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Surveying Industry Information: How to get licensed

Getting your Professional Surveyor (PS) License

Getting your Professional Surveyor License is a necessary 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 are accurate to measured conditions. To obtain this authority, a surveyor must be formally trained in his or her discipline, and pass a series of exams to become licensed.

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

If a surveyor is educated through a four year accredited surveying curriculum, students planning on becoming licensed in the future generally take the FS exam during their final year of college. To then be eligible to take the PS exam, that surveyor-in-training must gain experience working under the guidance of a licensed professional surveyor.

What is the pass rate for the PS exam?
According to NCEES, the pass rate for first time takers of the PS exam is about 78%. For repeat takers of the PS exam, the pass rate drops to near 45%. 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 FS exam?
According to NCEES, the pass rate for first time takers of the FS exam is about 54%. For repeat takers of the PS exam, the pass rate drops to 23%.

Strategies for taking the PS exam
The PS exam is a 6 hour exam, comprised of a 4 hour morning session, and 2 hour afternoon session. To pass you’ll need to know and understand the wide range of topics that are covered by your surveying discipline.

Below are strategies we’ve found to help aspiring surveyors pass their PS exam.

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

The PS is a closed book exam, but the NCEES offers an outline for the exam. This outline describes the approximate number of questions on the exam which pertain to specific areas of study within that discipline. Focus your study time proportionately on which questions are more numerous within the exam. The guide for the exam, available at: https://cdn.ncees.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/PS-Apr-2013-1.pdf will provide for a good starting point of 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 100 multiple choice questions, 67 questions within the 4 hour morning session, and 33 questions within the 2 hour afternoon session. This works out to approximately 3.5 minutes of time to complete each question. It isn’t hard to spend the majority of that time understanding the question, and filtering through the 167 page Surveying Reference Manual provided on exam day to help you in getting 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 FS exam
The FS exam is comprised of 110 multiple choice questions within a 6 hour time limit. It is a computer based exam, unlike the written PS exam, and is offered year round at NCEES approve testing centers. Instead of being allowed to bring any bound reference materials they wish, test takers are provided with a FS Reference Handbook, containing common equations they’ll need throughout the exam. Since the format of the PS and FS exams are different, we would offer the following additional strategies to help engineering students pass their FS exam.

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

NCEES has gone to great lengths to help prospective surveying students get comfortable with and prepare for their FS 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 FS Exam YouTube Channel

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

Very similar to the PS exam strategy above, NCEES offers an outline of the FS exam. This outline describes the approximate number of questions on the exam which pertain to specific areas of study within that discipline. For example, a certain number of questions pertain to Geodesy, Spatial Data Acquisition and Reduction, Survey Methods, and GIS. Focus your study time proportionately on which questions are more numerous within the exam. The guide for the exam, available at: http://ncees.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/FS-January-2014_with-ranges.pdf 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.
  • Practice Exams: The NCEES and other private institutions provide online sample and practice exams that can either be taken at your computer (for the FS exam), or printed off and worked through on paper (for the PS 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 a surveying question for a particular type of surveyor, please use our provider directory to find one in your area: https://www.engineerme.com/find-professional/provider-directory/

If you are a professional surveyor and want to get more leads for business or join our network, please sign up here: https://www.engineerme.com/providers/join-now/

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