F.E. What is it? Why you need it!

One of the most important certifications an engineer can obtain is the Engineer-in-Training (E.I.T.) Certificate by passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (F.E.) Exam. This article will help to answer common questions about obtaining this certificate.

What is the F.E. Exam?

The F.E. is open to anyone with a degree in engineering, related field, or currently enrolled in the last year of an ABET-accredited engineering degree program.  Some states permit students to take the exam prior to their final year, and numerous states allow those without approved degrees to take the exam if they have the number of years of work experience in engineering that matches the state guidelines.  The state of Michigan has no admission pre-requisites for the F.E.

You can take the exam no more than three times per 12-month period.

The exam is managed by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES): www.ncees.org.

What will it do for me? 

The F.E. is the first step to earning your P.E. (Professional Engineer) License.  In order to perform consulting work, work for the government, or stamp critical engineering documents, then you will have to pass the F.E. and then the P.E. to become a registered, licensed engineer.  Each state has its own licensing requirements, including the F.E. and P.E., in order to protect the public safety, health, welfare, and property of its people.

The P.E. similar to a driver’s license.  It is unlawful to drive a car on a public road without a license.  Thus, it is unlawful to work in the form of consultation, investigation, evaluation or design of engineering without a P.E. license. The E.I.T. license, therefore, is the “driver’s permit” that allows you to study under a P.E. as part of the licensure requirements.

How much does it cost?

The exam costs $225, payable to NCEES. This does not include any supplies needed to prepare for the exam (e.g., review materials, calculator).  If you reschedule after enrolling, NCEES will charges an additional $50.

What is the format of the exam?

The exam is computer-based and contains 110 multiple-choice questions, and you will have 5 hours and 20 minutes to complete the exam.

The exam is divided into two parts, each 50-60 questions in length. However, the exam time is not divided into half. It is up to you how much time you use on the first half of the exam.  If you complete the first half of the exam in 2 hours and 20 minutes, you will have 3 hours to complete the second half.  Be careful not to use all of your time on the first half of the exam.

Exam topics are self-contained in each section. In other words, if you have thermodynamics questions in the first half, you will not have those type of questions in the second half.  Similarly, if you do not have any economics questions in the first half, expect to see them in the second half.

Most importantly, the exam does not penalize you for incorrect answers. Even if you are unsure how to solve a question, GUESS ANYWAY! The worst thing that you can do is to leave a question blank.

What study materials should I use and where can I get them?

In order to pass this exam, you need the following resources.

  1. F.E. Reference Handbook – This is available through the NCEES website—it costs $14 for a paper copy, but it is FREE to download as a PDF to your computer.  It is a comprehensive resource of key formulas and topics to assist you during the exam. It is provided to you at the exam as a split-screen next to the exam questions. Thus, it is critical to familiarize yourself with what formulas are included, where they are located, and what formulas are not included.
  2. F.E. Practice Exam – This is available through the NCEES website—each exam costs $30 and is computer-based like the actual exam. It contains half as many questions as the real exam, but it is a great way to prepare.
  3. F.E. Review Manual & F.E. Practice Problems – Michael Lindeburg (a P.E., himself) has published many resources for those studying for the F.E. in each discipline. . The review manual contains abridged lessons of major engineering topics that are tested on the exam, along with selected sample problems and the practice problem book contains significantly more sample problems that complement the topics in the review manual. Both books are readily available on Amazon—the review manual being roughly $200 and the practice problem book around $40. If you are still a student, contact your college’s library, they may already have these books for rental.  If not, your local library may be able to purchase them for rental or obtain them via an interlibrary loan. Once you pass, you will no longer need these books.  Why not save the money?

What can I bring to the exam (e.g., calculator)? What is provided?

The exam center provides a laminated notepad and a marker for performing hand calculations and scratch work. There is a basic calculator on the exam computer, but the testing center allows you to bring an approved calculator.

The best calculator is the TI 36X Pro Engineering/Scientific Calculator.  It is the most useful calculator that an engineer can have that is not a graphing calculator. It can perform trig functions, as well as definite integrals and numerical derivatives, for example. It very affordable on Amazon, for about $15.  You will need it for the P.E. Exam.  Get familiar with it.

NCEES allows the following calculators for the F.E. Exam:

How long should I study?

This exam is not to be taken lightly. Do not expect to pass by allotting yourself only two weeks or even one month to study. Set aside at least 3-4 months of preparation time before the exam. Do not study the night before the exam. Rest, it will be a long day.

Is it difficult?

This is a question relative to the individual. If you prepare well, take the exam and preparations seriously, the exam should be relatively straightforward. The goal of the exam is to test you on general concepts that any undergraduate engineer should know. There are no trick questions. All questions take between 10 seconds and 3 minutes to complete.

From a personal viewpoint, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being extremely difficult, upon sufficient studying and preparation, I rate the exam about a 3.  The difficult part is the variety of questions. There is a wide variety of problems.

How do I sign up? 



Written By Shane Martin, E.I.T. and Thomas A. Anderson, P.E. from the ESRG Group!




One Comment on “F.E. What is it? Why you need it!

  1. Pingback: What do Engineers do?

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