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Top Tips IStructE Part 3 Exam

For those who would like to know say you have had a look at a set of past papers, and you are
thinking of taking it on here are my My Top-Tips to passing the IStructE Part 3 Exam.
Edit by the way, if you have a read of this and have a related or similar question on the Exam,
Id be more than happy to have a go at helping out. Check the Contact page to find the address
to ping me an email, or use the comments section at the bottom of the page
1. Read the question. This sounds really obvious, doesnt it? But every year, the examiners
write a report on how the candidates as a whole have done. And there is a certain macabre
pleasure in seeing how they have chosen to phrase the candidates failed to read and answer the
question
for
that
particular
year.
I think it is a case that, as human beings, we like to read and use our imagination at the same
time. So we miss out bits that are there, add in things either in fear or from wishful thinking, and
subconsciously mould the question away from what is staring us in the face.
So
fight
it.
Use whatever technique that works for you to draw out the key information, so you clearly
know the client brief and key design information, always checking you are answering
the actual question. You could get a highlighter pen out, colour in the important facts, issues and
data on the paper itself Another way is to write it out as bullet points in your answer paper, cross
checking as you go.
2. Practice doing the exam. Now, I know, this again sounds obvious, but bear with me. What I
am suggesting you do is take a past paper you have not read or seen before, bring all of the
material you propose to take into the exam, and go off somewhere to shut yourself away for
seven
hours
and
replicate
exam
conditions.
You will find that you will run out of time. You will find that the way you have organised your
design references is useless. Your two structural options are not different enough, as you have
fallen into the trap of having a variation on theme, only separated by a steel design and a
concrete design. You cannot get a decent drawing together. Your calculations are incomplete.
And
that
it
is
all
impossible.
Do not despair at this point. At least you have found out now and not in the exam itself.
You can now fine-tune your design information into that stuff you have time to refer to and
this typically is one large lever-arch file only. You will be able to draw up a timetable that
forces you to focus your effort to where the marks lie for you. Then practice a few more
questions with this, fine tune some more. You will get better at the conceptual designs, and your
drawings
and
calculations
will
improve.

Come the exam itself, you will be thoroughly bored of it all. But this is good because it means
that you will no longer be scared of it.
3. Learn to draw free hand and in proportion by which I mean free-hand sketches that are
in proportion, so that a line that is 10m long in one part of your sketch is the same length of
something that is 10m long in another. And if you can do this free-hand, and get to a neat-enough
standard, you will be able to find it as a really useful tool. You will be able to quickly explore
different structural options, test the brief constraints, explain load paths, do a visual analysis to
see if the layout or beam depths look right.
4. The Exam Question is Your Friend and Your Enemy okay, I am not being too serious
here. Of course, if you dont pick one of the questions, you dont pass your exam, so it is neither
friend nor foe. But in my more paranoid moments when I was doing my preparation, I swear the
Examiners
had
it
in
for
me.
I began to believe that eight questions out of ten had a red herring an item of spurious
information that, upon close examination, has no bearing on the client brief and is useless
design information when looking for the solutions. So I began to test every piece of
information in the question, asking myself why have they put that there? often finding that
nearly all of it was directing me to a certain set of viable structural alternatives, or setting a key
criteria in the brief that, had I missed it, would have led to automatic failure.
I also learned to completely distrust the diagram provided as it never seemed to be drawn in
proportion now a cardinal sin and sometimes would want to mislead me into thinking there
were design constraints that were not in the text of the question, or vice versa. As it is the text
that is king, I got into the habit of drawing out the diagram again on my answer paper, free-hand
and in proportion, carefully cross checking I had it right, and then ignoring the provided diagram
for the rest of the day.
5. Get
of
much
advice
as
you
can,
but
beware
be
cause it may have come from an engineer who only just scrapped a pass. That includes me. Who
knows? Youve no idea at what hour Ive written this blog post, for instance.
This exam is a test of your engineering judgment, to see whether you have developed this skill
sufficient for you to become a Chartered Structural Engineer. It is not the responsibility of
anyone other than you to pass that exam. This is old school! So test out any advice in your exam
practice. Attend a preparations course if you can. Chat to any Chartered Structural Engineers that
you know. Have a look at the resources on the internet Ive seen a few, so look around,

particularly the IStructE exam guidance pages and past Examiners Reports. Then compare all
the advice you have received, see how it works for you and them make up your own mind.
I may come back here to edit and add if any more Top Tips pop up, either as a result of feedback
below, or if another good one is suggested as I help during my next two slots at the ten-week
Midland Counties preparation course. (click here for branch details)