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Should I Take the FE Exam?

April 12, 2022
should I take FE exam

What is the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam?

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is a 110-question, multiple-choice test developed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). This computer-based exam is offered year-round at Pearson Vue testing centers and covers topics studied in undergraduate engineering courses. It’s the first of two engineering exams you must pass to become a licensed professional engineer (PE) in the United States. After passing the FE exam, also referred to as the Engineering-in-Training (EIT) exam, you earn an EIT certification and are considered either an engineer-in-training or an engineer intern, depending on your state. 

Who should take the FE exam?

The FE exam is designed for engineering students and graduates who want to take the first step toward becoming a PE. Most engineers take the FE exam during or immediately after their final semester as an undergrad so that exam knowledge is fresh in their minds. Taking the FE exam is not a degree requirement to graduate, nor is it an entrance exam for further education, like the GMAT. It is, however, an important career step for ambitious engineers who want to earn their license. Civil Engineers are often required to take the Civil FE exam at the beginning of their careers as they often won’t qualify for promotions until holding EIT certification. 

What are the benefits of taking the FE exam?

There are multiple benefits of taking the FE exam, especially if you’re looking to advance your career and earn a competitive salary. Below we discuss some of the advantages of taking the FE exam and earning EIT certification.

  • Taking the FE exam is the first step toward PE licensure. This is the most important benefit of taking the FE exam, as it will set you up for a long and rewarding career. Once you pass the FE exam, you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam and earn professional licensure after gaining approximately four years of experience as an engineer (depending on your state). Earning a PE license is a huge accomplishment and conveys to employers, the state, and the public that you meet the standards of professional competency, follow the rules for professional conduct, and protect the interest of the public. A PE license also gives you the authority to sign and seal plans and drawings. 

  • Taking the FE exam offers you more career opportunities. Successfully passing the FE exam shows potential employers that you are committed to developing as an engineer and are serious about your career. Furthermore, some employers require you to pass the FE exam and earn EIT certification for certain jobs and promotions. Civil engineers, for example, are often required to earn EIT certification at the beginning of their careers. 

  • Taking the FE exam differentiates you from your peers. Engineering jobs can be highly competitive, and if you’re looking to give yourself an edge in the job market, holding an EIT certificate can give you a leg up on the competition. Passing the FE exam proves you have mastered the fundamentals of engineering and are working towards professional licensure – something employers like to see on a resume. 

Will I get paid more if I pass the FE?

There is no guarantee that you will get paid more once you pass the FE exam. Salary raises are more likely once you’ve reached PE status later in your career. However, passing the FE exam is required to become eligible to take the PE exam. You are highly likely to earn a higher salary after passing the PE exam and earning your license. According to a salary survey by ASME, mechanical engineers who passed the FE and PE exams and earned licensure make $16,000 more per year than their unlicensed counterparts.

Whether or not you get paid more after passing the FE exam ultimately depends on your employer. Some employers will pay more for engineers who have passed the FE exam and earned their EIT certification. In fact, 40% of job seekers on Indeed said that earning their EIT Certificate helped them make more money. Civil engineers, for example, are often required to pass the FE exam early in their careers and are not eligible for promotions until they do. Once a civil engineer earns licensure by passing both the FE and PE exams, it is standard practice for that engineer to immediately get a raise.

What can I do with my EIT certification?

Passing the FE exam and earning EIT certification is necessary to become a licensed professional engineer. It demonstrates your mastery of fundamental engineering concepts and indicates you have completed the first requirement of becoming a PE. As an EIT, you can perform engineering work under the supervision of a professional engineer. 

The EIT certification itself does not grant you any privileges. In order to stamp and seal engineering documents, you have to reach PE status. Depending on your employer, holding EIT certification can make you eligible for certain promotions (and salary increases). Passing the FE exam and earning EIT certification is a major career milestone and a pivotal step on your way to becoming a professional engineer. 

