Note: This guide is particularly created for ECE Reviewees who would like to realize that they can pass or even top the board exams regardless of their background, number of mistakes, or IQ. This post may also include the promotion of services that the author believes in.
Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, passing the ECE Board Exams just require you to act like some Electronic Device?
WTF. (Well, That’s Fun)
Yeah, never thought that was possible, either—until I did.
While reviewing, I realized that passing the board exams requires becoming in control of your Mindset, Habits, Productivity, and Learning.
By becoming in control of these things, you inevitably become better.
By becoming better, you become someone who’s inevitably going to pass the board exam.
The good news is, there were already a lot of books published about these topics.
But you don’t have to read them all, now; I already devoured them for you. (during my review)
One of the things I learned was, you should always have systems set up in place.
“You don’t rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” -James Clear, Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results
No matter what your goals are, make sure you set up systems that propel you in the right direction.
Here’s what you’ll learn in this post: (links included if you hate reading)
- Chapter 1: Mindset, Passing the ECE Board Exams, and the Conduction Band (link)
- Chapter 2: Habits, Motivation, and Diodes: Why you should value Habits, not Motivation (link)
- Chapter 3: Productivity Principles: What Transistors Can Teach Us (link)
- Chapter 4: Learning, Memory, and Capacitors: Encoding to Long-Term Memory (link)
- BONUS #1: Examples of Active Recall + Spaced Repetition Systems and MVE (link)
- BONUS #2: Review Center and ECE Review Materials (link)
- About the Author (aka “Why the hell should I listen to this guy”)
Let’s dive right in.
Chapter 1 – Mindset, Passing the ECE Board Exams, and the Conduction Band
Dedicated to: People who would want to know how to believe in themselves. People who are demotivated because “they’re not born smart”. People who think “they can’t, because ____”.
When an electron in the valence band gains enough energy to overcome the Energy Gap, they enter the Conduction Band, where they become “Free” Electrons.
Apply this to your own situation, and you have:
- You (as an electron)
- Who does an intense amount of preparation (the energy needed)
- To overcome the challenges, surpass limits (the Energy Gap); and
- Finally become an Engineer. (free* Electrons)
*poor choice of adjective.
In short, as with any trial, those who have gathered adequate amounts of preparation are the only ones who can surpass this challenge.
What’s interesting is that individually, we have this “Energy Gap” that we can fortunately manipulate.
And what determines the width of this Energy Gap is your Mindset.
The Truth about Talent and Intelligence
Dr. Carol Dweck says in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, that there are two types of Mindsets: Growth, and Fixed Mindset.
People who have a Fixed mindset tend to be afraid of making mistakes.
They believe that “either you have it, or you don’t.”
They put themselves down when they fail instead of learning from the experience.
Some people who have this mindset, if they’re honest with themselves, want to prove to others that they’re smart.
The sad thing is, even smart/talented people may have a Fixed Mindset; this puts an extreme limit to their potential.
As Dr. Carol Dweck says, “The smartest children don’t usually end up the smartest.” further emphasizing that only those with the growth mindset are the ones who end up becoming the smartest.
Why? Because they treat every obstacle as a failure, not room for improvement.
On the other hand, people who have the Growth mindset exhibit incredible potential for improvement.
They believe that “If you don’t have it, you WORK for it.”
They fail forward.
They’re not afraid to look stupid if, in the end, they’re the ones improving.
Another psychologist, Angela Duckworth, says that the secret to incredible achievements isn’t talent. It’s a combination of persistence and passion, which she calls Grit.
And, from the same author, here’s something to remember:
- Talent x Effort = Skill
- Skill x Effort = Achievement
In short, theoretically, doubling our efforts makes 4x the achievement.
Imagine if you could multiply your “Effort” by 2X, 3X or even by 5X–you’re going to be unstoppable.
That’s what I’m going to teach you here in this post: Evidence-Based, Time-Tested strategies that actually WORK regardless of how smart you are, or what background you have.
As long as you’re willing to put in the work.
Sounds good? Let’s now move on to actually getting something to aim for.
Goal Setting: Little Tweaks that Make a Difference
Admit it, the goal’s usually “To top the Board Exam” or “to pass the Board Exam”.
The problem is, with this approach, our motivation is going to plummet.
Failing a weekly exam instantly makes you lose your motivation.
Getting only Top 3 instead of Top 1 may make you sadder than a person who ate oatmeal the whole day.
This is because that SMALL event doesn’t even remotely compare to their goals.
Do you see what I mean? If your goals are not action-oriented, you can’t measure if you’re actually making progress or not.
You’ll lose motivation INSTANTLY after facing a little bit of failure.
