Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam
Becoming a licensed professional engineer is a two-step process. First, a student who has graduated from an accredited four-year engineering program (or is within 20 credit hours of graduating) must take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam (Part A). This is a common national exam that is valid in all 50 states and, if passed, is valid forever.
You can find out more about the FE Exam here.
After passing this test, the applicant is classified as an Engineer in Training (EIT) and can then take the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam, (Part B) after serving under a registered engineer for a minimum of four years post B.S. degree (and in some states, four years of experience after passing the FE exam). Passing this exam in a particular state and in a particular discipline results in licensure from that state.
Why Do I Need a PE License?
- Opportunities for private practice and/or owning your own engineering firm
- Recognition as a professional
- Career advancement
- NY Education Law, Section 6512.1: “Class E felony for anyone not authorized to practice who practices or offers to practice or holds himself out as being able to practice professional engineering.”
- Section 7202: Practice of engineering and use of title professional engineer: “Only a person licensed or otherwise authorized under this article shall practice engineering or use the title ‘professional engineer.’”
What is the FE Exam?
The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam is an exam administered through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) for current students and recent graduates earning an engineering degree from an ABET-accredited program. Upon completion of the FE Exam, an engineer obtains Engineer in Training (EIT) status, and after four years’ work in the field with EIT status, he/she can take the Professional Engineering (PE) Exam and earn PE licensure. The FE Exam is the first step towards earning PE licensure.
Details can be found on the NCEES webpage.
Why would I need it?
Upon completion of the FE Exam, you will have EIT status, which allows you to work towards PE licensure if you’re doing engineering work under a licensed PE who can sign off on your work. Some employers may prefer or require that applicants have taken the FE Exam, and even if they don’t, PE licensure is necessary for advancement in some engineering fields, so the FE Exam is a good first step.
If your career plans “include work that requires the authority to prepare, sign and seal, and submit engineering plans and drawings to a public authority for approval, or seal engineering work for public and private clients,” the FE Exam will be necessary (Michigan Technological). PE licensure or EIT status is extremely common, and often required, in civil and environmental engineering. It is less common in other fields but is still helpful in some sectors, such as utilities or HVAC. The FE Exam (leading to a PE) will also be necessary if you’re interested in starting your own engineering firm someday.
Why wouldn't I need it?
If you are sure that you don’t plan on getting your PE licensure in the future, then the FE Exam is not necessary. Many companies have one or more PEs on staff to seal things when needed and don’t require that all engineers have their PE. However, having PE licensure provides more opportunity for advancement in the field. PE licensure is less common outside of civil and environmental engineering, but some other engineers may wish to pursue it - for example, mechanical or electrical engineers working in the HVAC or utility sectors.
When should I take it?
The FE Exam is usually taken during the second semester of your senior year. In order to take the exam earlier (with more than 20 credits remaining towards your degree), you must petition the NYS Board for Engineering Licensing or corresponding board in other states. The FE Exam can be taken any time after graduation, but it is recommended taking it early while the material from your classes is still fresh in your mind.
How do I sign up?
EIT certification is valid in all 50 states, unlike PE certification, which is individual to each state. So, you can take the FE Exam in any state regardless of where you are planning on working. To sign up for an exam, create an account through the NCEES webpage and follow the instructions. The test is offered year-round at online test centers through the NCEES, and the fee for the test is $175. Check the relevant State Licensing Board for any additional requirements or application processes.
Where do I take the test?
The FE Exam is offered at Pearson VUE testing centers throughout the country. The closest testing centers to Ithaca are located in Syracuse and Endicott (near Binghamton). If you are studying remotely or want to find a testing center in a different location, you can find one here.
How is the test structured?
The FE Exam is 6 hours long, with 5 hours 20 minutes of testing, one 25-minute break, and introduction and survey portions. There are 110 questions separated into two sections, most of them being multiple choice with some “alternative” questions using different formats (check all that apply, write in the answer, etc.) The exam is computer-based, and you will have access to a digital version of the FE Reference Handbook with a search feature, a calculator, and laminate sheets for work.
After completing the first section, which is about half the exam and focuses more on basics and fundamentals of engineering, you will submit your answers and will be unable to return to them. You will then have a 25 minute break before returning to the second section, which focuses more on specific questions to your respective field.
More details about each of the seven FE Exams can be found using the following links:
- FE Chemical
- FE Civil
- FE Electrical and Computer
- FE Environmental
- FE Industrial and Systems
- FE Mechanical
- FE Other Disciplines
Review the NCEES Examinee Guide for more details about testing procedures and reporting results. Also review the NCEES Calculator Policy for more information about calculators allowed during the exam.
How can I prepare?
BEE 5330 is a course offered to seniors in the spring where students review for the FE Exam. NCEES offers practice exam materials for purchase on their Exam Preparation Materials webpage. The FE Reference Handbook is also available for free download on the NCEES website. Familiarizing yourself with the Reference Handbook by reviewing equations and using it while studying is recommended because doing so will allow you to easily utilize it during the exam. Practice using keywords to search the handbook for appropriate equations. Also, practice using your NCEES-approved calculator for easy usage during the exam.
There are many other study materials available online. Review manuals such as Lindeburg are available for purchase. Prioritize your studying according to your exam’s specifications.
You will have the option to flag questions while taking the exam. Flag questions you are unsure on and make an educated guess. This will allow you to return to difficult questions later if you have time but also ensures that you’ve answered all the questions if you run out of time.
NCEES tells you exactly what material will be covered on the test, and how many questions you can expect on each topic - specifications for each discipline can be found here. You can use this to choose what topics to prioritize when studying.
There is no time limit on individual sections (only the total exam), so you decide when to submit the first section and move on. Remember that each section will have about half of the questions, but the second section is more discipline-specific and may be more difficult. Be sure to budget your time accordingly.
When considering how to approach a problem, try searching the most unique keyword in the Handbook and applying the appropriate equation.
Remember to check the text and units given for each equation in the Handbook before you apply it to a problem.
The FE is a pass/fail exam - the score required to pass varies depending on the year, exam given, and students' scores, but is typically around 50-60%. If you don't know how to answer certain questions, or even an entire topic, it's better to focus on topics you're confident in first and then return to the difficult questions if you have time later.
According to a recent NCEES Update, FE and PE exams are still being held, and the NCEES is requiring examinees to complete a screening questionnaire before testing. Testing Site availability may vary, but some test centers are open at limited capacity. Check the NCEES website for updates.