Are you completing an undergraduate degree in engineering? Do you want to earn your license so that you can work as an engineer professionally? In the United States, the first step in this process, other than your undergraduate education, is to take the FE (Fundamentals of Engineering) Exam. This exam, if you pass it, will qualify you for the title of Engineer in Training (or EIT).
The FE Exam is created and administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (or NCEES), a national organization for engineering licensure. The NCEES maintains a full program for engineering credentialing and works to advance both the image and the practice of the engineering profession. It is based in Clemson, South Carolina, near Clemson University, but its licensing program is recognized across the United States and its exams can be taken in a number of locations.
When you take the FE Exam, what should you expect? Possibly one of the most difficult and demanding exams that you’ve ever taken, either in college or in the outside world. The FE Exam is eight hours long and takes place across a full day, with morning and afternoon sessions and a one-hour lunch break in between. The morning session consists of 120 questions on general topics relevant to all types of engineering. The afternoon session is more specific and consists of 60 questions pertaining to the specific sub-field of engineering in which you wish to become licensed.
First, let’s talk about the morning session. It will take four hours to complete and there will be a number of topics covered in the 110 questions that it includes. Among these topics the following are likely to be included: computers, mathematics, chemistry, fluid mechanics, material properties, material strength, electricity and magnetism, statics and dynamics, thermodynamics, probability and statistics (as they relate to engineering) , economics of engineering, and ethics in engineering business practices. Everyone will be examined on these same topics during the morning session because they are considered relevant to all engineers.
The afternoon session is a bit different. You will be allowed to choose between seven different modules and will need to answer 60 questions on the topic of that module. According to the NCEES Web site, the following modules are currently available:
- Chemical Engineering
- Civil Engineering
- Electrical and Computer Engineering
- Environmental Engineering
- Industrial and Systems Engineering
- Mechanical Engineering
- Other Engineering Disciplines
You must register for the exam in advance at the NCEES Web site (http://www.ncees.org/About_NCEES.php). The specific procedure varies from state to state (as described on the site), but taking the exam will generally require advance approval from the state board of licensure and/or registration for engineers. After authorization is obtained, the NCEES will contact the applicant with the details about the exam, including available locations and times.
On the day of the exam, you’ll need a copy of the authorization notice obtained through the local board and signed photo authorization issued by a government authority. You can bring a calculator to use during the test. (The NCEES Web site provides a list of approved models.) The exam itself is closed book. However, on exam day you will be given an official reference volume containing charts, formulas, tables and other materials that you are allowed to refer to during the test. You may also order a copy of this volume online so that you can study it in advance, but you may not bring your own copy to the exam room and must use the one that is supplied once you are on location. Pencils and scratch paper will also be provided, but you may not supply your own.
You may cancel your exam up until registration deadline time but after that date you will be charged a $35 cancellation fee. You will be notified of your exam results between 8 and 10 weeks after the test date, though the precise method, which may be on-line or through U.S. mail, will differ depending on the policies of the local state licensing board.
Among skilled professions that require exacting expertise, engineering ranks very near the top. Working as an engineer requires that you have substantial knowledge of a wide variety of disciplines in mathematics, computers and the sciences as well as specific knowledge of the engineering processes themselves. In addition, there are multiple disciplines within the engineering field and each has its own body of knowledge that must be learned in detail by the aspiring engineer.
Before you can work as an engineer, you need to prove both to prospective employers and to your state’s official licensing board that you have mastered this body of knowledge. There are hundreds if not thousands of important tasks in the modern world, from the design of bridges to the invention of safety systems for automobiles, that rely on how well an engineer knows his or her job. That’s why, before you can be entrusted to enter this line of work professionally, you’ll need to take the Fundamental Engineering (FE) Exam. This exam will qualify you as an Engineer in Training, or EIT, the first step on the road to a career as a full professional engineer.
What is the FE Exam? It consists of 180 questions about every aspect of engineering, both general and specific to your chosen sub-field, designed to test the depth and breadth of your knowledge. It is not an easy test and it is not a short test. It takes a full day to complete and is divided into two four-hour sessions, one in the morning and one in the evening, with a one-hour lunch break in between. It is designed and administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (or NCEES), based in Clemson, South Carolina, though test sites are available across the United States.