What you want in order to maintain your motivation is an action-based accomplishment to aim for each and every day.
- Instead of “Pass the Board Exam”, aim for “Answer 1 Problem Set + Read 1 Chapter + Recall ALL Due Reviews Per Day”
- Instead of “Get a 100 MATH Rating”, you can make it “Learn 50 NEW Solutions per day”
An action-oriented goal assures progress, and it’s easy to track. It’s either “I did it” or “I didn’t”. Dead simple.
Action-Based Goals >> Outcomes-Based Goals
Not yet convinced? Take a look at this:
If you’re learning 25 solutions a day, by 3 months then you’d have learned 2250 different solutions.
If you’re reading 1 chapter per day, it seems small at first but you’re actually reading 90 chapters by the end of 3 months.
That’s kind of a “stress-free plenty” if you ask me.
Would that be enough to pass the boards?
Who knows, everyone differs in their standing, but that’s good enough progress for someone who only learns 25 solutions a day or reads 1 chapter a day.
And it’s because: Consistency beats Intensity.
It doesn’t matter what your goals are if you’re going to study for 10 hours straight for 2 days and take a day off for the remaining 5 days of the week.
It’s better to study for 3 hours a day for 6 days, than 10 hours a day for 2 days a week.
Now, go tweak your goal to something realistic so you don’t get sad every now and then.
To conclude this chapter, ALWAYS remember that what we want is to become smarter every day, not to look smarter.
It also doesn’t matter if we look stupid at first, as long as we’re better than yesterday after it.
Relevantly, I would like to thank Sir Andrew Manacop of Excel Review Center for giving inspiration and telling us success stories of previous Excel Reviewees (including himself) during the in-house and review proper.
He’s where I got my first motivation to aim for the top and developed my Growth Mindset 🙂
Chapter 2 – Habits, Motivation, and Diodes: Why you should value Habits, not Motivation
Dedicated to: People who lost motivation, and are waiting for it “to come back”. People who have a hard time breaking their bad habits.
Your Motivation acts like a Tunnel Diode; Similar to a negative resistance region, there will come a time that the more time you spend on something, the more demotivated you become.
Just like the negative resistance region, this is a time of negative motivation.
Author Seth Godin calls the downward trend of our motivation as “The Dip”.
You will always, ALWAYS experience “The Dip” when doing something for a certain period of time.
And it’s why we can’t rely on motivation alone; what we can rely on instead are our Habits.
Habits, Habits, Habits
It’s simply because Habits are the things that you do REGARDLESS of your motivation levels.
Do you ever have to motivate yourself to take a bath?
To use your smartphone upon waking up?
Of course not. Again, we do habits REGARDLESS of our motivation levels so it’s important that we master them in order to actually reap their benefits.
The good news (and bad news) is, the effect of your Habits work like Diode Currents.
You also either reach the Active Region and the Breakdown Region depending on what habits you have.
Go toward the Breakdown Region, and you’ll reap the detrimental rewards later.
But go toward the Active Region, and you’ll reap the increasingly valuable benefits later.
New York Times best-selling author, Darren Hardy, calls these delayed rewards as the Compound Effect, a phenomenon where the effects of your seemingly inconsequential actions suddenly unleash their compounded power.
Master your Habits now and reap the benefits sooner.
If you’re struggling with your bad habits right now (Glued to your smartphone, Chronic Procrastination, etc.) I’ve written just the article for you:
Chapter 3 – Productivity Principles: What Transistors Can Teach Us
Dedicated to: People who struggle with procrastination. People who want to spend less time studying, but want to accomplish more. People who want to get the RIGHT things done.
Because we want to get a lot of things done, we always think we need to spend more time doing something.
But the problem is, we’re not robots. Our efficiency declines with time.
You see, our productivity works similarly to Junction Field-Effect Transistors (JFET).
We, like these transistors, come to a point where we become saturated.
JFET are non-linear devices after all. 😊
Anyway, here’s something to remember: We want to be productive, not busy.
It’s the common belief that we have to spend 6-10 hours, sacrifice our lives, and sell our souls in order to “study hard”.
But at the end of the day, what matters is how much of the RIGHT things you’re accomplishing, and not how busy you are.
Every entrepreneur knows this. Every executive knows this. Every doctor knows this.
So should a future engineer like you.
The Pareto Principle: Doing LESS but Achieving MORE
Have you ever felt like you’re not absorbing anything you study during those long hours of reading?
When you’re studying, there comes a point that the more you increase the time you spend, the less you’re getting in return—in short, you’re also saturated;
You’re now busy, but not productive.
