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What to Expect on NCEES FE Exam Day

April 29, 2021
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Want to know more about how your exam day will go? Understanding the structure of your NCEES FE exam, as well as the question formats you will see, is another way to prepare for exam day.  

The Structure of the FE Exam

The NCEES FE exam is a computer-based test that contains 110 multiple-choice questions given over two consecutive sessions (sections, parts, etc.). Each session contains approximately 55 multiple-choice questions that are grouped together by knowledge area (subject, topic, etc.). The subjects are not explicitly labeled, and the beginning and ending of the subjects are not noted. No subject spans the two exam sessions. That is, if a subject appears in the first session of the exam, it will not appear in the second. Each question has four possible answer choices, labeled (A), (B), (C), and (D). Only one question and its answer choices are given onscreen at a time.

The exam is not adaptive (i.e., your response to one question has no bearing on the next question you are given). Even if you answer the first five mathematics questions correctly, you’ll still have to answer the sixth question. In essence, the FE exam is two separate, partial exams given in sequence. During either session, you cannot view or respond to questions in the other session. Your exam will include a limited (unknown) number of questions (known as “pretest items”) that will not be scored and will not have an impact on your results. NCEES does this to determine the viability of new questions for future exams.

FE Exam Duration

The exam is 6 hours long and includes an 8-minute tutorial, a 25-minute break, and a brief survey at the conclusion of the exam. The total time you’ll have to actually answer the exam questions is 5 hours and 20 minutes. The problem-solving pace works out to slightly less than 3 minutes per question, and you may work through the questions (in that session) in any sequence. If you want to go back and check your answers before you submit a session for grading, you may. However, once you submit a section you are not able to go back and review it.

What is FE protocol for how much time you should spend on each section? You can divide your time between the two sessions any way you’d like. That is, if you want to spend 4 hours on the first section, and 1 hour and 20 minutes on the second section, you could do so. Between sessions, you can take a 25-minute break. You can take less time if you would like, but you cannot work through the break, and the break time cannot be added to the time permitted for either session.

Once each session begins, you can leave your seat for personal reasons, but the “clock” does not stop for your absence. Unanswered questions are scored the same as questions answered incorrectly, so you should use the last few minutes of each session to guess at all unanswered questions.

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

Your FE Exam is Unique

The exam that you take will not be the exam taken by the person sitting next to you. Differences between exams go beyond mere sequencing differences. NCEES says that the CBT system will randomly select different, but equivalent, questions from its database for each examinee using a linear-on-the-fly (LOFT) algorithm. Each examinee will have a unique exam of equivalent difficulty, so looking at your neighbor’s monitor would be a waste of time.

About Alternative Item Types (AITs) on the FE Exam

Though exam formats have changed question types to include more than multiple-choice questions, PPI review materials continue to be current to exam specs. AIT questions provide opportunities to assess the technical knowledge of examinees using methods not available through paper-based testing, however, question format is irrelevant if you know the material. AIT questions have approximately the same degree of difficulty as multiple-choice questions. Please note there is also no pre-determined or fixed number of AIT exam questions nor of the percentage of any one type of AIT question on an exam.

Multiple Choice

  • Select one correct answer from four given options.
  • If you are unsure of what the correct answer is, you should make an educated assumption. You will not be penalized for a wrong answer.

Multiple Choice (Check-All-That-Apply)

  • Select all the correct choices from the list by clicking on each one.
  • All of the correct answers (and only all of the correct answers) must be selected; there is no partial credit.
  • If you change your mind, click on a choice to de-select it.

Point-and-Click (Hot Spot, or Mark Location)

  • Click on a single target, or hot spot icon, to place on the base image in the correct location or general area.
  • If you change your mind, click again on your choice to unselect, or click on the new preferred answer.

  • These questions may ask you to sort, rank, place, or label items. Confirm whether all items need to be chosen or moved, then be sure to sort, rank, place, or label each one.
  • After you have decided the proper sorting, ranking, placing, or labeling, click and drag an object to the target spot.
  • If you change your answer, you can move an object to a different open spot in the target area, or you can move it back to the starting area.

  • Read the answer specification carefully; it should state the number of decimal places for your numeric answer.
  • Compute your answer, then round if needed to the required number of decimal places (0-4, round down; 5-9, round up).
  • Do not enter the units for your answer.
  • Do not spell out a number, like “four”.
  • If you change your mind, blank out the entire field before you enter another answer.
Case Study

  • May be multiple-choice, check-all-that-apply, hot spot, drag-and-place, or fill-in-the-blank.
  • You are able to click on browser-like tabs on top of the computer screen to go back and forth between the case study scenario and resource documents provided.

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