So you failed the FE Exam, now what?
The point of this guide is to give you an openly accessible, digestible source of information to help you get back up after a failed FE Exam and position yourself to get it done on your next attempt.
But before we get in to it, you’ve got to accept this as the starting point:
Failure is an event.
Action is a choice.
How you respond to your past failure(s) will impact you more than the failure itself.
I have personally seen and helped engineers in the most extreme cases (6+ failures) pick themselves back up, rerack their mindset and close out the licensure process as Professional Engineers.
You can do the same.
I know coming off a failed FE Exam that you have a lot of questions.
Has it changed?
Is it going to be harder?
Why should I take it again?
In this guide, we get into the most critical questions being asked about the FE Exam and specific strategies you can use to simplify the journey and make this milestone a reality for you.
Whether your are coming from a Civil Engineering background or one of Engineering Technology, this guide will get you moving with much more clarity and confidence that a PE license can be a reality for you.
What is the FE Exam?
The FE Exam (Fundamentals of Engineering Exam) is the first NCEES exam of two that an aspiring engineer will take in route to becoming a licensed Professional Engineer.
This standardized NCEES fundamentals examination is adopted by each state’s Professional Engineering Board as a valid means of ensuring individuals desiring to practice engineering are competent to practice.
This video gives a good overview of how to the FE Exam fits in to the overall PE License process:
The FE is administered as a CBT exam (Computer Based Testing), is 5 hours and 20 minutes in length with 110 questions spanning a wide range of foundational engineering concepts.
Each question is developed to confirm the level of competency of the examinees in the fundamentals of engineering.
As a CBT Exam, the FE Exam is computer-based and closed book, though, each examinee is granted the use of two tools:
- The NCEES FE reference handbook containing commonly used formulas and other useful information related to the material that is covered.
- An NCEES-approved calculator, which isn’t a graphing calculator, but can be the most powerful, yet underutilized tool used on the FE Exam.
The FE Exam has 7 different exam specifications (FE CBT Civil Exam, FE CBT Mechanical Exam, etc) that one can choose from, though all lead to the same ends – becoming an Engineer Intern (or EIT) in your respective state.
When is the FE Exam offered?
Depending when you last took the FE Exam, you may have experienced an NCEES exam that was offered twice a year.
This is no longer then case.
Now that this is a CBT exam, it’s offered year-round at a local Pearson-Vue testing center in four different testing windows.
Each testing window is:
- January – March
- April – June
- July – September
- October – December
Though it would never be ideal, examinees are allowed to take the FE Exam once per testing window, but not more than 3 times in a 12-month period from the date of the first attempt.
Is the FE Exam online?
The FE Exam, though computer based, is not online.
It will be administered at a local Pearson Vue testing center in your region.
Once you register and are approved by the NCEES to take the FE, you will receive an email giving you the next steps in scheduling your exam appointment.
Through this process, you will be given options for a number of testing centers as well as what dates and times are available at those locations.
You can reference a current list of locations approved by your states Board of Professional Engineers to take the FE Exam here:
It’s important to schedule your exam as far in advance as possible for the best scheduling availability.
Each Pearson Vue testing center is limited in capacity, so seats are reserved on a first-come, first-served basis.
Though it’s never ideal and highly unlikely that there are open seats, you are able to schedule an appointment with as little as one business day before taking the exam.
What is the difference between an FE Exam and EIT Exam?
Again, depending on when you last took your exam, or even what state you took that exam, you may be seeing a bunch of different acronyms being thrown around.
Whether that’s the FE Mechanical exam or EIT Engineering examination, or any iteration in between, the EIT Exam (Engineer In Training Exam), EI Exam (Engineering Intern Exam), NCEES fundamentals and FE Exam (Fundamentals of Engineering Exam) are all referencing the same exact exam you are looking to take right now.
Is FE exam multiple choice?
You may remember from a previous attempt that the FE was fully comprised of multiple choice problems.
This is no longer the case.
With the new CBT exam format, the FE Exam is now 110 problems in length given in one of two formats:
- Traditional multiple choice
- Alternative Item Type
We are all familiar with traditional multiple choice problem types, but what are these Alternative Item Type problems all about?
In 2017, the NCEES introduced this newer problem type, referred to as AITs.
AIT problems are formatted in a manner that falls outside the traditional multiple-choice.
These question types include:
- Multiple Correct Answers – Allows for multiple choices to be correct.
- Drag and Drop – Requires test takers to click on and drag items to match, sort, rank, or label.
- Point & Click – Requires examinees to click on part of a graphic to answer the problem.
