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Engineering Industry Information: How to get licensed

Getting your Professional Engineer (PE) License

Getting your Professional Engineer License is a compelling step towards becoming recognized in your field as a competent and ethical professional. It also means you have the authority and responsibility to stamp and verify plans or systems are fit for construction or implementation. To obtain this authority, an engineer must be formally trained in his or her discipline of engineering practice, and pass a series of exams to become licensed.

How do I get my PE license?
The licensing process is governed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) and the state which an engineer becomes registered. NCEES is a non-profit organization that develops and administers the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Professional Engineering (PE) exams. These exams are typically taken at different stages of an engineer’s formal training, and combine with work experience under already licensed professionals to develop and confirm competency of an engineer’s skills. Once the NCEES exams are taken and passed, the individual states issue a PE license through their own administrative processes.

If an engineer is educated through a four year accredited engineering curriculum, students planning on becoming licensed in the future generally take the FE exam during their final year of college. Assuming the student passes the FE exam, they are typically referred to as an Engineer-in-Training (EIT). To then be eligible to take the PE exam, that engineer-in-training must gain experience working under the guidance of a licensed professional engineer.

What is the pass rate for the PE exam?
NCEES offers the PE exam in many different disciplines. Each discipline’s exam has varying pass rates. Click here for a list of passing rates per discipline. On average, when looking across all disciplines, passing rates for first time takers of the PE exam is about 67%. For repeat takers of the PE exam, the pass rate drops to near 30%. Putting in the right amount of study time and preparation to pass the first time will help your chances of obtaining your license, not to mention save you money in exam fees which stand about $250 currently!

What is the pass rate for the FE exam?
Similar to the PE exam described above, the FE exam is offered in distinct disciplines. Click here for a list of passing rates per discipline. On average, when looking across all disciplines, passing rates for takers of the FE exam is about 76%.

Strategies for taking the PE exam
The PE exam is an 8 hour exam, comprised of a 4 hour morning session and 4 hour afternoon session. To pass you’ll need to know and understand the wide range of topics that are covered by your engineering discipline. Additionally, certain PE exams, civil and mechanical engineering as examples, are breadth and depth exams, where the 4 hour morning session is spent covering a wide variety of questions encompassing the entire engineering discipline, and the afternoon session is spent focusing on a particular area of practice.

Below are strategies we’ve found to help aspiring engineers pass their PE exam.

  • Know your reference materials, inside and out

Remember that the PE exam is an open book exam, so half the battle (at least for the authors of this website), was getting familiar with your reference materials. Knowing where to quickly find basic equations, similar example problems, reference tables, material properties, and other fundamental information will be key to your success. Taking the time to put tabs, notes, and book marks within your reference materials to easily locate helpful pages will pay off during your exam.

  • Focus your time studying based on amount of questions in each subject area

NCEES offers outlines of each discipline’s exam. These outlines describe the approximate number of questions on the exam which pertain to specific areas of study within that discipline. For example, on the civil engineering exam, a certain number of questions pertain to structural, transportation, soil mechanics, materials, and construction. Focus your study time proportionately on which questions are more numerous within the exam. The guide for each exam, available at: http://ncees.org/exams/pe-exam/, will provide for a good starting point for planning your preparation.

  • Don’t be afraid to skip a question (and come back later)

Though all questions are graded, an examinee needs to remember that time is of the essence. The exam typically consists of 80 multiple choice questions, 40 questions within the 4 hour morning session, and 40 questions within the 4 hour afternoon session. This works out to approximately 6 minutes of time to complete each question. It isn’t hard to spend the majority of that time understanding the question, and filtering through your reference materials to find an appropriate resource to get the right answer. If you don’t have an initial lead as to how you’re going to answer the question, it’s not a bad idea to skip that question and come back to it after you finish those you can answer.

Strategies for taking the FE exam
The FE, comprised of 110 multiple choice questions within a 6 hour time limit, differs from the PE in that it is not open book. It is also a computer based exam offered year round at NCEES approved testing centers. Instead of being allowed to bring any bound reference materials they wish, test takers are provided with an FE Reference Handbook, containing common equations they’ll need throughout the exam. Since the format of the PE and FE exams are different, we would offer the following additional strategies to help engineering students pass their FE exam.

  • Get to know and get comfortable with the computer based testing format

NCEES has gone to great lengths to help prospective engineering students get comfortable with and prepare for their FE exam. They’ve actually created a YouTube channel all about how to utilize the on-screen reference handbook, how to manage your time, and overall what to expect when you arrive at a testing center on exam day. Be sure to check it out as it will save you a lot of reading and you can get information right from the source: NCEES FE Exam YouTube Channel

  • Focus your time studying based on amount of questions in each subject area

Very similar to the PE exam strategy above, NCEES offers outlines of each discipline’s FE exam. These outlines describe the approximate number of questions on the exam which pertain to specific areas of study within that discipline. For example, on the mechanical engineering exam, a certain number of questions pertain to electricity and magnetism, statics, dynamics, heat transfer, and mechanics of materials. Focus your study time proportionately on which questions are more numerous within the exam. The guide for each exam, available at: http://ncees.org/exams/fe-exam/, will provide for a good starting point of planning your preparation.

  • Don’t over think the solutions

Some questions are meant to be extremely easy, but are written to give you additional un-needed information to throw you off track. If you have an inkling of how to solve the problem, even without using all the numbers or variables given, trust your instincts that you’re headed in the right direction.

Are there resources to help me pass the exams?
There are many resources available to help aspiring engineers pass their exams.

  • Review courses: Many professional societies and universities put on review courses in the month’s preceding the exams.
  • Books / Study Guides / Reference Materials: NCEES as well as many other companies such as Power to Pass, offer books, DVD ‘s, printed and online media to provide engineers of all disciplines with resources they can use to pass their exams. Michael R. Lindeburg has authored PE and FE review books for each engineering discipline. You’ll likely notice a majority of examinees have used his materials to prepare, and very often reference during the PE exams.
  • Practice Exams: The NCEES and other private institutions provide online sample and practice exams that can either be taken at your computer (for the FE exam), or printed off and worked through on paper (for the PE exam). Getting used to the structure of the questions will help you be more comfortable on exam day.

Notification of results. How soon will I know if I passed?
NCEES notes that test takers will receive their results within 8-10 weeks of their test date. Also, from our experience, it seems that some states grade the exams quicker than others, so don’t assume the outcome of your exam by how long it takes to get your results. Typically, if you pass, you’ll receive only a notification and congratulations letter. If you do not pass, you’ll receive a diagnostic report from NCEES breaking down the areas of study and your performance in each. This diagnostic report is intended to help repeat test takers focus on those areas of study where more preparation is needed.

We wish you the best of luck passing your exams. Feel free to reach out to us at info@engineerme.com, if you have any questions.

As always, other professionals in our industry are often our best source of information. If you have an engineering question for a particular type of engineer, please use our provider directory to find one in your area: https://www.engineerme.com/find-professional/provider-directory/

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