General PE Exam FAQ's

Where can I find FAQs specific to the PE exam I’m preparing for?
What’s the difference between the FE/EIT and PE exams?
What are the PE exam dates?
What’s the deadline for my application?
Do the PE exams differ from state to state?
When do I choose the subject of my PE exam?
What materials may I take into the PE exam?
Are tabs permitted on my exam references?
What is the exam’s calculator policy?
What is the exam’s pencil policy?
What units are used on the exam?
What does “most nearly correct” really mean?
How does exam scoring work, and when will I get my results?
Can I appeal my PE exam score?
When I pass the exam, where can I get my PE stamp or seal?
What should I do if my question isn’t answered here?
Where can I find resources specific to the PE exam I’m preparing for?


What’s the difference between the FE/EIT and PE exams?

The engineering licensing process involves two exams: the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, and the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

Typically, candidates take the FE/EIT exam during or shortly after college. The topics covered on the FE/EIT exam generally are similar to those covered in an ABET-accredited undergraduate engineering degree program. Except for the handbook supplied by NCEES on exam day, which consists mostly of equations, the FE/EIT exam is closed-book. Click here for more FE/EIT exam FAQs. After this point, this FAQ page refers only to the PE exams.

Most states require several years of full-time work experience before taking the PE exam. The topics covered on the PE exam often require hands-on experience in order to understand them. State boards set the restrictions on which materials examinees are allowed to bring into the exam room, but generally speaking these restrictions are minimal.

Most states allow candidates who have the required work experience to take the FE/EIT and PE exams in the same administration if they wish.


What are the PE exam dates?

The Chemical PE, Civil PE, Electrical PE, Environmental PE, Mechanical PE, and Structural Engineering (SE) exams are scheduled twice a year on the same Fridays in every state. Here is a list of exam dates for future exam administrations.

  • October 24, 2014
  • April 17, 2015
  • October 30, 2015
  • April 15, 2016
  • October 28, 2016

 

The Architectural, Industrial, Naval Architecture and Marine, and Software PE exams are offered in April only.

The Agricultural, Control Systems, Fire Protection, Metallurgical and Materials, Mining and Mineral Processing, Nuclear, and Petroleum PE exams are offered in October only.

Confirm with your state board which exams are given when.


What’s the deadline for my application?

The application deadline varies significantly by state, ranging from 45 days to more than 180 days before the exam date. Check with your state board for your deadline.


Do the PE exams differ from state to state?

The PE exams are the same nationwide. They are written by the NCEES and have been adopted by all U.S. states and territories.

Some states, however, require PE exam candidates to take additional exams to obtain their license. For example, California requires Civil PE exam candidates to pass not only the 8-hour Civil PE exam but also two additional exams covering surveying and seismic principles. Contact your state board for specific requirements that may affect you.


When do I choose the subject of my PE exam?

Regardless of which PE exam you are taking, you must choose your exam subject upon registration. This applies to all sessions of every PE exam.

For example, the Civil PE and Mechanical PE exams are a breadth and depth exams. You work the breadth exam during the morning session and one of the depth exams during the afternoon session. You must choose which one of the depth exams you will take upon registration.

As another example, there are three different Electrical PE exams: Power, Electrical and Electronics, and Computer Engineering. You must choose which one of the three exams you will take upon registration.


What materials may I take into the PE exam?

The PE exams are open-book. In most states, there are few limits on the number or types of books that may be used as references, though some states do not allow collections of solved problems into the exam. Refer to the introductions of PPI’s reference manuals for required and recommended references for each exam. Links to these introductions are listed in the answer for What should I do if my question isn’t answered here?.

Most states permit loose-leaf notes and charts as long as they are securely held in three-ring binders. Loose scratch or blank paper is not allowed. All states permit calculators in the exam room.

Contact your state board for specific restrictions on materials allowed in the exam room.


Are tabs permitted on my exam references?

Most states will allow you to use “permanent” (glued or taped on, not easily removable) tabs on your references. Some states even allow Post-It® notes. Check with your state board to confirm its policy on tabs.


What is the exam’s calculator policy?

The NCEES often changes their calculator policy. Click here for the current calculator policy.


