The Best Time, Tips, and Tools for Preparing for the NCEES FE Civil Exam
By: Isaac Oakeson, PE
April 26, 2021
Taking the Civil Engineering FE exam can seem like an impossible task, but I’m here to tell you that it’s not! The NCEES FE exam has gone through changes over the years, but some things never change in your preparation for this exam. By better understanding the best time you should take it, the leading tools that are offered to you, and how to motivate yourself, you’ll be set up for success.
Some of you are required to take the FE exam while you are still attending school. For others who are well out of school, the thought of studying again seems impossible. Either case presents its own challenges, but getting the FE under your belt is the necessary first stepping stone to becoming a professional civil engineer—what every engineer should strive to be.
The Best Time To Take the FE Civil Exam
The absolute best time to take the FE exam is while you are still in school. Now that we’ve established that, the next question is when? The FE exam is offered year-round, and with the cost being $175 (as of 2018) we all understand that it is helpful to pass the first time.
I believe the best time to take the FE exam is during the beginning stages of your senior year in college. By the time you are a college senior, you will hopefully have touched on each subject found in the NCEES specifications, and by taking it in the beginning of the year, you have time to retake it should you happen not to succeed the first time. You can take it up to three times in a 12-month period, which also gives you time to pass to graduate. Some like to take it the later part of their junior year, but by being a senior, you’ll have more material covered while you're still in school.
So what if you’re out of school?
As the old Chinese proverb goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” If you are out of school, then the best time to prepare is now. When I took the exam, I could only take it semi-annually. Today you can take it any time!
I would personally make this a New Year's resolution and start studying in January for an exam in April. This would allow me to get the holiday craze out of the way and FOCUS on what I need to do—which is studying problems! And that leads us to our next tip.
The Best Resources for the FE Civil Exam
There are many resources out there for you to use, but none compare to the quality and quantity of PPI. PPI has a wealth of FE exam resources at your disposal. Let’s look at a few that I think will help you get the results you want.
The FE Civil Print Bundle has everything you need if you want to study on your own. Not only do you receive an FE review manual, but you get over 460 practice problems, an official NCEES FE Practice Exam, a calculator, and more. If you merely need the reference manual or the practice problems book, you can get them individually as well, but anyway you cut it it’s a great all-around package to purchase.
Motivation to Take the FE Civil Exam
Now that we have the tools to take the FE, we need the motivation to do it. The motivation to take this exam will come depending on where you are in life. Most schools require you pass the FE to graduate, so if you're still in school, there's your motivation.
But what if you are out of school? What drives you then?
The biggest drive for you to take this exam is because you know you can do hard things. By taking this exam, your self-confidence will build as you put in the effort. It’s also the first step to becoming a professional engineer, and that should be a great motivator. By taking the FE exam, you’ll be conditioned and have the confidence to take the NCEES PE exam when you are ready.
Becoming a professional engineer will allow you to not only seal and stamp drawings but it will boost your credibility, and you’ll receive more pay for doing it. Every civil engineer should become a professional one and taking and passing the FE is the required first step. If you need additional support, then find a FE community and make sure to get your family on board of this huge milestone in your life!
Wrapping It Up
Passing the FE exam is a must, and I know you can do it! Don’t let this exam intimidate you. If you are in school, then make it part of your course work and get it done somewhere near your senior year. If you are out of school, then make it a goal to complete and make the sacrifices necessary to get it. You can’t fail if you find your motivation. Grab the right tools found at PPI and get the support you need to see it through.
You’ve got this!
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