WOW! I’m an LSIT!! (uuhh – NOW what do I do?)


At a recent gathering of Land Surveyors, it was mentioned than many Land Surveyors In Training aren’t sure what path they should take to prepare for the Professional Land Surveyors exam.

Some, I’m told, as soon as they meet the requirements to take the exam, take it “cold”, with little or no advance preparation, just to get an idea of what the exam is like.

In my opinion, that is a terrible waste of time and resources! Just filling out the application is quite an undertaking. Then the test and grading facilities are used to evaluate a test that is likely to have a failing grade. If, by chance or good fortune, you DO manage to pass the exam (when in doubt, choose ‘C’) you will be unleashed on an unsuspecting public as a Professional Land Surveyor.

When I was learning to fly, I had over 100 hours of dual instruction and 200 hours of solo, with hundreds of successful night landing. I felt that I was a competent pilot. The requirements to take the FAA check ride were:

• log at least 40 hours of flight
• have at least 20 hours of flight with an instructor
• have at least 10 hours of solo flight

I pestered my instructor to sign me off to take the check ride, pointing out that I had far surpassed the time requirements. He replied that he had no doubt that I could ace the check ride – but that his task was NOT to get me a license. His task was to make me a PILOT, and I wasn’t quite there yet.

I feel the same about someone becoming a surveyor. Your objective should not be to become licensed. The objective is to become qualified, through a satisfactory mix of education and experience as a competent and professional Land Surveyor!

Perhaps my experience will be helpful to others.

I took my first PLS exam in Alaska in 1974. Fortunately for me, two weeks prior to the exam, I was working on a project that required my presence 10 hours a day, but only required my participation for 10-15 minutes every couple of hours. We were setting anchor bolts in bed-rock, and the drilling was slow but precise.

I was determined to be prepared for my exam – sixteen hours worth. I had eight years of field experience, all but six months as a crew chief. I was technically proficient with the instruments of the period, and was the beneficiary of some great mentors. Two of the most important things they taught me were:

1.) If we don’t have time to do it right, when will we ever find time to do it over?

2.) We do the most complete and competent job possible, going the extra mile and taking those redundant measurements. Any alternative is simply unacceptable.

Every available textbook on land surveying that I could get my hands on was not just read, but studied. I worked every math problem at the end of the chapters, and completed every quiz. Sun shots and star shots were taken on known Coastal Geodetic monuments, tide gauges and river flows were monitored.

Of course the literature has been seriously updated in the last forty years, but even the old editions I had in the early 70’s would enable you to pass the exam today. Here’s a partial list of the books I used:

• SURVEYING Theory and Practice. Davis, Foote & Kelly, 5th edition 1966
• Boundary Control and Legal Principles. Curtis Brown, 2nd. edition, 1969
• Evidence and procedures for Boundary Location; Curtis Brown (1st edition)
• Manual of Surveying Instructions for the Survey of the Public Lands; GLO 1902
• Manual of Surveying Instructions for the Survey of the Public Lands; GLO 1947
• Boundaries and Adjacent Properties, R.H. Skelton, 1930
• Clark on Surveying and Boundaries, 3rd edition 1959
• Elementary Surveying, Breed & Hosmer, 8th edition, 1945
• Higher Surveying, Breed, Hosmer & Bone, 8th edition 1962
• Field Engineering, Text & Tables, Searles, Ives & Kissam 22nd edition, 1949
• Route Surveys & Design, Hickerson 4th edition 1959
• The Civil Engineers Handbook, International Correspondence Schools (My favorite!)

The last two were in my field case at all times – of course that was when we were still doing our computations with a set of logarithm tables and a slide rule. Later I got a Curta Mechanical calculator. I could derive square roots & use actual functions and numbers.

You will notice that the list is heavy with engineering texts. I had four years experience with the Bureau of Public Roads, and four years with a private firm that did a lot of highway design and right of way acquisition, so lot of engineering problems were encountered.

Don’t dismiss the engineering books as being irrelevant to boundary surveying – they are not. How many boundary surveys have a railroad or a highway right of way involved? That’s right, almost all of them. A good understanding of construction and design practices will serve you well. As I review the above list, they are pretty much in order of importance.

GPS technology was not available until many years later. The library of the modern surveyor is incomplete without a copy of “GPS for Land Surveyors” by Jan Van Sickle 2nd edition.

A working familiarity with “Blacks Law Dictionary” and researching case law is extremely valuable. Attend some trials, and become familiar with courtroom procedure. Your chance of escaping the witness stand throughout your career is somewhere between “slim chance” and “fat chance”.

Missouri Surveyors should also be thoroughly versed in the “Original Instructions Governing Public Land Surveys, 1815-1855” by J.S. Dodds, and “A Manual of Land Surveying”, a treatise upon the survey of Public and Private Lands, by F. Hodgman, 1913.

Along with your studying, shadow the oldest & most experienced LS – or the one you respect the most. (Usually one & the same) Ask questions, discuss the days work, and find out if s/he has any insight on any portion of the work you didn’t completely understand.

If you think you understood the how and why of everything that was done, you weren’t paying attention. Ask your mentor about alternative methods of doing the same task. Remember, the only “dumb question” is the one you’re reluctant to ask.

One reason I recommend the oldest surveyor in the firm, is that they’ll have a lot of “war-stories. Knowing how we did things in the days before distance meters, total-stations data collectors and HP calculators is invaluable! Could you conduct a survey if your batteries went dead? The war-stories may be repeated from time to time, depending on the age and verbosity of your mentor, but there’s a wealth of information in them.

So what do you do if you’re not working in some aspect of the Surveying Profession? That’s what Saturday’s and vacation days are for. Select a surveyor who runs a one or two person shop, and offer to work a few days for free, just as long as you can tag along and ask a lot of questions.

Trust me, you won’t work for free even through the first day if you’re willing to pay attention and anticipate what you might be able to do without being told. Just be quiet when s/he’s head-scratching, drawing sketches in the field book or punching the calculator.

Follow the pattern of asking what you’re going to be doing that day, go do it, and then discuss what you did. It never hurts to hope for a long drive to and from the jobsite.

About a week before taking the LS exam, make some final notes on what you’ve learned. Then put your mind in neutral, and take a break! The day before the test, review your notes, get a good night’s sleep and go ace the exam!

When you’re done with the exam, get up an
d walk out. Don’t go back for review and start second-guessing yourself. If you’ve followed my counsel, you are well versed in survey practice and law, and your initial answer will most likely be the correct one.

After your initial LS licensure, you may want to become licensed in a couple neighboring States. Don’t try to recreate the wheel all over again. Spend a day in the Courthouse or a law library with a yellow pad going through the State statutes and regulations.

You’ll find that the laws and regulations are fairly uniform from State to State – at least in the public lands states. I have little experience in the metes & bounds states, I would anticipate some significant differences. Hawaii is in a class all of its own!

Write down anything in the law that differs from what you’d expect to find, or that you wouldn’t normally have to deal with. Get a good night’s sleep, a good breakfast while you review your notes and go ace the test!

I have taken and passed two full LS exams, four state-specific exams, one oral exam, and one 20-question multiple choice test in the back of the book on becoming licensed in that state. They mailed me the booklet; I took the test at home and mailed it back!

The “study-like-crazy-get-a-couple-days-rest-and-ace-the-exam” method has never failed me. Happy Surveying!

Jerry Anderson is in private practice in southern Missouri, with frequent projects in other states. He has been surveying since 1965 and was licensed as an LS in eight States. Four of those licenses have been placed on inactive status. You can contact Jerry at