Notice the point in the curve where diminishing returns (in current) start: the Knee Voltage. (it looks like…well, a bent knee.)
After the Knee Voltage is reached, an increase in V_DS will not give a linear response to I_D.
Hence, leaving the Ohmic Region, where the JFET transistor acts like a linear device (resistor).
By the way, the Ohmic Region is where transistors and resistors live happy together (because transistors behave like resistors).
The Ohmic Region is also the region that we should always aim to be in when spending our time and resources efficiently.
Let’s take the graph and apply it to our own so that you can remember the principle I’m going to share with you.
For the first 20% of your time, you have already achieved 80% of your results.
If you study for 3 hours straight, however, you only actually accomplish 1.5 hours of work.
If you study for 25 minutes, you accomplish 25 minutes of work.
If you look at the ratio of work and time spent, you’ll see that 25 minutes has a better ratio.
That’s maximum efficiency right there.
Note: This is just a hypothetical example based on the Law of Diminishing Returns, an economic principle that states that adding more input yields increasingly less output.
This principle of Productivity based on the Law of Diminishing Returns is called the Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 Rule.
The economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered this principle shortly after noticing that only 20% of his crops yielded 80% of the total harvest.
Hence, as a rule of maximum efficiency, he can focus on only that top 20% and not suffer any major consequences at all because he’s still getting at least 80% of the output.
This goes to say that we can separate our tasks as the vital few, and the trivial many.
Applying this idea to the ECE Board Exams: Examples of The Vital Few Principle
- For EST, the topics in Digital/Data Communication, Transmission Lines, Antennas, and Wave Propagation comprise 80% of the exam, so I didn’t spend too much time on Analog Communications.
- For ELECS, 70-80% are concepts from Floyd/Boylestad/Malvino, so the majority of your time must be spent on learning these concepts instead of memorizing objective type questions.
- For MATH, almost 90% are problems–making the “objective type” questions less important
- For GEAS, I knew that 80% of the important concepts are taught in Excel, so I spent less time reading and focused on practicing their problems
By segregating tasks according to the vital few and trivial many, I can spend less time worrying about the little things that give meager returns. (and that means more time for hanging out/family/friends/most importantly, REST)
In the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, author George McKeown says that this is the core of the Essentialist’s Philosophy: “Weniger, Aber Besser” which means: less, but better.
The Pomodoro Technique and the Deep Work Equation
So what should you do to stop reaching the point of saturation? Take a break.
Yes, take a break, as counter-intuitive as it may sound. Even a short break will do.
Taking a break effectively resets your saturation curve.
Oh, if you’re interested, here are some Study Break Ideas to help you take more effective breaks.
One method that I use (and a LOT of productivity enthusiasts use) is the Pomodoro Technique.
The Pomodoro Technique works using these Principles:
- Deep Work Equation – accomplish high-quality work in less time
- Parkinson’s Law – effectively force yourself to finish tasks faster
- Law of Diminishing Returns – maximize your efficiency while preventing burnout
- Focused Mode Thinking – enhance myelination, a process where neurons are insulated to improve efficiency
- Diffuse Mode Thinking – maximize creativity while allowing the mind to relax and form fresh ideas from newly learned information
If you want to know about how these principles work, here’s my FREE guide for you.
Further Reading: Does the Pomodoro Technique Work?
To do the Pomodoro Technique, you just set a timer for 25 minutes uninterrupted work, then when the timer expires, take a 5-minute break.
If you’re using a PC or Laptop while studying, check out Marinara Timer–it’s completely FREE. In fact, I used it while writing this post.
Why does this seemingly simple timing strategy work so well for increasing your productivity?
The answer lies in the Deep Work Equation:
High-Quality Work Done = Intensity of Focus x Time Spent
Increase the Intensity of Focus, and you’ll get the same amount of work done in LESS time.
The Pomodoro Technique allows you to channel your focus on the task at hand.
In the book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, by Cal Newport, this effectively allows you to do tasks with your full cognitive abilities rather than with diffuse attention and effort.
Talking about attention, did you know that only 2% of humans can legitimately multitask?
If you’re part of the non-freak 98%, then your performance is going to suffer when multitasking because of a phenomenon called Attention Residue.
Hence, do single-tasking, not multitasking.
How to Procrastinate Effectively: In All Seriousness
There must be something that you should procrastinate on, right?
Those things are:
- Your current thoughts
- Something that came up
- A notification (do yourself a favor and click “Do Not Disturb”)
- Some task you remembered might be actionable
It’s not limited to this list, but anyway, I want you to proactively procrastinate on these things by writing them down.