- Fill in the Blank – Provides a space for you to enter a response to the question.
All these AIT problem types have one thing in common – multiple variables that contribute to a correct answer.
Now, although the majority of questions will continue to be in the traditional Multiple Choice format with one correct answer, this engineering examination will have up to 10% of the questions of Alternative Item Type nature, or AIT.
With this, you can expect to see anywhere from 10-15 AIT problems on whatever discipline specification you choose to tackle.
The scoring of these AIT problem types is the same as the traditional multiple choice problem types – you either get it or you don’t.
To illustrate this further, say you are given a problem with 6 answer options and it asks you to “mark all that are correct”.
If 5 have been slated as correct and should be marked, and you mark 4, or you select 5, but one of them is wrong, then…
You will get it wrong.
It’s unfortunate, but a reality on the FE Exam.
To help you learn more about, practice and hone your ability to perform well on these AIT problems, we have developed a resource for you here:
Is the FE exam curved?
In short, no, the FE Exam is not curved.
But it is definitely important to understand how it is scored – let’s lay it out as it is defined for us by the NCEES.
When you take the FE Exam, you will complete 110 questions.
Of those 110 questions, you are going to get a certain number correct.
This number is going to be recorded and converted into what is called a “scaled score”.
This “scaled score” is used as an individual adjustment for any minor differences in difficulty across the infinite number of exam variants.
But what does “differences in difficulty” mean?
Before any problem is released into active rotation on the FE Exam, it is run through a control group of subject matter experts who work them in their entirety.
The results that come through this collective effort are run through a series of psychometric statistical methods that analyze the data.
This analysis defines some “minimum ability level” for the particular set of problems you end up getting on your exam.
This minimum ability level, which can be thought of as your pass line, is then compared to your “scaled score” and if you are above it, you pass, if not, you fail, so:
- Scaled Score > Minimum Ability Level = PASS
- Scaled Score < Minimum Ability Level = FAIL
And that’s that.
The FE Exam is not curved and your passing score is unique to you and the specific set of problems that you end up working on the day of your exam.
How many times can you take the FE exam?
Maybe you are at a point where you failed FE Exam 3 times and are wondering how many more times you can take it?
Per the NCEES, you are allowed to take the FE Exam once per testing window, but not more than 3 times in a 12-month period starting from the date of your first attempt.
However, there are states that have additional requirements for individuals who have failed the exam more than a defined number of times.
To know if this regulation exists and to help you better understand the unique FE Exam requirements for your state, we have compiled in-depth resources for you to use.
In these resources, we focus on developing clarity around both state board-specific processes and tactical efforts for finding success in the most streamlined fashion.
You can dive in to your state specific information by clicking on your state below:
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
What is the FE Exam pass rate?
Individual states do not release statistics for how many are achieving passing scores or failing the FE Exam in any given period of time.
However, the NCEES keeps a tally of these statistics for a single testing period for the population as a whole.
Currently, the FE Exam pass rate ranges from 35% to 83% depending on the exam discipline taken.
This is obviously a huge range, and honestly, can’t really be relied on for a number of reasons.
These statistics account only for:
- Those who took the FE exam for the first time.
- Those who attended an EAC/ABET accreditation board program.
- Those who took the FE exam within 12 months of graduation.
I can tell you this much though –
Of 100 students that come into our program at Prepineer, 95% fall outside one (or more) of these criteria.
And coming off a failed FE Exam attempt yourself, they really don’t apply to you either.
The moral of the story, these stats reflect a population of individuals who meet the ideal testing characteristics of a candidate, not the mean characteristics as a whole.
Use them with a grain of salt and don’t allow them to scare you off from retaking this exam and getting the passing scores you deserve.
Where can you find FE exam problems and solutions from recent exams?
In short – I am not sure.
But what I can tell you is this – if you can, it’s certainly not legal, and I would highly advise against seeking and/or using any such material.
This is a very serious offense towards the NCEES and further compromises the integrity of this engineering examination.
So whether you are seeking the latest FE CBT Civil Exam or FE Mechanical, this NCEES fundamentals exam is copyright in full and no examinee is allowed to reproduce or disclose any information relating to a specific exam.
This includes but is not limited to discussing any exam questions, answers, solutions, or other problems on the Internet, forums, or any other related means.
And they are serious about it – as they should.
To read more in regards to Intellectual Property Rights and Exam Security, you can refer to page 33 of the NCEES Examinee Guide found here.
