Advice from FE Examinees

“Been There!”—Advice from FE Exam Candidates

This page is a compilation of comments contributed by engineers who have taken the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE/EIT) exam.

Some of the advice may seem contradictory—sometimes engineers disagree. Nobody received compensation for mentioning any product. As you read this advice, keep in mind that the exams change from one administration to the next. Subjects that are emphasized on one exam may not show up at all on the next exam.

In reviewing this advice, please note that a free "How to Use FERM3 Guide to the FE Exam" (PDF) download is available. Click here to download a free copy of the "How to Use the FE Review Manual (FERM3) for the FE Exam" PDF.

If you would like to contribute to this compilation, email us with the subject line “FE Exam Advice.” In the body of your email, please note your exam section and exam date.

Use the following links to navigate the advice on this page.

Choosing Your FE CBT Exam Discipline

(You can find actual examinee passing rates for the different disciplines here.)

If you are in school, or only a year or two out, take the other disciplines exam. Otherwise, take the exam in the area in which you work. The other disciplines requires too much re-learning for people who have been away from academic coursework for years.

In my opinion, studying for two very different exams (to be taken on one day) is inefficient. Taking the other disciplines exam makes a lot more sense to me. I passed without difficulty. (I’m an electrical engineer.)

If you are taking one of the discipline-specific exams, be sure you get the appropriate NCEES Sample Questions book. These questions are the most like those on the exam. Other sources of problems are not as similar.

In the chemical discipline-specific portion, you are given far more information than you need. And often the nastiest-looking problems are actually the simplest to solve.

In the chemical exam there was a strong emphasis on heat exchange/transfer.

As a mechanical engineer taking the other disciplines exam, I was grief-stricken with the depth of chemical information expected from us, and I figure the chemical engineers were just as lost with statics and dynamics.

The mechanical exam has a very broad range of subjects, including a lot of controls. It is very difficult, problems are very complex. Most problems combine two to three disciplines. I graduated with a 4.0 in mechanical engineering and was blown away by the mechanical exam.

The other disciplines exam is the way to go, unless you’re a mechanical engineer—or really smart!

If you aren’t a civil engineer, take the other disciplines exam. Speaking with other engineering students in several majors, many felt the FE exam for disciplines other than civil were much too difficult for the time allowed. We also felt that the discipline-specific equations provided in the NCEES Handbook were not sufficient. I honestly believe many of us would have improved our chances by not taking the discipline-specific exam.

Civil engineering majors should take the civil discipline-specific exam. The other disciplines exam had electrical, thermo, etc., questions that were way above anything that I’ve ever had in class.

There are a surprising number of environmental and water-treatment problems on the civil exam. If you haven’t taken environmental courses, you will be lost on these.

If you are going to take a discipline-specific exam, buy all the study books you can get for that exam.  I heard from all different engineering majors who took them that the discipline-specific exams are very challenging. Personally, I studied hard for the civil and still found it difficult.

The practice exams available for the electrical discipline-specific exam were kindergarten compared to the real exam. I was not prepared for the difficulty level of the electrical exam.

On the electrical exam, look out for lots of MOSFET and JFET problems. Also study for register and flip-flop problems.

There were lots of digital questions on the electrical exam. Not just the basic gate scenario but also things like mux or ASIC chips and data I/O lines. You need a pretty current textbook to cover these topics.

If you take the electrical exam, study digital, digital, digital, and more digital.

The environmental section had a surprising number of problems in U.S. units.

The environmental section should be called “civil with environmental emphasis.”

Take the industrial discipline-specific exam if you were an industrial engineering major and have been out of school for more than a year. And take every practice exam you can find.

If you take the industrial exam, study up on electrical engineering. There were more electrical questions than anything else in the general part of the exam.

In the Industrial section, I didn’t expect so many problems dealing with costs.

The mechanical discipline-specific exam had more controls problems than I imagined possible. I guess this changes from exam to exam, but I was unprepared.

For the mechanical exam, study statics, dynamics, and strength of materials a bit more than other areas. If you haven’t had chemistry in a while, REVIEW IT. I have a 3.9 GPA and I found this to be a very challenging exam.

