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How to Study For—and Pass—the NCEES FE Exam

September 24, 2020
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So you’ve graduated from an accredited engineering program and would like to start making money to pay back those student loans, right?

You’ll need to pass that long-awaited (and possibly dreaded) NCEES FE exam. Becoming a licensed engineer is a prestigious feat in the eyes of your future employers, so if you want to make sure you have what it takes to not only study for, but also pass your FE exam, here’s some advice.

First, have confidence in yourself. You have made it this far, which means you’ve been prepped in more than just math and science variations like physics and chemistry. You’ve probably been taught about problem solving, manufacturing, lab processes, maximizing productivity, minimizing costs, production and distribution systems, and maybe even how to optimize interactions in a technological environment.

Unfortunately, a simple education won’t be enough if you want to pass the FE, though. You’ll want to get your hands on the right review materials geared toward your specific engineering discipline and practice both with books and digital study tools.

Why do I even have to take the FE exam?

Just like medical doctors and lawyers, engineers need to obtain a license before they can offer their services to the public. Each state has its own set of laws and standards, but basically it’s illegal to tell the public that you’re an independent engineer and can provide specific services for them without this license.

Though an engineer can work for a company, designing and manufacturing products, without being registered, due to certain product liability laws that protect the public, the person responsible for the work still has to be registered. Therefore, being a licensed engineer is a big deal if you want to climb the ladder in your profession.

The first Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam was administered in 1965, but it wasn’t until 1996 that the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) decided to offer it in six discipline-specific modules: Chemical, Civil, Industrial, Electrical, Mechanical, and General Engineering. So at least now you only have to focus on the area you’ll need to know about most. The organization made it even easier for you just two years ago when it decided that FE exams would be administered via computer-based testing for the first time and transformed the test into seven freestanding, discipline-specific exams.

Ok, I get it. Now how do I pass the FE exam?

Exam prep providers have several options for you, and each one focuses on the current exam topics you’ll need to prep for. For example, if you’re going to take the FE exam with a focus on mechanical engineering, you’ll be prepping for an exam that will cover topics such as dynamics, kinematics and vibrations, probability and statistics, mechanics of materials, heat transfer, and fluid mechanics.

We recommend you prepare with a combination of books and digital study tools so there are no surprises on exam day. In addition to increasing your knowledge, this is also an effective way to reduce the anxiety associated with unpreparedness. Taking a FE Exam prep course is also a good way to ensure that you are completely prepared while leaving your study plan up to the experts.

It’s important to note that this exam won’t be like the tests you’ve taken in school. A few years ago, the NCEES moved its testing methods into the 21st century by implementing computer-based exams. Testing in this way is still fairly new and has had to overcome a series of barriers among teachers and students alike, but it has finally become standard. While it’s still novel, it can offer more efficient test-taking for some who do not perform well on standardized tests, as well as faster feedback and scoring. It even opens the doors to innovative ways of asking questions, such as video clips or computer simulations.

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

Some Additional Tips

1. Get your hands on the NCEES Handbook early and learn where everything is—this is what you’ll be using during the actual exam.
2. Begin studying months in advance. 
3. Work tons of practice exams under timed conditions.
4. Figure out your strong and weak areas so you know which questions to work and which you’ll want to skip.
5. Review simple math.
6. Memorize formulas that are not provided in the NCEES Handbook.
7. Give yourself a day or two before the exam to rest—we recommend not taking any practice exams during this time.
8. During the test, read problems carefully. (Sometimes they can be solved by analyzing the answers or reverse engineering).

And, as redundant as these may sound, they are timeless suggestions:

9.   Get a good night’s sleep.
10. Eat a good meal beforehand.

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