In order to become a professional engineer there is certain licensing you must take. They offer a test called the PE (professional engineering exam) in pretty much every discipline; however, most disciplines won’t take it or won’t require it to move up. In civil engineering it is pretty much required everywhere that you take it. A big part of this is because we deal with infrastructure that if it fails can cause mass casualties and financial damage. Obtaining your PE can mean pay raises and promotions. It also means you can stamp and sign plans (but you are also legally responsible for those plans if they fail and anyone is injured.)
In order to become a PE you must first become an EIT (engineer-in-training.) Some states also call this an EI which is an engineering intern. This requires taking an exam known as the FE (fundamentals of engineering exam.)
The FE is a 6 hour computer based exam that tests your knowledge of engineering theories that you learned during undergrad. The test is administered by NCEES but each state has different requirements for when you can take it. Some states you can take it at any point while others you must be within a certain number of credits of graduating. It is best to take this exam between junior and senior year or after graduating as it covers classes that you most likely won’t complete until your third year.
You don’t have to take the exam for the state you live in or go to school in. I finished my degree in FL, took the exam in NY, was living in NJ at that point, and applied to the VA board. The EIT is a designation not a license so it is transferable rather easily. If you have your EIT designation but when the time comes to take your PE you need to be licensed in another state you just have to fill out a paper and send it in with your application.
NCEES has a list of topics that you should know in order to take the test. It also provides you with the reference manual that you will have access to during the exam. Since the exam is computer based it is super important that you study using the pdf of the reference manual rather than the printed version. It will help you know what terms to search to find what you need. Also make sure you use the manual that will be in effect when you are registered to take the exam.
There are review books, courses, and videos you can use in order to study. The review courses can be extremely expensive and as long as you are taking the exam during school or immediately afterwards it is not necessary to take.
EVERYONE stresses out about this exam. Most people will agree though that if you were awake during undergrad you can pass this exam.
Everyone has different study habits but you don’t need to study 40 hours a week for months for this test. I studied for bout 2 hours a day Monday-Friday for approximately a month before the exam and passed on the first try (and I am not a great test taker.)
Here are some tricks and tips to passing the exam:
- Buy the calculator you’re going to use for the test and study with that calculator. Make sure you check the list of what is acceptable to bring. The TI-36X Pro is recommended by many people and I can agree that it is a great calculator to use for it.
- Buy the review book not the practice book. The review book explains the concepts and has questions at the end of each chapter. First go to the end of the chapter and try the practice problems. If you know how to do them all then don’t waste time reviewing the concept pages. If you struggle on certain topics review those concept pages.
- This goes along with 2. If there are topics you’re not comfortable with watch these youtube videos. They work through example problems and explain the concepts really well.
- You DON’T need to understand every topic in its entirety. The exam is pass/fail. You just need to do better than 68% of the other people that take it in the same 7 day period as you. I never took steel so I knew when I got to those questions I would guess and spend my time on problems I knew how to solve.
- Know that it is totally okay to not pass the first time. They don’t report that you passed or failed to anyone else. That’s all on you to submit you passing results to the state board.
- The testing period is Monday-Saturday and results are released the following Wednesday at around 10am EST. So if you take it on a Monday you’ll be waiting about 10 days to find out like I did.
- Buy the practice exam from NCEES and take it with the time restrictions once you’ve finished the review book.