Deciding When to Take the Exam

Take the exam ASAP! The moment that you are eligible, you should take it. I graduated from college a few years ago and I had to re-learn so much.

Is there really a good reason NOT to take the FE exam while you’re in school, or just graduated? You never know if you will need it later, and it will never be easier. Just get it out of the way, like a vaccination.

Take the exam BEFORE you graduate if you can. I took it immediately after graduation and still had a tough time trying to review older material I had studied several years previously. I can only imagine how tough it would be if you were several years out of school.

Don’t wait too long after finishing school to take the FE exam. It definitely gets harder.

Take the exam ASAP, either during your senior year or SOON after graduation.

Ten years out of school, I found the FE exam to be among the worst eight hours of my life. Profit by my example—don’t wait so long. Take it while you’re in school or just graduated, whether you think you might need it or not. You’ll thank me later!

I graduated eight years ago with a 3.8 and thought I was still sharp, but I was wrong. Do yourself a favor and take this exam when you’re still in school or just graduated. Otherwise you’ll make it twice as hard for yourself.

Preparing for the Exam

Get the NCEES Handbook that is used during the exam—and be sure it is the CURRENT one. The copy that my state sent me was an older version. The one that I was given during the exam was quite different—a lot of stuff seemed to have been added.

If you get a copy of the NCEES Handbook before the exam from your state board, realize that the NCEES Handbook they give you the day of the exam may have a few changes. Apparently they keep changing it.

The NCEES Handbook is a necessity. Get a copy early and learn where everything is. This will save you more time than anything else you can do. But DON’T tab or mark up your copy, because you can’t use it during the exam—they make you use a new one!

When you work your practice problems, use ONLY the NCEES Handbook as your reference, because that’s what you’ll have to use during the exam.

What makes the FE problems difficult is recognizing what information in the problem is actually relevant, which formula you really need, and where to find it in the NCEES Handbook. Only practice makes you better at this.

Don’t wait to start studying a week before the exam—even if you’re in a good engineering program and think you know it all. Work lots of review problems.

Start studying three months in advance, and work several practice exams under timed conditions. Identify your strong and weak areas, so you know which questions to work and which to skip.

Check the exam specifications and start studying in those subjects that have the most questions on the exam. Once you’re ready, move down to those subjects that have the fewest questions.

Follow the study schedule in the FE Review Manual (FERM). It worked for everyone I knew who took this exam (although I needed extra study time).

FERM says you need a day to review each chapter. I found I needed more, sometimes as many as three days. So my advice is to begin studying earlier than the book suggests. Also work as many practice problems as possible.

If you’ve been out of school for a while, you may need more than an hour per chapter to review FERM. It took me more like five hours on some chapters, including working all the practice problems.

FERM really does a good job of preparing you for general engineering information as well as the other disciplines exam. It’s not meant as a complete review of all discipline-specific exams.

FERM is a great review for general engineering information on the exam. When you take the discipline-specific FE exam, be sure to buy a special book for that discipline. FERM will not help you here.

Study to learn the underlying concepts behind each subject; the FE exam tests your ability to understand concepts more than just your ability to solve every type of problem possible.

Don’t make the mistake of focusing all your studying on the discipline-specific exam, just because you hear that it is harder. It IS harder, but you only need to get about 50% of the questions in the entire exam right to pass, so go for the easier general problems! It worked for me!

Set up your study time based on the exam percentages for each subject. You may want to study twice as much for a subject that makes up 15-20% of the exam than for a subject that makes up only 7%.

Review math—not just calculus but algebra, geometry, trig, matrices, vectors, complex numbers—all of it. Not only does math account for 20% of the general problems, but understanding it will also help simplify many problems in other categories (such as statics, dynamics, fluids, etc.)

Math is a key subject. If you know your math, you’re OK. If not, study up.

Make sure you’re very comfortable with derivatives, integration, and vector math—they’re everywhere.

The coverage of computers in FERM is poor—the questions on the exam were nothing like what this book covered. Other than that, it was right on target.

Don’t rely on FERM to prepare you for the computer questions. You need a more current resource.