Why You Should Take The FE Exam As Soon As Possible

We recommend you take the FE exam as soon as possible – either in the last year of your undergraduate engineering program or immediately after graduation. The FE exam tests your knowledge of engineering concepts you’ll have studied in school, so it’s ideal to take the exam while those concepts are still top of mind. Even if you aren’t sure about your career goals at this stage, taking the FE exam and earning EIT certification will help your career growth and enhance your resume. Taking the FE exam early in your career also gives you plenty of time to gain relevant work experience if you do decide to take the PE exam down the road.

Which FE exam should I take?

The FE exam is offered in seven disciplines. It’s up to you to choose which FE exam to take, depending on your career goals. When deciding between the exams, consider the specialty you are most interested in as well as the pass rates for each exam. If you don’t know which specialty to pursue, you can take the FE Other (General) exam, which combines topics from all the disciplines. Below is a list of all the FE exams as well as their pass rates as of January 2022, according to data from NCEES. 

  1. FE Chemical - 73% pass rate

  2. FE Civil - 62% pass rate

  3. FE Electrical and Computer - 73% pass rate 

  4. FE Environmental - 70% pass rate

  5. FE Industrial - 62% pass rate

  6. FE Mechanical - 71% pass rate

  7. FE Other Disciplines - 65% pass rate 

What happens after you pass the FE exam?

Passing the FE exam is a significant achievement in your engineering career. Now that you’ve passed the exam, you may be wondering what happens next if your ultimate goal is to become a PE. Below is a step-by-step process of what you should do after passing the FE exam.

  1. Send your transcript to your state board to get an EIT certificate.

  2. Start studying for the PE exam.

  3. Gain experience working as an engineer.

  4. Take the PE exam.

  5. Become a professional engineer after passing the PE exam!

It’s important to note that requirements for PE licensure vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your state’s licensing board on their current list of requirements.

How do I prepare for the FE exam?

The FE exam is known to be a challenging exam, and effective prep is critical to passing on your first try. When creating your study plan for the FE exam, you’ll want to incorporate our six steps for successful FE exam prep. This includes taking practice tests, purchasing a copy of the NCEES FE Reference handbook to use alongside your FE Review Manual, and more. The best way to study for the FE exam is to start early and stay organized. Take the FE exam as soon as possible, and utilize all the resources available to you as you work through your FE exam prep. 

How do I sign up for the FE exam?

The FE exam is offered each year during four testing windows: January - February, April - May, July - August, and October - November. You can take the exam up to three times in one year. All FE exam disciplines are administered year-round at Pearson VUE Test Centers. Once you’ve chosen your exam date and discipline, you may be wondering how to sign up for the FE exam. The fastest way is to register via the NCEES website for the most up-to-date exam schedules based on your state. A fee of $175 will need to be made payable to NCEES. Some state licensing boards may require you to file a separate application and pay an application fee as part of the approval process to sit for an NCEES exam. 

How long should I study for the FE exam?

How long you should study for the FE exam depends on you as an individual. In general, we recommend 12 to 14 weeks of serious study for a minimum of three hours per day. However, FE exam prep time varies depending on which FE exam you plan to take. Each exam has different questions and a different number of test-takers. For example, the FE Civil exam is the most popular FE exam, and engineering licensure is very common in the civil engineering industry. Because of this, many civil engineering college programs offer FE exam prep review to help their students prepare for the FE exam, which means they need less time to prepare for the FE exam on their own. 

It’s also important to review FE exam pass rates to determine how long you should be studying. Yet another factor is how long you’ve been out of school. We recommend engineers take the FE exam during their last year of undergrad or shortly after so that the skills they learn are fresh in their minds. The longer you’ve been out of school, the longer you may need to study for the FE exam. 

What FE exam prep courses should I take? 

We offer industry-leading FE exam prep courses to help you maximize your test prep and succeed on the FE exam. Our courses cover every topic on the exam and provide you with NCEES-approved materials. No matter your exam date, learning style, or availability, we have an FE exam prep course that will fit your needs. 

To supplement your exam prep, we also offer free tools and resources for every type of engineer. Check out our FE Exam Resource Center for more information about the FE exam and earning PE licensure, download our exclusive free eBook on Preparing for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, and get answers to frequently asked questions about the FE exam straight from our experts. 

We’re here to help you at every stage of your engineering career, so don’t wait - start your FE exam prep with PPI today!

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