What is the exam’s pencil policy?

NCEES will provide you with the mechanical pencil must use for the exam. The supplied pencils use 0.7 mm lead. You may bring extra lead and your own eraser.


What units are used on the exam?

The Mechanical PE and Electrical and Computer PE exams use U.S. Customary (English) units and SI (metric) units.

The Civil PE exam uses U.S. Customary (English) units for all problems except those dealing with areas of practice that normally use SI (metric) units (such as problems involving chemical concentrations).


What does “most nearly correct” really mean?

Many problems on the PE exam ask for the option that is “most nearly correct,” and the available options generally have only two or three significant digits. A lot of self-confidence is required to move on to the next problem when you don’t find an exact match to your calculation, or if you have had to split the difference because no available available option is close.

NCEES describes it like this:

Depending on the method of calculation used, it is very possible that examinees working correctly will arrive at a range of solutions. The phrase “most nearly” is used to accommodate solutions that have been derived correctly but that may be slightly different from the option given on the exam. Use good engineering judgment when selecting your option. For example, if the problem asks you to calculate an electrical current or determine the load on a beam, select the option that is most nearly what you calculated, regardless of whether it is more or less than your calculated value. However, if the problem asks you to select a fuse or circuit breaker to protect against a calculated current or to size a beam to carry a load, select an option that will safely carry the current or load. Typically, this requires selecting a value that is closest to but larger than the current or load.

 

Here’s a Civil PE exam example:

Suppose you were asked to calculate “most nearly” the volumetric pure water flow required to dilute a contaminated stream to an acceptable concentration. Suppose, also, that you calculated 823 gpm. If the available options were (A) 600 gpm, (B) 800 gpm, (C) 1000 gpm, and (D) 1200 gpm, you would go with option (B), because it is most nearly what you calculated. If, however, you were asked to select a pump or pipe with the same rated capacities, you would have to go with choice (C).

This can be confusing, and it’s very important that you grasp the differences in the two types of questions. Study these examples until you are comfortable with the whole “most nearly” concept.


How does exam scoring work, and when will I get my results?

The maximum number of points you can earn on the multiple-choice PE exams is 80. The minimum number of points for passing (referred to by the NCEES as the cut score) varies from exam to exam. The cut score is determined through a rational procedure (not on a curve). Each correct solution is worth one point.

Your state board (not the NCEES) will typically send exam results by mail within four months of the exam date. Your score may or may not be revealed to you, depending on your state’s procedure. Generally examinees receive results of “Pass” or “Fail” only.

For more information about historical passing rates on all PE exams, visit our Passing Rates page.


Can I appeal my PE exam score?

In general, appeals are not allowed on any multiple-choice questions. Some states will allow you to check your answer sheet to make sure it was correctly scanned. To do this, make an appointment with your state board.

In some states, you may appeal your score on an essay-format exam as long as your score falls within your state’s cutoff. (NCEES will not review an essay exam with a score below 62 points.)

A number of states do not allow appeals, so check first with your state board to find out whether an appeal is possible.


When I pass the exam, where can I get my PE stamp or seal?

One good source for professional stamps and seals by mail is Presto Graphics. Most office supply, stationery, and rubber stamp shops can also help you.


What should I do if my question isn’t answered here?

For anecdotes and tips about the PE exam, refer to our advice from previous PE examinees.

Extensive PE exam information is available in the introductions of our reference manuals.

  • Click here to download the Introduction to the Civil Engineering Reference Manual, 14th Edition.
  • Click here to download the Introduction to the Mechanical Engineering Reference Manual, 13th Edition.
  • Click here to download the Introduction to the Power Reference Manual.
  • Click here to download the Introduction to the Environmental Engineering Reference Manual, 2nd Edition.
  • Click here to download the Introduction to the Chemical Engineering Reference Manual, 7th Edition.
  • Click here to download the Introduction to the Structural Engineering Reference Manual, 7th Edition.

For unresolved questions about exam licensing and accreditation processes visit NCEES.org.


Where can I find resources specific to the PE exam I’m preparing for?

The following links redirect to our PE exam review product pages.

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