, must practise at least one past paper in timed conditions. The first time you go through a paper don’t expect to get through it in a day. I first went through a past paper with an example answer from a successful colleague to get an idea of how to tackle it.

Ralph provides a good example in The Structural Exam's Exam Guidance Pack with Chief Examiner's comments from Bob Wilson.

Folder of information

My folder covered the sections of the paper in order:

  • Initial thoughts
  • Assumptions
  • Initial sizes
  • Report
  • Letter
  • Sample calculation
  • General Arrangement notes and typical details
  • Method statement
  • Programme

It contained lists of things to consider, design information such as slab span tables, and templates to copy and adapt to the exam question. I added to and edited my folder as I tried past papers, researched areas I was unsure on and worked out the information that I wanted to hand in the exam.

As well as my folder, I also took into the exam the Structural Engineer’s Pocket Book and the Steel Building Design: Design Data book. Although the exam is open book, you need to know where to find the information you expect to need before the exam – you cannot afford to waste time on the day searching for answers in reference documents.


Many people will tell you it is all about timing and that is very true. You must set yourself strict time limits for each section and keep moving on. The examiners know you only have a day and you can’t possible do everything. It is much better to start each section than get to the end of the time and have missed a whole different section (and yes, that can mean leaving out a calculation or detail you think is critical). List the things you would calculate, draw or consider further if you had more time.

On the exam preparation course I did, the examiners explained how each section has set marks and they can’t be redistributed if you answer one section very thoroughly but skip another section. It is easier to pick up the first few marks of each sub-section quickly. Don’t anticipate getting to the end of the day and feeling like you have completed a full building design, instead get there knowing you put something for each part. The Exam Guidance Pack has a suggested time allocation and you can test this out on a practice paper. There really is no substitute for practice.

Reviews with a mentor

If you can find someone who has already passed the CM Exam, or an experienced engineer, this will be a great help in going through queries you have as you prepare. I also got my attempt at answering a previous paper reviewed by a senior engineering colleague and would recommend this. Another person’s perspective will help you focus your energy well and make you communicate more clearly.

Exam Preparation Courses

There are exam preparation courses available and these are good for a better understanding of what is required, and also to meet other engineers who are similarly preparing. I went to an exam preparation day course at the Institution of Structural Engineers run by Peter Gardner and David Lowe. Whilst I think you can be successful in the exam without attending a course, it did help me feel more ready. Have questions, and be prepared to ask, to get the most out of it.

You can also contact The Structural Exam's team to arrange 1-to-1 private, bespoke tuition.

On the exam day…

Keep calm, remember your photo ID and try to stick to your own plan – good luck!

Maria, CEng MIStructE


Thank you Maria for sharing your complete journey – we are delighted for you! It is great to hear from someone who has successfully completed the entire process despite its notoriously low pass rate. Could you be next? Our Exam Guidance Pack is written to help you effectively prepare for the CM exam.

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