To register for and schedule the FE Exam, go to the NCEES Web site (http://www.ncees.org/About_NCEES.php) and locate the policy for the state where you wish to take it. Registration will generally require authorization from your state’s engineering licensure board. Once authorization is granted, the NCEES will contact you about available locations and times for the exam itself.
You will be able to bring only a limited number of items to the exam. You cannot bring your own pencil or paper; these will be supplied by the NCEES once you are in the testing room. You are allowed to bring a calculator, but it must be selected from the list of approved calculators on the NCEES Web site. At the test location, you will be given a booklet containing tables, formulas and other materials that you are allowed to use to aid in answering the test questions. You can also obtain this booklet in advance from the NCEES Web site, but you will not be allowed to bring that copy into the exam room and must use the one that is given to you there.
The morning session is four-hours long and consists of 120 general engineering questions. In the past they have included these topics: thermodynamics, electricity and magnetism, fluid mechanics, chemistry, statics and dynamics, material properties, material strength, probability and statistics in engineering, computers, and mathematics. Beyond these strictly technical topics, the test may also include questions on the economics of engineering, and the ethics of engineering business practices. The afternoon session will consist of 60 questions on a subject chosen by the applicant from a list of modules representing seven different engineering sub-fields, which at present are chemical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, environmental engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering and other engineering disciplines.
There will be a deadline for registering for the test (depending on the date when the test is to be held) and you may cancel your registration at any time up until that deadline. Cancelling after the deadline has passed will incur a processing fee of $35. You exam scores should become available 8 to 10 weeks after you take the exam, but the process will vary by state and the scores may be available either online or by mail.
The FE Exam Diagnostic Report
If all goes well when you take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam, you will achieve a passing score and attain the title of Engineer-in-Training (EIT), which will put you on the road to an engineering apprenticeship that will culminate with you taking the Principles and Practice in Engineering (PE) exam and becoming a fully licensed professional engineer in the state where you took the exam. Congratulations! You’ll have a wonderful and highly respected career ahead of you in the engineering field. You’ll do exciting things and you’ll probably make a great deal of money doing them.
But what if you don’t do so well on the test? Fortunately, you are allowed to take the test again. But if you are to improve your score the second time around, wouldn’t it be useful to know just where your scores were weak the first time around? You need to know where you have to do extra studying and to know what it is that you’ve already done sufficient studying on.
Don’t worry, though. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (or NCEES), which administers the test, has already thought about this and they want to help. To that end, all examinees who receive a failing score on the FE Exam will receive a diagnostic report. These diagnostic reports will show you where you were strong on the test and where you were weak. This diagnostic report consists of two parts. They are:
- First, a letter with a verbal description of your scores and how they compared to those of others. The letter divides your scores by knowledge area and lists the knowledge areas in three categories. One is knowledge areas where you didn’t do too poorly compared to other examinees. You need to put a little work into studying these areas for retaking the exam, but you don’t need to spend much time on them. You should put most of your study efforts elsewhere. The second is knowledge areas where you were weak relative to other examinees and definitely need work. You should put some effort into improving your knowledge in these areas. The third is knowledge areas where you did much worse than other examinees. These are areas where your scores were extremely weak and represent the knowledge areas where you should invest the majority of your study time when preparing to retake the exam. This letter finishes with a brief summary of what your priorities should be when studying for the test the next time around.
- Second, there is a detailed table showing exactly how many questions you got right in each knowledge area, how many you got wrong, and precisely how your scores compare to those of other test takers, as shown by a bar graph. This is the real meat of the diagnostic report and it is the part that you should study in detail if you plan to improve your scores and move on to the level of Engineer-in-Training. For each knowledge area in your test, the table will give the number of questions that were included in that area, the number that you got correct, and a percentage rating of your score calculated from the first two numbers. This part of the table alone should make it immediately apparent where you got your weakest scores on the test. However, the final column, entitled “Your Performance Compared to Average of Passing Examinee,” provides the most dramatic look at your results. It consists of a bar chart where the average score in each subject area is represented by a vertical line. Bars extending to the left of this line in each knowledge area show how much worse you did in that knowledge area than the average examinee and bars to the right show how much better you did than the average examinee. The bars are color coded to show just how significantly your score in each knowledge area deviated from that of the average examinee.