What You Need to Know about The Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

Background

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is generally your first step in the process to becoming a professional licensed engineer. It is designed for recent graduates and students who are close to finishing an undergraduate engineering degree from an EAC/ABET-accredited program. Currently. the FE exam is a computer-based exam administered year-round at NCEES-approved Pearson VUE test centers (https://ncees.org/exams/test-center-locations/).

There are currently 7 different FE Exams: Civil, Chemical, Electrical and Computer, Environmental, Industrial and Systems, Mechanical, and Other Disciplines. The two most common are Civil and Mechanical with the volume of tests administered from July to December 2019 being 3770 and 2818 respectively.

Around this time my senior year of college was when I started my intentionally studying for this exam, which is why I wanted to create a dedicated blog post to how I prepared for the FE Exam!

FE Exam Preparation

In terms of time, I started studying for my FE Exam in December of 2016, spending most of my Winter Break studying (~1 month) and then took the exam in late January 2017. I passed the first time around, but in case I didn’t this timeline would have allowed me another time to take the exam before I graduated. Regardless of when you choose to take it, I highly recommend to take it before you graduate or soon after you graduate as this information is fresh in your mind.

In terms of my exam preparation, I have compiled the following tips:

  • Check to see if your school has a FE prep course – The Drexel CAEE Department hosted one that met weekly on Saturday mornings.
  • Do a lot of practice problems – Completing practice problems from different sources was a good portion of my studying ! I personally bought FE Civil Practice Problems By Michael R. Lindeburg, PE for my studying, but there are many free resources where you can get practice problems and I have linked to many at the end of this article! Topics for the FE Civil Exam range from Mathematics to Statics to Transportation Engineering, and you can view the approximate number of questions breakdown on the NCEES website.
  • Use the FE reference book – When you are completing practice problems, use the FE reference book to get family with the different sections and what equations they provide.
  • Check that your current calculator is on the list of approved calculators – You can check the current list at https://ncees.org/exams/calculator. I personally used the TI-36X Pro model.
  • Establish an accountability partner – If someone else is studying for the exam at the same time and you do well studying with others, ask if they want to be your study buddy! You can set up weekly Zoom events to review problems. If there isn’t someone else you know that is studying for the exam or you study better independently, establishing someone who will keep you accountable to study is helpful. Personally, my partner was studying for USMLE Step 1 at the same time, so we kept each other accountable to study!

FE Exam Day

Regardless of what FE Exam you choose, you will still have the same number of questions and timing of exam. It is currently 110 questions, 5 hours and 20 minutes for the exam and a 25 minute scheduled break. Keeping this in mind, we come to my first tip.

  • Take a deep breath before you begin – With 320 minutes for the exam and 11 questions means approximately 3 minutes per problem. Taking a deep breath before you begin will help to calm you before you start this marathon of an exam.
  • If you aren’t sure how to address a problem immediately, use the “Flag for Review” button and leave it to the end – A perk of the computer based FE Exam is the “Flag” feature. You will be able to review all of your answers before submitting each half of the exam. Both how to flag a question and the review screen are shown in the YouTube video by NCEES here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yv7MUmuAT8I
  • CTRL + F is your friend – This is why I emphasized using the FE reference book during exam preparation as you can use CTRL + F to search in the booklet for key words or parts of words if there is a question you are struggling with. The environmental engineering section was one of my weaker sections, but I was able to make an educated guess on several of them based on searching key words from the question in the FE reference book. Also knowing where different equations are in the handbook, and the different variables used in the equations are ahead of time also helped me to get through questions quicker.

With a pass rate of approximately 73% for the FE Civil, don’t get discouraged if you don’t pass the first time. The FE exam is definitely a tough exam and I know many amazing colleagues that had to take it multiple times . In the end, it is well worth all your preparation when all is said and done!

Resources:

Free Preparation Sources

Supplemental Preparation Sources (not free)

NCEES Additional Resources

Do you have any other resources that you think I should add to this post? Email me at danithecivilengineer@gmail.com and I will add it!

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