When you review, don’t skip the section in FERM on Engineering Economics. This subject is easy to learn and can present you with several quick, easy points on the exam.

Be prepared for rather ambiguous ethics questions on the exam. They are not written as neatly as those in the practice materials, and you can’t really study for them. They are more like exercises in logic.

Some appeared to have several correct answers, but if you apply logic strictly to them you will find the right answer.

The computer problems on the exam aren’t like those in FERM. This is maybe the one place where the book lets you down. Look at the problems in the Use the Diagnostic Exams in FERM—they really help you know if you have studied a subject sufficiently.

If you have trouble understanding a subject in FERM, try looking it up in the Engineer-in-Training Reference Manual*. This looks like a big, scary book, but it’s actually very helpful. I don’t think you should study it throughout, but it’s very helpful for clear explanations of areas that are gray to you.

If you need extra review on any topic, I recommend using the EIT Reference Manual*. It breaks topics down into basics, easily understandable to practically anyone. Just be aware that it also has a lot of material that isn’t covered on the exam.

Not all the formulas you need are in the NCEES Handbook. As you work practice problems, memorize any formulas that you can’t find in the Handbook.

From someone out of school for 10 years: first, buy FERM. Start studying six months in advance of the exam to ensure you have enough time to pace yourself. Read every chapter, work every problem. Take at least two sample exams at least one week before the actual exam.

I graduated almost 20 years ago, and the PPI books gave me enough theoretical background and example problems so that what I learned in my university courses came back to me. You can pass the FE exam just by reviewing the PPI books.

Really work your practice problems—don’t just read through them. You won’t remember them if you don’t work them. And don’t cheat by looking at the solutions along the way.

Don’t get hung up working long, drawn-out practice problems. While they afford an opportunity to see the mechanics of the problem, there is insufficient time during the exam for this kind of problem. This is a fundamentals exam, just testing basic knowledge.

Practice solving problems using only the margins of your NCEES Handbook as scratch paper, because that’s exactly what you’ll have to do during the exam.

Learn to keep track of time while taking the exam, especially the general questions. Time sneaks away from you. 120 problems in four hours is A LOT of work—you’ve got to learn how to move quickly and efficiently without making stupid mistakes and losing time. The exam-style problems in FERM were especially realistic and excellent practice.

Study with a group if you can. This way you have access to more brainpower—one of you will almost always understand what the rest of you may not.

Nothing beats a study partner. Having one helps keep you honest in your study schedule.

If you take a review course, be sure to also study the topics the course doesn’t cover. Don’t ignore anything in FERM thinking “I won’t need this,” because you will.

While you’re studying, remember that the Exam Forum and the rest of the PPI website are godsends.

The ability to interact with other engineers in the Forum is so valuable.

Take a “live” practice exam by timing yourself, to get used to the pressure. Having to work problems so quickly is difficult, but you can get used to it if you practice.

Take a sample exam first, before you start reviewing subjects, and then come up with a study plan.

Definitely take a FULL sample FE exam before the exam date. You may think you have a handle on a certain topic—until it’s mixed in with others.

Taking two practice exams prepared me mentally for the dreaded 8-hour examination. After this, I was not as intimidated by the exam. Getting used to the time pressure is really important.

Take a sample exam about 10 days before the exam, then brush up on your weak points.

Since you now have to use a [supplied] 0.7 mm mechanical pencil during the exam, use one when you solve practice problems or take a practice exam, to get the feel of the lead. Any little thing that makes you more comfortable during the exam helps!

Taking the Exam

Read the question twice, solve the problem once.

The general questions on the exam were almost so simple that you have to be careful. If you study FERM and work all the sample problems you will breeze through the general questions. Know units of every variable in SI. Check the answer’s units before you work the problem.

The general problems on the exam take no longer than two minutes to solve. If you get stuck on one, you’re probably reading too much into the problem, perhaps overlooking some very simple generalization.

Some of the problems are very easy but have extraneous pieces of information given that are meant to throw you off track.

Keep in mind that many problems can be solved by either analyzing the answers or reverse engineering the problem. Read the problems carefully.

