Ultimate Guide to the PE Civil Exam

August 19, 2021

Passing the PE Civil Exam is a mandatory step towards becoming a licensed professional engineer. The PE Civil Exam is designed by NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) to test competency in civil engineering. You’ll be tested on general principles of civil engineering in the breadth portion of the exam, and more specific information in a depth area of your choosing. There are five depth areas to choose from, depending on your specialty: Construction, Geotechnical, Structural, Transportation, and Water Resources and Environmental. Read on to learn all about the PE Civil Exam.

When is the PE Civil Exam?

Beginning in April 2022, the PE Civil Exam will be offered at Pearson VUE testing centers year-round. There are four annual testing windows: January-March, April-June, July-September, and October-December. Eligibility requirements include four years of work experience, but specific requirements vary from state to state. Make sure you’re eligible in your state

How to Register for the PE Civil Exam

Registration and scheduling for the CBT PE Civil Exam will be available starting November 1, 2021 through your NCEES account. Once you register for the exam, you’ll get an authorization email from NCEES indicating that you’ve received approval to take the exam within the next 12 months. You’ll then be able to select the “SCHEDULE” option in your NCEES account and select a testing date and location. The PE Civil Exam is administered at Pearson VUE testing centers, which are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. You’ll be required to pay an exam fee of $375 at the time of registration. 

As a general rule, PE Civil examinees are eligible to retake the PE Civil Exam once per testing window, and up to three times per year. Check your state board for additional state-specific retesting requirements.

Exam rescheduling and cancellation are also done through your NCEES account. Reschedule using the “Modify Appointment” button at least 24 hours before your exam appointment. Keep in mind that you may be required to pay rescheduling fees, though some examinees are eligible for refunds.

Exam cancellation requires re-applying and re-paying for the exam.

When should you take the PE Civil Exam?

PE Civil Exam Switching from Paper-and-Pencil to CBT

The PE Civil Exam switches to a CBT (Computer Based Testing) format (from a paper-and-pencil format) in 2022. That means the last paper-and-pencil PE Civil Exam administration will be in October of 2021. This transition to a CBT format will allow for greater exam security, more uniformity in testing experience, and a greater variety of question types. In addition to multiple-choice questions, the CBT version of the exam is able to ask multiple-correct, point-and-click, drag-and-drop, and fill-in-the-blank questions. The PE Civil Exam Computer Based Test will be offered at Pearson VUE testing centers year-round.

October is Your Last Chance to Take the Open-Book, Paper-and-Pencil PE Civil Exam

If you’d like to be able to use your own reference materials during the exam and take it in the traditional paper-and-pencil format, be sure to register for the last paper-and-pencil administration of the PE Civil Exam in October 2021. The exam will be offered exclusively in a computer-based format starting in January 2022. Register for the October 2021 exam by August 26, 2021, and create a study plan that will set you up for PE Civil Exam success. We recommend starting with one of our prep course options, which ensure that you receive comprehensive and up-to-date exam review while catering to your schedule and prep needs. Choose your depth section to view our prep course bundles and additional review materials for the PE Civil Exam.

PE Civil Reference Manual

The PE Civil Reference Manual includes all the information you need to prepare for the breadth portion of the PE Civil Exam, as well as an overview of each depth topic, study scheduling help, exam tips, and up-to-date codes. 

The paper-and-pencil PE Civil Exam is an open-book exam, meaning that you'll be able to take the manual into the exam with you. Once the exam switches to a CBT format, you will not be able to bring any materials into the exam with you, including the reference manual. Instead, you will have access to an electronic NCEES PE Civil Reference Handbook and the design standards for your depth section.

Preparing for the PE Civil exam? Test your skills with a free sample quiz.

Taking the PE Civil Exam

Show up to your test location 30 minutes prior to your exam start time. Bring with you a current photo ID (government issued, military, or an international passport), a printed copy of your appointment confirmation letter, and an NCEES-approved calculator. For more detailed information about what items are and are not allowed inside the testing room, refer to the NCEES Exam Guide

Reasonable accommodations are available to those test-takers with a documented disability or scheduling conflict due to military service or Sabbath observance. Any accommodations required must be requested during the registration process. 

Once the exam transitions to a CBT format in 2022, it will no longer be open book. Examinees will only have access to an electronic NCEES PE Civil Reference Handbook and design standards for their depth section.

PE Civil CBT Exam Format

The CBT PE Civil Exam is an 8-hour, 80-question exam including multiple-choice, multiple-correct, point-and-click, drag-and-drop, and fill-in-the-blank questions. The first 40 questions are breadth questions, and the second 40 questions refer to your chosen depth area:

There are no individually timed sections on the PE Civil Exam, meaning that you are responsible for managing your time on the exam. You’ll begin the exam with a 2-minute nondisclosure agreement, and an 8-minute tutorial, and then you can begin work on the test questions. Throughout the exam you’ll encounter pretest items included to test questions for use in future exams. They’re unscored, but you won’t be able to identify which questions are pretest questions and which are legitimate exam questions. 

You’re allowed one 50-minute scheduled break during which you can leave the testing center. You can take additional breaks as needed, during which you may not leave the testing center, but unlike the scheduled break these additional breaks will eat into your exam time.

How to Study for the PE Civil Exam

It’s recommended that you spend approximately 300 hours studying for the PE Civil Exam. To ensure that you’re studying the right information at an appropriate pace, consider signing up for one of PPI’s PE Civil Exam prep courses. Depending on the level and frequency of prep you require, as well as your chosen depth area, you can choose between the three following exam prep bundles:

  • Live Online Course Bundle: Attend virtual live lectures, problem-solving demonstrations, exam strategy sessions, and office hours facilitated by licensed engineers. You’ll receive homework assignments, class notes, and reference materials. This prep option will prepare you for the depth and breadth portions of the exam. 

  • OnDemand Course Bundle: Get access to pre-recorded lectures, problem-solving demonstrations, and exam strategy sessions from licensed engineers, as well as homework assignments and reference materials. This is a great option for students with busy schedules, who need the option to study on the go or at inconsistent times. 

  • Self Study - Learning Hub and Print Bundle: This study option is designed for students who need a refresher before they take the PE Civil Exam, but may not need a full review course. With this option they’ll get access to the PE Learning Hub and printed practice materials.

If you only wish to purchase review materials to help with the breadth portion of the PE Civil Exam, consider our Breadth-Only products, including the PE Civil Reference Manual, PE Civil Practice Problems Book, and the PE Civil Quick Reference Book. 

PE Civil Exam Scoring

The PE Civil Exam is a pass/fail test. No points are deducted for wrong answers, meaning that your raw score is determined by adding together your correct answers. There is no partial credit awarded, no matter the question type. Your raw score is scaled to account for minor differences in difficulty between different versions of the exam. There is no published passing score and no limit on the number of passing exams per window. There is no difference in how first-time and repeat test-takers are evaluated. 

Scores for the CBT exam will be available 7-10 days after you take the exam. You’ll receive an email from NCEES about how to access your scores and how to proceed based on whether you passed or failed. If you fail the exam, you’ll get a diagnostic report that will tell you what test areas you struggled with.

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