To become a licensed professional engineer a person must successfully pass two tests: 1) the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and 2) the Principals and Practice of Engineering (PE). We have always thought the pass rates for these exams are relatively low; for the FE test the pass rates are 69% – 85% (repeat takers are only 19% to 46%) and for the PE test the pass rates are 64% to 81% (repeat takers are only 26% to 35%). These pass rates have seemed to rise in recent years, perhaps this is due to going to an all multiple-choice format for the PE test. (See our post for pass rates from April 1997.) We have excluded structural and naval PE’s in the above rates (see http://www.ncees.org/Exams/Pass_rates.php for all of the current detailed pass rates).
In any case, what can be done to improve your chances of passing the tests on the first time? In one word: PREPARATION! This includes not only the technical information, but also being prepared in regard the non-technical aspects of the test, test location, and your physical well-being. The following are some suggestions in regard how you can prepare and some other general thoughts:
- Take the FE exam as soon as you can (i.e. immediately after graduating with your bachelor’s degree or even during your senior year if permitted by your state). The general math, science, and engineering topics will still (hopefully) be fresh in your mind resulting in less review time needed.
- Download and become familiar with the latest version of the FE Supplied-Reference Handbook from here: http://www.ncees.org/Exams/Study_materials/Download_FE_Supplied-Reference_Handbook.php . This is the only reference material allowed during the FE test, thus it is imperative to clearly understand the contents of this 250 page document. A clean copy will be provided to you for the test, so understand that you will not be able to bring an annotated copy with you into the test.
- Obtain appropriate study materials. It is best to obtain books and other materials specifically designed to prepare for the FE & PE tests. Simply reviewing class notes or general engineering texts will typically not provide the focus needed successfully pass these tests. The NCEES has study materials available, as well as companies such as Professional Publications, Inc.
- Take a review / preparation course at a local college or university. A specific course like this can be especially helpful if you are attempting to take the FE/PE tests a number of years after graduating. A weekly course can also provide structure and guidance to your preparation for the tests.
- Develop a plan for your technical review program. Schedule review of specific topics or chapters of review materials for particular days or weeks. Target a time in advance of the test to work sample test questions. Allocate study and review time for each topic appropriately for the amount that the topic will appear on the test (i.e. “Engineering Economics” makes up only 8% of the 120 questions of the morning session of the FE test – so don’t spend 50% of your time studying that topic).
- Decide early in your preparation period which afternoon module you will attempt for the FE exam, or which “breadth” exam (if applicable) you will try for your PE exam. In the afternoon of the FE exam, you will have to choose to complete one of the following: Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Environmental, Industrial, Mechanical, or Other/General engineering. Some of the PE exams have options in the afternoon as well. For example, the Electrical & Computer PE exam has the following choices for the afternoon session: Computers, Electronics, Controls and Communications, or Power.
- This may sound obvious, but be sure to carefully read the instructions. Be sure to understand the format of the test and what is expected of you. Carefully and accurately complete all supporting documentation required.
- Verify the location of the test in advance. Be sure to determine where you can park. Arrive early.
- Make sure that you have everything you need (and if fact have a back-up for most things).
- Have a good plan to transport all of your items (books, supplies, calculator, lunch, etc.) to the exam room. You may need to walk a considerable distance from your means of transportation to the exam room – so be prepared!
- These are long tests! Be prepared mentally and physically. Being well rested and not mentally distracted by other things will go a long way to successfully completing the tests.
- Make sure you understand in advance what can and cannot be brought into the test area. Having to return to your car or other location to put something away could result in a costly delay.
- Make sure you have an approved calculator. The list is currently rather short: Casio (all fx-115 models), HP (only the HP 33 and HP 35 models), and Texas Instruments (only TI-30X and TI-36X). Check with your state and/or NCEES for the most up-to-date list of approved calculators. Regardless of which one you select, make sure you know how to use it! Select your calculator early in your study period so that you can get used to using it. It is a good idea to bring extra batteries and even a spare calculator (same model as your primary calculator) just in case of malfunction.