Work all the problems in your primary area of expertise first. Then go to the area you know next best, and so on. Finally, guess at the ones where you have no idea. Don’t waste time trying to work problems you really should just guess at. Save your time for those that you actually have a fighting chance of getting right.

Don’t get stuck working through the exam in the order that the questions are presented. Work on the difficult areas first, when you’re fresh. Then move to the areas you are comfortable with later.

By all means, don’t waste time on problems you know you don’t know. You only need about 50% to pass this exam. Concentrate on the problems you know something about. Guess quickly on the rest.

When you are working general problems, look at the discipline-specific sections of the NCEES Handbook as well as the “general” section, because sometimes the information you need to solve the general problems will be there. (For example, if you have an electrical circuit problem, try looking in the electrical section in addition to the “general” section, etc.) I took the other disciplines exam and found some helpful “goodies” that were not in the “regular” part of the Handbook by checking the mechanical, electrical, and civil sections.

One difference between the general and discipline-specific problems is that the discipline-specific problems had a lot of extra information provided, which was NOT needed to solve the problem. A big part of the task, then, was to determine what information you actually needed. (Most of the practice problems I saw did not provide any extraneous information, so this was a surprise to me.)

Many of the formulas needed for the general questions on the exam are not in the supplied NCEES Handbook. Remember most advanced TI’s and HP’s are not allowed. During the last week I memorized simple formulas in fluids, dynamics, and thermo and found most of them were needed or referenced in problems. Do not think of the Handbook as a save-all that covers all subjects. Most people barely used it.

The material in FERM was surprisingly “right on.” Many exam problems seemed identical to ones I had already worked!

I was surprised by the extreme difference in difficulty of the general and discipline-specific parts of the exam. The general questions could all be answered with little or no calculation. The discipline-specific questions required terrific calculation.

The exam is NOT in the same order as the NCEES Handbook. It’s all a jumble of topics. Don’t expect to go neatly through the Handbook.

Exam Day Anecdotes and Advice

I was surprised that we were NOT be able to use scratch paper on the exam—it seemed astonishing to me that we were expected to use the margins of the exam for calculations. For the most part, there was enough room.

You hardly have time to use a calculator at all, so you definitely don’t have time to use one you aren’t extremely familiar with. Use one you know well, even if it’s a simple one.

The day was really exhausting. I think we all were surprised at that. You need to be mentally and physically fit.

The chairs in the exam hall were surprisingly uncomfortable! Bring a cushion or be prepared to squirm for eight hours.

Bring an extra calculator because, believe it or not, mine died with 20 problems left in the exam.

Don’t take a practice exam or study intensively for a day or two before the exam—give yourself a rest. You’ll feel fresher.

Read the checklist in FERM’s Introduction. It lists all the things you should bring to the exam. I used a LOT of them.

Wear layers of clothing for the exam—our room was at first way too hot and then way too cold! You need to be able to take clothes off or add them easily.

Even though the NCEES says they provide pencils, at my exam site they ran out! Be sure to bring your own, as a backup.

Bring lunch from home, with a beverage! Don’t rely on scrounging for food at the exam site. The lines were HUGE.

Bring your own food and water. Make sure to wear a watch; they only call time twice—when you have 30 minutes left and when the exam is over. Most importantly, relax and take it easy—you can’t think clearly and panic at the same time.

Earplugs were invaluable for me during the exam. Someone near me tried to cough his lungs out. I could have made a killing selling earplugs at lunch to everyone around me.

Take a cushion for your seat and earplugs to help you concentrate.

At my site, we weren’t allowed to set the alarms on our watches. This makes it more difficult to be sure you leave adequate time for final review.

Avoid talking about the exam over lunch—you may get upset by what you hear. Have something nice to eat from home and just relax. Keep negative thoughts out of your head.

If you have to travel a long way, stay in a motel the night before. You need to be well-rested for this exam.

This sounds obvious, but don’t forget to go to the bathroom right before the exam. You don’t want to waste time getting the proctor’s attention and taking a bathroom break when you could be answering questions. And waiting can get mighty uncomfortable.


For FE exam references, visit PPI. Here are a few links to specific resources.

* Note that Core Engineering Concepts for Students and Professionals replaces Engineer-In-Training Reference Manual.

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