How to Study for the Electrical Exam

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Step by Step Thinking-Out-Loud Process of an Expert Test Taker.

It's time to study for the electrical exam.

Must have formulas for your electrical exam

If you are anything like me, you keep Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Pandora or some sort of background noise on 24/7.  Step 1 is very simple and very effective.  TURN OFF ALL DEVICES INCLUDING YOUR PHONE.

Step 2.  Open the exam prep book, choose a practice exam. You can start with the quizzes but I like to know where I stand before I read any chapters.  Several exam prep books in the market segment their quizzes by sections.  For example Mike Holt’s Electrical Exam Preparation segments their quizzes by the sections they are talking about in each chapter ie. Quiz #1 Straight Order Articles 90-110.  Straight order meaning that the questions follow the NEC and aren’t too hard to find.  In the Practice Exam, the questions are jumbled and cover Articles 90-Chapter 9.  Taking this test first will cause my brain to warm up and start paying attention to my keywords.

Step 3.  What I do is break up the exam into 25 questions.  In the real exam you will have 100 questions.  I like to break it down into 25 to:

  1. Not feel overwhelmed.
  2. Test myself and see how many I can answer in under 75 minutes (3 mins or less per question)
  3. Realistically I don’t have 5 hours to sit for a practice exam but I can truly put 75 minutes aside after work and before dinner in a quiet environment.

On the first question I have:

(No copyright disrespect to Mr. Holt.  This question is straight out of his book “Electrical Exam Preparation Theory, Calculations, Code”.

  1. Unless overload protection is provided by other approved means, the minimum number of overload units required for a three-phase ac motor is_____________.

A.  One

B.   Two

C.   Three

D.   Any of these

Let’s play circle the possible keywords.

To a novice (what do you call a person who studies? Test taker? Student? Let’s go with student.  E-mail me if you have a better word.) student, let’s circle the following:


Not too bad.  But I have 4 possible keywords to look up in the index and that is just a waste of time.  I have to flip to the O’s then to the possible article number.  Now I have to scan the possible article number and there is nothing there.  After that I have to flip to the T’s and look for three phase which won’t be there, and seriously by now I have wasted about 1.5 to 2 minutes.  The actual keyword is:


I sat back and pondered.  What is this questions REALLY asking me?  Well it wants to know about the minimum number of “overload units” required for a “3-phase” MOTOR.  The questions is really talking about Motors.  Actually had I not know the basic layout of the NEC I would have taken longer to figure out that the main topic here is MOTORS.  I know that Article 430 is all about Motors.  So if Article 430 is all about Motors (I am repeating myself for a reason guys, LEARN THIS ARTICLE.  A huge chunk of the exam will be about Article _________ which is all about what? MOTORS.)

So once I realized what the question is truly about (took me about 50 seconds), I flipped to the Index, searched for “M”, found MOTORS, used my finger to guide me to either 3 or “three”, (I’m looking for the sub-keyword) or “O” for “Overload” whichever I saw first and voila! There it is “Three overload units, Table 430.37”

Now we search for and flip over to T430.37 which is on page 334 but before you do anything else, you want to find the corresponding article to make sure there aren’t any “If’s, ands, or buts”.  Now we can go back to the table and look for 3-phase which will give us answer C.  If you notice, however, there is a star next to 3, one in each phase, you want to READ ALL THE NOTES on whatever tables you are using to answer questions.

So we decided the answer is C and now there are some things you need to do while you study.

  1. Highlight Three Overload Units in the index AND highlight Motors art 430 in the index. Write page number on Motors Art 430 in the index.
  2. Highlight table 430.37 Overload Units and highlight Art 430.37.
  3. LEARN Article 430 = Motors.

Step 4. Repeat the process until you finish the 25 questions (or if you are very determined all 100 questions).

Step 5. Compare your answer to the Answer Key and grade yourself.  Don’t give up if you missed any or all of them, this is exactly why you are studying now- months (hopefully MONTHS) before your exam.  Once you get closer to the exam date and you test yourself for the last time, you will be much better at this.

REMEMBER:  These questions and other exam prep books in the market are only designed to HELP you LEARN the CODE BOOK…..These questions are not guaranteed to appear in your or anybody else’s exam. If you master this book, go find yourself another one or better yet, go online and find simulated exams.

Last tip: Don’t get hung up on the questions.  If you think they are incorrect or based on an older NEC book, so what?  Do the best you can and move on, the point here is to learn the code book, practice finding keywords easily and practice finding the correct articles for the correct questions.

This is basically how the majority of the theory and code questions are answered.    We will talk later about calculations and formulas, since I am not an expert on these areas I will have one of our masters post a video blog about that.  For now, if you have the Mike Holt’s “Electrical Exam Preparation” you can read Chapter 2.  In chapter 2 you will have raceway and box calculations, conductor sizing and protection, voltage-drop calculations, motor and ac calculations, and dwelling unit calculations.

Thanks for reading and share this page with all your friends!


*Been in the electrical test taking business since 2008*

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