How to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam

The path to passing

The Fundamentals of Engineering Exam is typically lauded as the first step to becoming a licensed Engineer. This exam is designed for students with an impending graduation date, or recent alums of EAC/ABET-accredited programs, although specifications are delegated by the state and may vary based on location. Before taking the PE (professional engineering exam), one must first pass the fundamentals of engineering exam to be eligible.

The FE exam is 6 hours broken up into 4 sections, both instructional and practical. The Nondisclosure agreement is 2 minutes, the tutorial is 8 minutes, and the exam is 5 hours and 20 minutes, with a 25 minute break allotted. The FE exam is a 110-question exam, administered by the NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying).

Delegated by the NCEES, there are 7 categories the FE exam is broken up into:

  •  FE Chemical
  •  FE Civil
  •  FE Electrical and Computer
  •  FE Environmental
  •  FE Industrial and Systems
  •  FE Mechanical
  •  FE Other Disciplines

After being a previously all-industry exam, these seven disciplines are meant to give further specification to the potential licensed engineer. With differing categories, the pass/fail rate varies from test to test, and requires different focus on subjects. There are common themes taught throughout the undergraduate program, and other real-world issues to solve that have been previously untaught. It’s up to the individual to properly prep for the fundamentals of engineering exam, applying both their theoretical knowledge, and their real life application skills.

To help pass the FE exam, follow some simple steps to success:
After years of studying throughout an undergraduate program, there are some tried and true exam tips that still apply. For example, don’t get too overwhelmed. Break studying down into small, achievable goals and then work on those goals a little bit every day leading up the exam. Apply for the test early so you can start out an official study program, and allot yourself the proper time necessary to prepare. Get familiar with your calculator, and find a test prep book that you know like the back of your hand. The most important part of the initial stage is just pacing yourself, and knowing how you work best.

Practice tests and reference guides are your friend
Unlike the PE exam, you will only be allowed the official NCEES reference handbook during this test. In order to do well, it is imperative that one studies and familiarizes oneself with the formulas in this book, and then memorizes all the ones not included. Practice tests are the closest you can get to exam questions without getting the exam ahead of time. Its question bank is pulled from previous exams administered, and often has the best insight as to what you will be up against. However, it is important to note that the test is administered online, and while using physical practice tests is one of the most effective ways to prepare for the FE exam, it is still not representative of the test as a whole. During the exam, you will only be allowed a pen and a test booklet as scratch paper, so try to practice in many different ways .

If you learn best in a traditional school system, then search your local area for prep courses being offered around town. Often times they will meet on a college campus, and are a fantastic way to meet potential study buddies. Search online for organizations administering such classes, and if possible get the companion book to study both in class and at home.


Use your resources
Naturally, humans make mistakes. Even if you can do the math in your head, make it a habit to check with your calculator before finishing with the question, and try to do it initially rather than a last minute reminder. You’ll save time and avoid common mistakes that could cost you valuable points. It is important to note that not all calculators are allowed into this test, so make sure you are familiar with the ones specified by the NCEES.

Also, rely on your reference handbook as much as necessary. If you don’t immediately know how to solve a question, consult the reference booklet and perhaps the steps to your answer will be hidden in there. Given that it is NCEES certified, it is rational to assume that most of the topics in there will be relevant, and therefore worth knowing the contents. Once you’ve reviewed the reference book at home, you can get to memorizing all those formulas that are not mentioned in there, thereby covering all your bases by the time test day rolls around.

Know your strengths and weaknesses
Related to the practice tests and reference guides, but differential due to the fatal flaw of studying: trying to study everything. The best learners are those who know their own strengths and weaknesses. Spend more time focusing on your weaknesses, but don’t forget about your strengths either; simply brush up every so often to make sure you still have a handle on them. During the test, learn to maximize efficiency by knowing what is worth solving and what isn’t. The general rule is asking yourself if that particular problem will take more than 5 minutes. If the answer is yes, then it’s not worth it. This is a timed multi-question exam, so don’t focus on perfection, focus on efficiency. If you do what you know and are confident in first, then you will have more time later on to focus on those problems you have some internal debates on.

Believe in yourself
As redundant as this sounds, the person that can help you the most on this test is yourself. Take a deep breath, get a good night’s sleep, and eat a hearty breakfast to maximize your productivity before and during the test. After completing an undergraduate program, you have exemplified suitable achievements in math, science, and other division specific disciplines, making you the perfect candidate for this test. Don’t second guess yourself, or stress about extenuating factors you cannot control, and rather focus on the positives. You’ve prepared for this, now ace it!  

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