On that note, here are a few options I would suggest you look in to rather than going down the road of seeking NCEES exam IP:
At Prepineer, we pride ourselves on our depth of detail, tailoring every one of our 1200+ practice problems we have created to ensuring that no matter where you are, you won’t feel like you’re spinning your wheels getting the understanding you need.
Whether it’s Mathematics or Engineering Economics, we prep you fast, so there’s no wasted time.
How do I effectively use the FE Exam practice test?
A solid FE Exam practice test will be a vital part of any complete course to achieve your best exam results and passing scores.
There are many ways that you can approach this one.
In my experience, the best way to get the most out of your practice test is to use them at strategic points during your FE exam prep.
When I was studying for the engineering FE Exam, I utilized a practice exam at two strategic points.
The first practice exam came right at the onset of my studies, before I even flipped to the first page in my reference material.
Using only the FE reference handbook and NCEES approved calculator for examinees, I went at the whole practice exam in one shot.
I bombed it.
I was far from prepared, but looking back, I now understand how necessary this was because it helped me establish a baseline for what I needed to focus on when I got in to my course material.
How else would I have known that I needed a heavy dose of Engineering Economics and Statics?
After making it through all my course material and a week before sitting for the exam, I took the same exact NCEES practice exam as I had at the onset.
My exam results on this go were much better, but were still a bit sketchy and I struggled mightily on things such as time management and problem comprehension.
This should be expected though, as most all engineering courses or any amount of practice problems can dial you in on test taking skills.
It’s an area you need to focus on using your reference material as a tool for, and not the means to, solid test taking skills.
So with that, I waited a day or two and took the final NCEES practice exam, structuring it the most realistically as I could under timed conditions.
At Prepineer, we use the utility of a practice exam and well structured practice problems at all the critical points of exam prep.
At the front end, we establish a strengths and weaknesses baseline for each one of our students by taking them through a practice exam where they use only the FE reference handbook and approved calculator.
We then develop a customized study plan that takes the exam results and converts it in to a visual schedule that helps them better distribute their time and focus throughout each day of their studies.
Whether you are studying for the FE Mechanical or FE Electrical, using a practice exam at strategic points of your studies will help you focus your efforts better on where you are lacking ability and comprehension – ultimately, leading to better exam results.
And that’s what we are all after.
How long should I study for the FE exam?
The goal should always be, no matter how many times you have failed, to get it done on this attempt.
Right now, you are probably sitting in a pretty good position with some engineering experience under your belt.
Because of this, you will likely be able to roll straight from the FE Exam in to becoming an Engineer Intern and then on to taking the PE Exam and closing out the licensure process.
So how long should you study for the FE Exam?
As long as it takes.
I know it’s not an answer that does much for anyone, so let’s dive into this a bit deeper.
I will tell you, after helping students for over a decade prepare for and pass the FE Exam, determining how many hours one should be putting in each day, or overall, is one of the hardest things to do for us as coaches.
It’s dependent on so many factors, but I can give you a general guideline as a starting point.
Over the years, we have seen individuals spend somewhere between 150-350 hours preparing for the FE Exam.
The lower end of this spectrum is typically those that are recent graduates or within a few years of graduation.
The upper end is typically those that graduated 20+ years ago and haven’t picked up a book in just as long.
Wherever you feel that you fall, at Prepineer, we encourage you to spread this time over a period of at least 90 days – but prefer to see you give yourself closer to 110-120 days to be prepared.
This historically has played out to be much more realistic in the context of real-life, day-to-day responsibilities.
To help you go deeper in defining this for your specific situation, we developed the ultimate guide in determining how long you should study for the FE Exam.
Down to what it all looks like from a daily, hourly effort.
You can access the guide here:
In running through this guide, you will have a much better understanding of what the landscape ahead looks like for you.
How do I create an FE Exam schedule?
Getting your FE Exam study plan dialed in from the start is of the utmost importance in ensuring that you see this journey through.
But let’s be real.
We are on record for being horrible estimators of our time.
But it’s not any one of us individually, those big shot estimators who are supposedly “educated” in the realm of scheduling fall right there beside us in falling short.
Think about all those highly funded construction projects that go far past the scheduled finish date.
So with that, how can I best guide you in developing your study plan for your upcoming FE Exam?
We have spent a lot of time developing resources in the realm of FE Exam scheduling, here are a few good places to start:
- Your FE Exam Study Schedule Sucks
- Here’s how to actually get started…with confidence – The 80/20 Abbreviated Study Plan
Do I have to get my degree re-evaluated by NCEES Credentials Evaluation?
