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When Should I Take the NCEES FE Exam?

September 24, 2020
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One of the best investments engineering students can make in their future is taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The FE exam is a necessary part of becoming a professional engineer (PE). The test is available to anyone already holding an engineering degree, but some students may be wondering, "When should I take the fundamentals of engineering exam?" Many professors advise sitting for it as a graduating senior.

Why shouldn't engineering students wait until after graduation, when they have a year or two of experience? Although that path is completely acceptable, it may make it more difficult for the candidate to pass the exam. Once in the workforce, engineers are often focused on a particular industry or on a certain aspect of engineering and tend to forget much of the basic material taught at the university level. Therefore, many advisors recommend taking the FE exam the last semester of senior year—when information relevant to the test is fresh in a student's mind.

Additionally, many engineers find that when they do wait, life tends to get in the way. The longer one waits to take the FE exam, the harder it will be to pass, and as a result, the longer it will take to obtain professional licensure by passing the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam.

Taking the FE exam comes at a price—$175 to be exact. However, only registered professional engineers can perform engineering consulting work, and that requires passing the six-hour, 110-question computer-based test. In addition, the FE exam is the first step toward eligibility to take the professional engineer licensing exam.

It's true that an engineer can work for a company designing and manufacturing products without being registered, but that's because product liability laws protect the public. But when a company provides engineering services, whoever is responsible for that work must be a registered engineer. PEs approve plans and drawings with the official seal issued to them. Engineers who are not registered must work under the supervision of someone who is, even if the unlicensed engineer owns the business.

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

Why Should I Take the Exam Now?

The FE exam is open to anyone who has a degree in engineering or a related field, or is currently enrolled in the last year of an ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited engineering degree program. Some state licensure boards let students take it prior to their final year, although it is likely that the junior-year engineering student has not yet been exposed to all the subject matter that is on the test. Several states let those who have not attended an approved program take the exam if they have a certain number of years of engineering work experience.

By taking the exam in the last semester of engineering school, the candidate is most likely to have learned about the various topics covered, which include, but are not limited to: engineering economics, electricity and magnetism, chemistry, ethics, engineering statistics, fluid mechanics, strength of materials, and thermodynamics. Research from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying indicates that taking the exam while still in school offers the greatest likelihood of passing. Some schools even expect you to pass the FE exam to graduate.

Every state has their own licensing requirements for engineers. It's a long, difficult process that rewards those who meet the challenge...and it all starts with the FE exam. The best time to take the FE exam depends on personal circumstances. In general, the best chance for success is to take the FE exam during the senior year of college, or shortly thereafter, when the material is still easy to recall.

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