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About the NCEES FE Exam

April 28, 2021
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The NCEES FE exam (Fundamentals of Engineering exam) is the first exam you will need to pass in order to become a professional licensed engineer (PE). You can take the FE exam as early as your last year in an undergraduate engineering degree program. Many exam candidates take the FE exam right after graduation.

We recommend taking the FE exam as soon as possible. That way you have ample time to gain relevant work experience if you decide to take your PE exam down the road.

How important is the FE exam?

Many engineering students find themselves wondering what path they should take after graduation. Internships, postgraduate education, or a full time job are all possibilities. Regardless of what you decide, taking your NCEES FE exam shows potential employers or universities the breadth of your engineering knowledge, your seriousness and dedication to the field, and sets you apart from other applicants.

Thinking about taking the FE exam? Download the Preparing for the FE Exam eBook. 

If you are unsure if you will pursue your PE license later, taking the FE exam leaves the door open for you. Many past examinees are grateful that they took their FE exam as soon as possible even if they were initially unsure of the path their career would take in the future. Taking the FE exam only benefits you and your career.

What are the benefits of taking the FE exam?

There are many benefits of taking the FE exam, including better pay, more career opportunities, and showing potential employers that you have a high level of competency and drive. Passing your FE exam sets you apart from other engineering grads when applying for jobs or graduate programs. Taking the exam sets you up for future success and is a great place to start when thinking about your options after graduation.

Who administers the FE exam?

The FE exam is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). This national nonprofit organization requires all potential examinees to read the NCEES Examinee Guide, which can be found here, before registering for the exam. To register for the exam, start by creating a MyNCEES account. As of January 2016, FE exams are administered year-round.

The exam is discipline-specific and split into two sessions, each with approximately 55 questions (totaling 110). Keep in mind during any simulated tests throughout your FE exam review that the scheduled six hours of exam time includes a nondisclosure agreement, tutorial (eight minutes), the exam (five hours and 20 minutes), a scheduled break (25 minutes), and a brief survey. The exam computer screens are 24 inches wide so there is enough room to display the exam questions and the NCEES Handbook side-by-side. 

What is the required passing score for the FE exam?

FE exam scores are based on the total number of questions answered correctly, with no deductions made for questions answered incorrectly. Raw scores may be adjusted slightly, and the adjusted scores are then scaled. In the past, NCEES has rarely announced a minimum required passing score for the FE exam, ostensibly because the average score changed slightly with each administration of the exam. However, inside information reports that the raw percentage of questions that must be answered correctly was low—hovering around 50%.

What are the current FE exam pass rates?

The current FE exam pass rates as of July 2020 are:

What reference material can I bring to the FE exam?

The NCEES FE exam is a “limited-reference exam.” So keep in mind during exam preparation that nothing except what is supplied by NCEES may be used during the exam. NCEES provides its own searchable, electronic version of the NCEES Handbook for use during the exam. Computer screens are 24 inches wide so there is enough room to display the exam questions and the NCEES Handbook side-by-side.

Will the NCEES Handbook contain everything I need to reference during the exam?

For all practical purposes, the NCEES Handbook will have everything that you need to reference during the exam. For example, if the NCEES Handbook covers only rectangular concrete columns, you won’t be asked to design a round concrete column. If the NCEES Handbook covers only the Rankine earth pressure theory, you won’t be expected to know the Coulomb earth pressure theory. If you take your preparation seriously, the NCEES Handbook is pretty much a guarantee that you won’t waste any time learning subjects that are not on the FE exam.

Does the NCEES Handbook contain everything I need to study for the FE exam?

The NCEES Handbook was never intended to be something you study or learn from, so it is most definitely inadequate for that purpose. Background, preliminary and supporting material, explanations, extensions to the theory, and application rules are all missing from the NCEES Handbook. Many subtopics (e.g., contract law) listed in the exam specifications are not represented in the NCEES Handbook. To see everything you need to prepare for the FE exam, take a look at review options here.

What is the requirement for looking up values in tables during the FE exam?

For some questions, you might have to look up a value, but in those cases, you must use the value in the NCEES Handbook. For example, you might know that the modulus of elasticity of steel is approximately 29 106 psi for soft steel and approximately 30 106 psi for hard steel. If you needed the modulus of elasticity for an elongation calculation, you would find the official NCEES Handbook value is “29 Mpsi.” Unless the question is specifically determining whether you can read a table or figure, all relevant values needed to solve the question are often included in the question statement. NCEES does not want the consequences of using correct methods with ambiguous data.

What calculators am I permitted to use during the FE exam?

To prevent unauthorized transcription and distribution of the exam questions, calculators with communicating and text editing capabilities have been banned by NCEES. You may love the reverse Polish notation of your HP 48GX, but you’ll have to get used to one of the calculators NCEES has approved. If you start using one of these approved calculators at the beginning of your review, you should be familiar enough with it by the time of the exam. NCEES approved calculators are listed here.

What units are used on the FE exam?

While preparing for the FE Civil exam or any other discipline, you will need to learn the SI system if you are not already familiar with it. Contrary to engineering practice in the United States, the FE exam primarily uses SI units. Customary U.S. units are used for code-based structural topics, but for little else. The NCEES Handbook generally presents only dimensionally consistent equations. Although pound-based data is provided parallel to the SI data in most tables, many equations cannot use the pound-based data without including the gravitational constant.

Is the FE exam hard or tricky?

We believe to have the best FE exam prep, examinees should take advantage of all the review materials they can. That being said, the exam does not overtly try to get you to fail. The questions are difficult in their own right. NCEES does not need to provide you misleading or vague statements. 

Commonly made mistakes are routinely incorporated into the available answer choices. Thus, the alternative answers (known as distractors) will seem logical to many examinees. For example, if you forget to convert the pipe diameter from millimeters to meters, you’ll find an answer option that is off by a factor of 1000. In order to avoid the complications of being too practical, the ideal or perfect case is often explicitly called for in the question statement (e.g., “Assume an ideal gas.”; “Disregard the effects of air friction.”; or “The steam expansion is isentropic.”). For all disciplines, you won’t have to draw on any experiential knowledge or make reasonable assumptions. If a motor efficiency is required, it will be given to you. You won’t have to assume a reasonable value.

When do I find out if I passed the FE exam?

You will receive an email notification that your exam results are ready for viewing through your MyNCEES account 7-10 days after the exam. That email will also include instructions that you can use to proceed with your state licensing board. If you fail, you will be shown your percentage performance in each knowledge area. 

The diagnostic report may help you figure out what to study before taking the exam again. If you don’t pass the exam, you may take it again. NCEES’s policy is that examinees may take the exam once per testing window, up to three times per 12-month period. However, you should check with your state board to see whether it imposes any restrictions on the number and frequency of retakes.

What if I need to reschedule my FE exam?

If you need to cancel or reschedule your FE exam appointment, you can do this through your MyNCEES account. Depending on the date that you cancel or reschedule the exam, you may be entitled to a refund.

Wondering where to start?

If you’re ready to start preparing for your FE exam, start with PPI Learning Hub. PPI Learning Hub offers you four different review options based on your skill level and FE exam prep needs. Another great way to ensure you have the best chance of passing your exam is to enroll in a PPI prep course. PPI prep courses guide your review with personalized instruction and a structured study plan to help you take on exam day with confidence.

Ready to ace the FE exam?

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