To fulfill the licensure process and obtain your PE License, you must meet requirements in three areas:
- Work Experience
- NCEES Engineering Examinations (FE Exam and PE Exam)
If you earned a degree from a non-EAC/ABET accreditation board, which includes programs outside the states and engineering technology programs, then you will likely be required to have a NCEES Credentials Evaluation on that degree to confirm that your engineering courses meet the NCEES Engineering Education Standard.
This evaluation process helps ensure that you are qualified academically for licensure.
However, since you have already attempted the FE Exam with a degree from a non-EAC/ABET accreditation board (or engineering technology), then you have likely already completed this process and will not have to do so again.
If you need a copy of your NCEES Credentials Evaluation, log in to your myNCEES account or contact your state board of Professional Engineers who can point you in the right direction.
How do I study for the FE exam?
Looking back on your failed FE Exam attempt(s), I am sure you realize just how much needs to get done and how important preparing for this engineering examination the right way is.
But I want you to know this –
I am confident in saying that passing the FE Exam CAN be a reality for you.
But truth is, most won’t continue pursuing the FE Exam because they will tell themselves that they can’t, for one reason or another.
And that voice gets louder and louder the more attempts you have made.
But good FE Exam prep matters – and it can BE the difference.
At Prepineer, we have put together a proven system that combines coaching and course material that has helped even the most challenged individuals study for and pass the FE Exam.
If we offered to help you do the same thing, would you take it?
Click here to learn more about why Prepineer is the best way to study for the FE exam and get started for free.
In Prepineer you will:
- Get a real coach who knows how to get you to the finish line, despite how impossible you may think it is.
- A custom study plan that breaks down exactly where you should be spending your efforts.
- Proven curriculum that has helped those who have a failed FE Exam attempt find success.
Use Prepineer for 7 days free, with no obligations.
What to do after you pass your FE exam?
After you pass the FE Exam you will generally go one of two ways.
- Apply for your EIT Certification and become an Engineer Intern (or Engineer in Training)
- Gain the required engineering experience needed prior to applying to take the PE Exam
However, since you have already attempted the FE Exam, my guess would be that you have already, or are close to, achieved that second requirement of acquiring work experience.
Now licensing requirements are not set uniformly across the board by the NCEES, but rather, by each state’s engineering board.
With that being said, most states have an Engineer Intern (or Engineer in Training) program.
If your state is one that does, then after you pass your engineering FE exam, you will move to submit an application to receive your EIT Certification.
Though having the EI (or EIT) designation does not give you any additional legal benefits, it does bode well for your marketability as employers are often seeking to employ individuals that show initiative in their development as professional engineers.
As an Engineer Intern, you are also able to use the initials EIT (or EI) at the end of your signature which is kind of a cool milestone for one to reach.
If you live in a state that does not have an Engineer Intern program, like Michigan, then you will move to the next step in the licensing process which is to continue gaining the progressive engineering experience as required by your state to become eligible to take the PE Exam.
Is my work experience considered to be Progressive engineering experience?
If you have already taken the engineering FE Exam, then you likely have work experience, but is it Progressive engineering experience?
Progressive engineering experience can be defined in a number of different ways, but generally, if you are working under the supervision of a registered Professional Engineer then you are acquiring the appropriate work experience.
This is essentially showing that you are actively working with and as an engineer and developing your skills in a professional environment.
Typically, the minimum progressive engineering experience required to apply for the PE Exam is 4 years, but it does differ from state to state and, in many cases, is dependent on the accreditation of the undergraduate program you graduated from.
Is passing the FE a big deal?
Let me put this in terms of my story, I think it will resonate.
I pursued an engineering degree because of the security I felt it would bring.
In my world view, an engineering degree was the ticket to a long, ever-evolving career that returned both personally fulfilling and monetarily.
Coming out of college, the foundation of my formula was this:
Get in at a solid engineering firm and rest as they fast-tracked me up the proverbial ladder.
But that is where I was wrong…”rest as they fast-track me up”.
Your structural engineering career does not start, nor finish, when you graduate – it just continues.
There was a formula that worked to get you to the point you are right now in your life, and at the center of this formula was an investment in yourself.
Here’s a reality check –
No one will put more care or effort into developing you into what you are meant to be than yourself.
And it’s going to be you who turns to understand why passing the FE Exam is a big deal.
Listen, every single individual, and corporate executive alike, has their own personal agenda for where they want to be in the years to come.
And who are we to think that anyone will forgo their own agenda to drive ours?