Yes, write them down and process them LATER (the master procrastinator’s favorite word).
This is what David Allen, productivity expert, recommends every person do to achieve stress-free productivity.
As David Allen says in the book, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity:
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”
If you’re struggling how to actually get things done and deal with procrastination once and for all, check out my FREE productivity guides down below.
Chapter 4 – Learning, Memory, and Capacitors: Encoding to Long-Term Memory
Dedicated to: People who think they have a bad memory. People who struggle with remembering information long-term. People who want to LESSEN their study time, and remember MORE.
A lot of you may have experienced understanding something REALLY well during a lecture or when reading a textbook, but when exam time comes–you can’t remember anything.
Does this sound familiar? Here’s why.
Our brains work just short of similar to Capacitors, which are storage devices that contain energy in an electric field.
Notice how capacitors charge and discharge in an exponential fashion.
Our memory works almost the same way. (Our brains are better than that, obviously)
According to Psychologist, Herman Ebbinghaus, our brains forget information at an exponentially decaying rate, thus represented by the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve.
Now, it doesn’t make sense to study if we’re not going to be able to recall the information during the board exams, does it?
Here’s the thing: We can combat forgetting, make forgetting slower and intentionally encode information to our long-term memory.
Researchers have already found what the best methods are for retaining information and effectively encoding them into your long-term memory.
In fact, I’ve also created one on retaining what you read.
Based on anecdotal research, it’s not re-reading.
Rereading, Re-listening to recordings, and Rewriting notes is just a waste of time.
The Truth about Mastery of Material: Repeated Testing, not Repeated Exposure
A lot of students believe that re-reading notes or textbooks are the best way to go because it feels productive. However, the problems with this approach, according to Make it Stick: Science of Successful Learning, are:
- Rereading gives the illusion that you’re actually mastering the material; in reality, you’re just becoming more familiar with it.
- It gives a false impression that you’re going to remember the material.
- There’s no reliable way to measure your mastery by the number of times you’ve re-read something.
Despite the definitive conclusion, I still think that Rereading works for extremely short-term retention. Otherwise, Active Recall is KING.
Here’s my own experience.
I read a chapter in about 2 hours. That’s pretty fast because I filter out every important thing using the 80/20 Rule, and I always use the Pomodoro Technique.
Now, if I were to reread that chapter, I would have to spend more or less 1 hour because I’m already familiar with the topic. And that’s me being generous.
However, comparing that to my Google Sheets Active Recall system, I only review a chapter for 5 minutes.
Now, if “Repetition is Key”, then, if I reread that chapter 3 times, I could’ve spent a total of 1+1+1 hour = 3 hours.
But 3 HOURS is already a total of 36 REVIEWS if using the Active Recall System!
Also, here’s the thing: Rereading something 3 times doesn’t guarantee that I learned the material, BUT self-testing even for 3 times guarantees that I actually do.
How do you know when a piece of info is already inside your head? When you can recall it.
I hope that makes sense. That’s the power of Active Recall: Efficiency + Mastery + Retention.
The SECRET to Retaining Information: Spaced Repetition
In order to effectively encode something into our long term memory, what we should do is a combination of Active Recall and Spaced Repetition.
Spaced Repetition is a principle that exploits the brain’s ability to remember information longer after being able to generate it (using Active Recall).
If we recall information when we’re just about to forget it, we effectively reset the forgetting curve and make it much less steep.
It’s like, for every recall, you’re increasing the discharge time of your capacitor.
In the books, Make it Stick: Science of Successful Learning and A Mind for Numbers, it was stated that the harder it was for you to recall that information, the more beneficial it is for strengthening the memory.
So, when doing Active Recall, don’t worry if your answer is always “at the tip of your tongue”–the next time you’re asked the same question, I guarantee that you’re going to remember it more quickly than before.
Similar to a re-charging capacitor, here’s what Spaced Repetition looks like:
This not only reduces your study time by only reviewing the information that needs attention but also helps you retain everything you’ve learned from the start of your review.
If you’d like to learn more about science-based learning strategies and memory secrets that Memory Athletes use, you can check out my other articles regarding the topic.
Inside the articles, you’ll find more actionable techniques to learn faster, retain information long-term, and instantly remember better.
Just to be clear, I’m fully aware that looksfam (looks familiar) is a widely used answer recognition method for Board Exams.
In my opinion, they’re highly efficient when it comes to topics that are rather impractical to study anymore. (deeper topics of Data Communications, for instance)
But, they should NOT be the main focus of your studying, especially when you’re just in the beginning phases.
BONUS #1: Examples of Active Recall + Spaced Repetition Systems and MVE
I teach these exact systems to those who I’m mentoring for their board exam review.
