Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some of the more ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ that have come up about the PE exam that I thought may help you as well. Alternatively, you might call this the ‘Everything you wanted to know about the PE Exam but were afraid to ask’ page… Anyway, if one of these does not answer your question, then please let me know and I will try to help the best I can.
What is The PE Exam?
The PE Exam, also known as the Professional Engineer or Professional Engineering Exam, is an exam you must pass to formally practice engineering in the United States. There are pre-requisites to taking the PE Exam which include passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam, as well as meeting education and experience requirements.
What is the FE Exam
After completing the education requirements, or in your senior year of engineering education, you may take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, or FE Exam. The FE Exam is a prerequisite to obtaining the PE License, and taking the PE Exam. Once you have passed the FE Exam, you may get an engineer in training certificate, and also refer to yourself as an Engineer in Training (EIT). Sometimes an EIT is also referred to as an Engineering Intern. It is unethical to simply refer to yourself as an engineer until you are actually a licensed engineer.
Why do I Need a Professional Engineering License?
Engineering is a challenging field that comes with several rewards. For most in this field, the ultimate goal is to obtain the engineer license, also known as the Professional Engineer status. This status allows you to be in charge of projects, and certify that work was done correctly. With this responsibility one needs to be sharp and able to make good decisions, which is why there is a system of licensure in place. But if you are able to meet the requirements and become a Professional Engineer (or oft shortened to PE), then you may enjoy better pay, better job positions, job security, and at that time you could even open up your own engineering company. For more advantages of PE Licensure, refer to the article and podcast episode on the topic.
How do You Become an Engineer?
In order to ensure that competent persons practice engineering, The United States has a system of licensure. You actually apply for your license through your State of residency, and the requirements are slightly different from State to State. But there are some requirements that hold true in all states. First, we will address the Basic requirements, then review State by State Requirements.
- Basic Requirements for PE License
- State- Specific Requirements for PE Licensure
How do I Register for the PE Exam?
Once you have met the requirements and have decided to take the PE Exam, you are ready to register for the exam which is held in April and October of each year. Some exams are only administered once a year. Here are the things you need to do:
- State Application: first apply through your state of residency to take the exam, providing documentation as follows
- Personal information and experience
- References (5 total of which 3 are engineers and 2 are character references)
- Transcripts sent from your University Registrar
- Pay a State application fee
- Exam Fee
- go to NCEES.org to pay for your exam fee for your state. This exam fee is different than the application fee.
- You should get an authorization notice from NCEES emailed to you. Print this out, and hang onto it for exam day.
- You will also get a link to the NCEES candidate agreement. Sign this and bring it with you also.
What is the PE Exam Schedule?
The PE The last exam was held on Friday April 13, and the next one will be held October 26, 2012. Click on the link for the full PE Exam schedule for the next 9 years. Hopefully you will only need one year to pass it!
April PE Exams* Fall PE Exams**
April 13, 2012 October 26, 2012
April 12, 2013 October 25, 2013
April 11, 2014 October 24, 2014
April 17, 2015 October 30, 2015
April 15, 2016 October 28, 2016
April 21, 2017 October 27, 2017
April 13, 2018 October 26, 2018
April 5, 2019 October 25, 2019
April 17, 2020 October 23, 2020
April 23, 2021 October 22, 2021
Unless noted otherwise, all PE Exams are given in both the fall as well as the spring.
* Architectural Engineering, Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, and beginning in April 2013, Industrial Engineering will be held only in the April Date.
** Petroleum Engineering, Nuclear Engineering, Mining and Mineral Processing Engineering, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, Industrial Engineering, Fire Protection Engineering, Control Systems Engineering, and Agricultural Engineering are held only during the October Date.
*** For the SE Exam, it is a two day exam held in both the spring and the fall, with the first day exam listed as above and the second day of the exam being held on the following saturday. The Friday exam has a Vertical and gravity emphasis while the Saturday exam has a Lateral emphasis. For example, the SE Vertical Exam is held on Friday October 26,2012 and the Lateral part of the exam is Saturday October 27, 2012.
What is the pass rate for the PE Exam?
The pass rate for the PE Exam varies based on the discipline of engineering, and from exam to exam. The average pass rate usually hovers around the 65 to 70% mark, with some variance here and there. Here are some of the most recent pass rates from the 2011 exam:
2011 Exam Pass Rates:
When do I find out if I passed?