This is where many of us stand at this moment, balancing on the seesaw of:
Relying on someone else or –
Realizing that doing so is just a pipe dream that does nothing but lead to endless letdowns.
And this is why passing the FE Exam results in being a big deal.
Whether you are taking the FE Electrical or want to become a Civil Engineer, the Fundamentals of Engineering exam (FE Exam) is the first step towards acquiring your Professional Engineering (PE) License.
As a licensed Professional Engineer, you become part of a group granted a number of exclusive benefits, some including:
- The ability to stamp and seal Engineering drawings
- Owning your own Engineering Firm with your name associated with it
- Performing individual consulting services to the public
- Greater increases in salaries
Now, for some, you will look at this list and think to yourself, “I don’t really want to do any of that…”.
And that’s OK.
But here’s why we need to look at that list from a different perspective.
Remember, everyone has their own personal agenda for what they are after.
The agenda of every corporate executive is to maximize profits while the agenda for each of us should be to maximize our position to take advantage of those profits.
We do this by maximizing our value as the “engineering talent”.
It’s, for a lack of better terms, a game we need to play…and it all continues with pursuing the FE Exam.
We need to be the “engineer” who:
- Is pulled in on ALL those proposals going out the door at the 11th hour.
- Can justify the highest billable rate.
- Is recruited by other firms because we fulfill both the above conditions.
- Is…well, “needed” at ALL times.
That’s when our personal stock becomes the “asset” rather than the “commodity” we are conditioned to accept post-graduation.
Recent trends have shown that at this point in history, you control the direction of your career more than ever.
Engineering positions continue to be one of the toughest spots to fill with US employers struggling to find talent.
This is across the board: Civil Engineering, Structural engineering, Mechanical Engineering.
This is simple supply and demand, with studies showing that this demand will only continue to build.
Taking action to continuing education and become licensed engineers is on us and we can’t wait for others to do for us which we can do for ourselves.
So when you ask is passing the FE Exam a big deal, look at it from a different perspective.
We’ve played the game all the way up and through college, the time to stop is not now – or ever.
We can’t rely on others to adjust their agendas to push us up the ladder…this is a risk not worth taking.
Why should I take the FE Exam?
I get it.
After a previously failed FE Exam attempt, convincing yourself to continuing education and take it again can be a monumental ask.
Now, I could go many directions at this point, but let me give you my general thoughts.
You spent at minimum 4 years (probably more) navigating all these engineering courses to get your degree, why surf the world of cubicles until you retire.
Many people do, and if that’s your choice, I respect that.
But many of you don’t want this to be your story, you just feel stuck.
- Stuck behind doubt.
- Stuck behind excuses.
- Stuck behind fear of failing again.
- Stuck behind supervisors you feel are holding you down
Whatever it is that is holding you back, just know that all it takes is one simple step in a direction you deep down want to go that can change it all.
One simple step.
And then another.
Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You didn’t get your Engineering degree in a week.
It took commitment to get where you are, and that’s what it will take to make this a reality in your life.
- Commitment to turn from limiting beliefs.
- Commitment to telling yourself you are more than just an employee.
- Commitment to accepting that progress in life will be uncomfortable.
It was never meant to be easy.
Becoming a Professional Engineer and getting your PE License is hard…but it is what all engineers should be aiming for.
It’s liberating both personally and professionally.
The doors it will open can’t even be projected.
Engineers that were once thinking the same thoughts you are, took that first step in continuing education and are now making amazing impacts around the world every single day.
But it all starts with passing the FE Exam and becoming an Engineer Intern.
Don’t let the fact that you have already attempted the FE CBT Civil Exam and failed hold you back or make you question your love for Civil Engineering.
Failure means nothing – your response to failure does.
We’ve seen it play out time after time, students who have come into Prepineer after multiple failures, with huge doubts but were able to defy their own odds and go on to pass the exam with flying colors.
This can be your story.
I am confident in saying that.
Final Thoughts on where to start after a failed FE Exam
I hope that this resource has brought you clarity on what the FE Exam is all about, what it can do for you and why you need to get back u, dust yourself off and give it another go.
But I know, just as many answers as I have given, there may have been just as many new questions in how you can get it done.
But whether you are taking the FE Electrical or FE Civil Engineer, passing the FE Exam shouldn’t be a mystery.
Sadly though, many will doubt that they can get it done, and in turn, give up on themselves and their careers.
I don’t want that to be you.
If I offered to show you a system that has worked for thousands in your same shoes pass the FE, would you take it? Click here to start your trial and learn the exact framework that will help you pass the FE Exam.