For my Active Recall and Spaced Repetition system, I used a Spaced Repetition app called Anki that automatically schedules when you should review the information next.
I’d study hundreds of scheduled cards every day for a maximum of 2 hours. (I have 3000+ total cards by the end of review)
Because of this, I was able to retain everything that I wanted to remember.
My philosophy is that you can only use the information you are able to retain up until the exam.
So, just understanding the material doesn’t mean you’re going to remember it very well.
If you’re interested, I have a free tutorial for Anki beginners:
Another method that I use is the Google Sheets method that I learned from Dr. Ali Abdaal on YouTube.
He created this guide because he felt like sometimes, Anki was too much of a chore for him (everyone’s different).
Here’s a detailed guide, because I know you’re drowning in words right now:
Minimum Viable Effort (MVE): The Secret to Consistency
Minimum Viable Effort, or MVE, is the least amount of work you should do every day without fail.
Make it so easy, that you lose some respect for yourself by not doing it. I’m serious.
During my review, my MVE was 1 Problem Set + 1 Chapter Reading + Finish ALL Scheduled Recall. That’s it.
If you do this same method:
By 30 days, you would’ve theoretically learned 30 problem sets, 30 chapters, and then RETAINED them all. Sounds good?
By 120 days, you would’ve theoretically practiced 120 problem sets, 120 chapters, and again, RETAINED EVERYTHING.
Theoretically because we humans foresee the future optimistically. But the outcome should still be near those numbers.
Now imagine if you get used to doing more than your MVE every day.
BONUS #2: Review Center and ECE Review Materials
Because I went to Excel Review Center, I’d highly recommend them.
Partly because I always had people to look up to (which was a major motivator as well), especially Sir Eman, Sir Jj, and Sir Emil.
Whenever I’m confused, I always thought of “What would Sir ___ do in this situation?”
And, in times of doubt, they patiently answered my questions and cleared my confusions, so I’m really grateful to have mentors like them during my review.
By the way, all of them were topnotchers, too. They definitely walk the walk.
I’d say the Review Centers would contribute to roughly 50% of your grade, and they will guide you to get your next 50% given that you’ll do the work.
As I’ve said earlier, LESS could be MORE, and that principle also applies to your Review Materials.
Here’s the link to my list of materials that I was able to read during the Review:
Google Document: ECE Review Materials List
Now, you might think, “Just who is this guy who thinks he knows what he’s talking about?”
Here’s my little backstory before you run away as fast as you can.
About the Author (aka “Why the hell should I listen to this guy”)
I am Engr. Al Cantal (now I realized, I haven’t claimed my license yet), an ECE graduate from Malayan Colleges Laguna.
During my first 4 years in College, I was never really sure if I really wanted ECE, to be honest.
So, I never took studying seriously. (Relate, someone??)
Normally, I would fail some subjects, and even my thesis (almost 2 times) because I was so busy doing nothing.
In fact, I stayed at school after my morning class for 10 stupid hours just to talk about random shit that doesn’t even matter.
Because of the rather unsatisfying lifestyle, I turned to self-improvement.
I read Inspirational/Motivational and Finance books every day, and boy, I was all hyped-up to “become successful”.
Except I wasn’t successful. And I started to hate school even more.
However, when I got into a major Communications course, suddenly my professor blew my mind when he said: “You’re never going to pass this course if you only read Tomasi.”
Eager to pass just to graduate, I was like, “what the hell, that book is THICC AF and reading it won’t get me even close to passing?”
And so that experience made me realize that something was wrong. Something needed a change.
It was how I studied—I previously used suboptimal learning strategies, I was busy and not productive, and most of all I was just relying on a single book when I could be more resourceful than ever.
So, I tried to learn every technique from different books written on scientific methods of learning.
Then, I started implementing each idea one by one, took what worked and tossed what didn’t.
Fast forward to the present, I landed as 6th Placer in the ECE Board Exams.
What a plot twist. Not bad for someone who didn’t even lift a single page in the first 4 years of Engineering.
And that’s why the chicken crossed the road. End of story. The end. Bye-bye.
Bottom Line: How to Pass the ECE Board Exams (Also, Why I Wrote This Guide)
I wrote this “How to Pass ECE Boards” guide because I believe in giving value and making an impact on others.
In addition, I hope to inspire anyone who reads this post, that with the right strategies and support from the right people, you can really get to where you want to be.
That said, which one of these tips did you find most helpful?
What would you want to see next?
Let me know in the comments. As always, thank you for reading and make sure to share this to your friends if you got any value from it 😊