Are you ready to take the FE exam but youre having a hard time actually committing to take it? Are you nervous that you are underprepared or overwhelmed by what you know you don’t know?
Just to reassure you, the FE exam is a standardized test, just like the ones you’ve taken regularly throughout your life. You absolutely need to be prepared, but as long as you put in the time and use the right study guides, you will be able to pass it.
Here are some big myths about taking the FE exam that might be holding you back from taking it.
What’s the passing rate like for the FE exam?
Weve seen some of the challenges the FE exam presents. Lets take a look at the bigger picture, the passing rates.
The NCEES posts passing rates bi-annually here.The most recent reported pass rates are:
70%+ pass rates. But in this table, the NCEES is strictly reporting examinees who fit three criteria: (1) first time exam taker, (2) attended an accredited school, and (3) took the exam within 12 months of graduation.
To see the pass rates that includes all examinees (first-time, repeat takers, and disregard to graduation date), you can look at the NCEESs annual publication called Squared, dating back to 2014. At PrepFE, weve looked through them and have some findings for you. Lets compare NCEESs posted pass rates with the actual pass rates for 2021.
|Exam||Pass rate||Volume (1st time & Repeat Takers)|
|Electrical & Computer||57%||5,722|
The FE Civil exam, for example, has the highest volume of any exam. And there are about double the number of annual exam takers if you count all examinees (first-time and repeat takers). Additionally, you can see the actual pass rate is 54% and not the 62% you might find posted prominently on the NCEES website. A 54% pass rate is a hard exam, the hardest among the FE exams. The FE Mechanical and FE Environmental exams now have the highest pass rate at 66% (see our chart in the next section below), and a 34% failure rate is something we consider very demanding. It is realistic to say you can pass the FE regardless of you are fresh out of school or you have been out of school for several years. However, the pass rates are definitely favorable for those who havent been out of school very long when they take the FE.
Not exactly. To protect the integrity of the exam, examinees are taking unique exams, generated from a large, volunteer-sourced NCEES problem bank. This is why the NCEES provides a scaled score report, so while exam difficulty is generally about the same for everyone, they do vary some, and the scaling is necessary for comparison purposes. Passing scores are established by the NCEES and are not curved relative to other examinees performances. This is pretty clear when you see that each exams pass rates are different from others and vary year to year.
Since we have pass rates back to 2014, lets see how difficult the FE exam is over time.
Besides the Industrial exam, which is has the most volatile pass rates over the years, all exams pass rates are overall trending down over time!
Is the FE exam getting more difficult over time? Its hard to say but difficult to argue that its not when you see the same pattern for each exam.
Pro tip: Get used to the real FE exam experience by doing FE practice problems under time pressure
Use an FE exam prep service such as PrepFE (as seen below) to get you used to the time pressure you will experience during the real FE exam.
What is taking the FE exam like? What is the experience like?
You are given 5 hours and 20 minutes to solve 110 problems total. The 110 problems are split in half into two sections. After you complete the first section of the exam, which is 50-60 problems, you move on to the second section and are given an optional 25-minute break in between. The 25-minute break does not count against your allotted 5 hours and 20 minutes to take the exam. Similarly, not taking the break won’t give you additional time to spend answering problems in the second half of the exam.
The FE exam takes place on a computer where you have access to the screen with the problems and a searchable pdf-like version of the FE Reference Handbook. The FE Reference Handbook is over 500 pages long and has all the equations you might need to solve the problems you could encounter. The FE Reference Handbook only has the formulas you might need for the exam, the Handbook does not include example problems. Do note that many conceptual-theoretical problems do not use equations, and therefore the FE Reference Handbook is of no help during the exam. We estimate roughly 15% of the problems you will face are conceptual-theoretical problems that do not require number calculations.
You are not allowed to take anything into the computer-lab exam room other than your FE-approved calculator. The person proctoring the exam will provide you with a spiral notebook and thin markers that you can use to perform hand calculations.
Weve gotten the basics of the exam down. Over 5 hours is a long time for an exam, and thats going to be tiring and difficult on its own, but whats really adding to the challenge of the FE exam here? Here are two big factors:
You have just under 3 minutes to solve each problem, 2 minutes and 54 seconds to be precise. Some will be solvable quickly such as plug-and-chug and conceptual problems. Sometimes just knowing how to solve them with calculator tricks will be the key. Others may take longer, especially if you dont exactly know how to solve them when you see them or where to find them in the FE Reference Handbook.
One thing that makes the FE exam easier is that you can flag problems for review and return to them later. Then you can go back and spend extra time on those trickier problems. But how much extra time can you afford to spend? Extra time spent on a problem can hurt later in the exam.
Is the FE hard to pass?
What is the pass rate for the FE exam?
Is the FE exam worth it?
How long should I study for FE exam?