Your State board will send you your results. Typically, you will hear back within 12 weeks, so you may want to sit back and try to relax. Note, for those of you that are taking multiple exams, or state-specific exams (such as California) you will receive separate results for each exam.
Do I need any paperwork when I get to the exam site?
The NCEES will send you an exam authorization a few weeks before the exam. You will need this paperwork, along with a photo ID with your signature to get into the exam. Some states may send you a separate notification as well.
How is the PE Exam Scored?
The PE Exam is a multiple choice test, and scored using Scantron technology. A cut score is established for each exam for each exam administration. So, the cut score will vary between two disciplines of engineering taken on the same date, and it will also vary between two different dates for the same discipline.
What is a Cut Score, Anyway?
The cut score is established by a committee that votes whether each problem on the exam should be answered correctly by a reasonably competent engineer. This process of voting is used to determine the cut score for each exam.
What will be covered on the Exam?
One good thing about the PE Exam is that it allows you to choose a discipline for which your exam will be covered. This discipline, or area of practice, will likely match your education or your current area of practice. For some disciplines, such as the Civil PE Exam, there are additional sub-disciplines covered. The subject material covered on the PE Exam, then, will depend on which discipline-specific exam you take. Here are the disciplines that you may choose from:
What is the Format of the PE Exam?
The Civil and Mechanical PE Exams both have a breadth and depth format to the exam.
Is the PE Exam Open Book?
Yes, In most states you are allowed to bring essentially any text or bound materials into the exam. Some states have certain limitations on this rule, however. For example, some states do not allow sample exams to be brought into the exam room. Please check with your state to find out exactly what they require.
Also, don’t be so silly that you bring an entire library into the exam. If you cannot fit it into to office boxes, then my opinion is that you are likely bringing too much material. The idea is to prepare yourself in a way that minimizes the amount of books and papers you have to shuffle through during the exam. The more efficient you are, then the better you will tend to do on the exam.
What study materials and resources will I need?
The materials you need will depend on the discipline-specific exam that you choose. I will provide details on that on this page.
Is there any special calculator required for the PE Exam?
Yes! There are limits on what calculator you can take into the PE Exam. Here are the requirements:
These particular calculators are permitted to be brought into the exam, and no others.
- Casio: All fx-115 models. Any Casio calculator must contain fx-115 in its model name.
- Hewlett Packard: The HP 33s and HP 35s models, but no others.
- Texas Instruments: All TI-30X and TI-36X models. Any Texas Instruments calculator must contain either TI-30X or TI-36X in its model name.
Is the PE Exam Difficult?
Whether the PE Exam is difficult is somewhat a matter of opinion. For me, it was a quite difficult exam, though thankfully I passed. After eight hours of solving challenging engineering questions over several sub-disciplines, my brain was hurting. Of course, I believe that the better you are prepared, the less difficult the exam will seem. So devise a study plan, and then follow through with it, and then the exam will not seem as difficult.
What is the best study strategy for the PE Exam?
You have a degree in engineering, and also passed the FE Exam, so you obviously know a thing or two about preparing for tests. But there are some unique challenges to the PE Exam including the fact that you have been away from the material while wiring on your career, and the vast amount of material on the exam. The best strategy is one that gets you prepared for any possible questions that might be asked on your exam. So, you will need to put in the time and preparation to study, which mostly includes working problems. That brings us to the next question…
How much do I need to study for the PE Exam?
The PE Exam is a broad exam, an eight hour exam covering several topics within your area of practice. The only good thing is that at least the NCEES provides an outline of what is to be expected. The bad thing is that there is a lot in those specs, and there is a lot of ground to cover if you want to be ready on exam day. Sure I know it is an open book exam, but you only have about 6 minutes to work each problem. As such, you don’t have time to re-learn material, but rather you need to be solid on the questions asked. When I took the PE Exam, my goal as noted in the Lindeburg manual was to study for 300 hours. I did the best I could to meet that goal, though I probably fell a little short. With work, family, and your personal life I know that it can be difficult to prepare for this exam. You may also be interested in my article on PE Exam Study Tips, as well as the audio on the same subject.
What are some PE Exam tips to excel on exam day?
Hopefully once exam day arrives you will have prepared, but there are some strategies that can help you be efficient and effective as possible on exam day. A few suggestions include: be prepared with all of your materials and your entrance, sleep well the nights leading u pro the exam, relax, be confident, and remember to keep track of your units! I have a compete article and podcast providing strategies that will give you an edge on exam day.