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The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is the first of two tests that separate students from licensed engineers. Anyone with a degree in engineering or a related field can take the exam, as can any student enrolled in the final year of an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredited engineering program. Here are seven tips for passing it.
1. Get the NCEES FE Reference Handbook
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) provides an official handbook for helping students pass the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.
Students can access it for free through a MyNCEES account and can even print it out for home use.
A 2023 paperback version — called the FE Reference Handbook 10.3 — is also available on Amazon for $20 as of this writing. At 502 pages long, the NCEES handbook is the official reference material for the FE exam. It contains tables, charts, formulas and other information to help students prepare.
2. Use Additional Resources
There are numerous study guides and references available — both online and printed — that can supplement the FE Reference Handbook 10.3. Helpful books include:
- Wasim Asghar’s Study Guide for Fundamentals of Engineering series
- Barron’s FE Fundamentals of Engineering by Masoud Olia
- FE Review Manual: Rapid Preparation for the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam by Michael R. Lindeburg
- FE Mechanical Practice Problems for the Mechanical Fundamentals of Engineering Exam by Michael R. Lindeburg
- An Engineer’s Guide to Solving Problems by Bob Schmidt
Online quizzes and guides are another great option for studying. They include:
- The official NCEES practice exams
- PPi2Pass exercises
- PPE Headquarters practice problems
- Brightwood online courses
- Coursera’s Fundamentals of Engineering Exam Review course
The cost of these courses varies, but all offer extensive study materials for people practicing for the FE test.
Students should work through every problem in their practice guides and grade themselves on their performance. It’s especially important to focus on weak points and subjects people usually skip. By recognizing their own weaknesses, students will give themselves a better chance of working through even the toughest problems.
3. Create a Study Schedule
To give themselves the best chance of success, students should start preparing for the FE exam long before test day rolls around. Opinions vary as to how early people should start studying — some guides say two months before the test date is acceptable, while others suggest students begin studying six months in advance. The consensus is that the earlier someone starts getting ready, the better.
College classes and work often make it challenging to find time for practice quizzes. Creating a study schedule can help test takers carve out time in their schedules to prepare. By setting aside even one-and-a-half to two hours per day to study for the FE test, students will end up spending 45 to 60 hours a month studying.
Test takers can commit to 45 minutes in the morning and another 45 every evening for studying. Or, they can dedicate a large time block to focused reading and practice exams a few times a week. Different schedules will work for different people.
An important aspect of creating a study schedule is to outline which topics to cover during each session. Doing so ensures test takers have enough time to cover every topic.
4. Make the Most of the Calculator
Test takers need an NCEES-approved FE examination calculator for the exam. It’s a good idea to buy this device well in advance of taking the test so students can learn to use its advanced features, including:
- Solving derivatives and integrals
- Creating a layered display for longer equations
- Converting decimal, hexadecimal, octal and binary numbers
- Solving vector problems
5. Prepare the Day Before
Before exam day, test takers should treat themselves well and even take a break from studying. It’s important to eat balanced meals, avoid alcohol and limit caffeine to the morning so as not to stay awake longer than intended.
Pulling an all-night cram session may be tempting. However, it’s a better idea to get a solid eight hours of rest. The evening before the test, students should shut off their devices so they can fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep.
6. Save Tough Questions for Later
During the exam, students may encounter problems they don’t immediately know how to solve. The Fundamentals of Engineering exam software lets test takers flag questions they feel unsure about so they can try to solve them later. This feature allows people time to clear their head, give the problems some more thought and go back to them after completing the easiest questions first.
7. Take Advantage of the Scheduled Break
In between the two FE exam sections is a 25-minute break. Because the test involves so much sitting and looking at a computer screen, this scheduled break is a great way for test takers to clear their heads.
Multiple studies have shown the benefits of taking breaks. One even found that surgeons who took 20-second breaks every 20 minutes were seven times more accurate at performing a fine motor skills task than those who worked uninterrupted. When taking the Fundamentals of Engineering exam, that can mean the difference between failing or becoming an engineer.
Some ways to use the scheduled break include:
- Taking a walk
- Using the restroom
- Buying lunch at a nearby restaurant
- Listening to music
- Grabbing a coffee
Students should always set a timer before starting their break. It’s important to leave plenty of time to get back to the exam room, including potentially waiting in line if multiple students return from their break at the same time. Therefore, going for a drive off-site to get food or drinks may be risky, especially in heavy traffic or in areas with train crossings. It’s up to test-takers to manage their time wisely.
Nailing the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam
The FE Exam is notoriously tough, but that makes it all the more satisfying when students pass it. Strong study skills, solid time management practices and good, old-fashioned effort go a long way in the quest to become a licensed engineer. The stress of taking the Fundamentals of Engineering exam is all worth it in the end.
Emily Newton is a technology and industrial journalist and the Editor in Chief of Revolutionized. She manages the sites publishing schedule, SEO optimization and content strategy. Emily enjoys writing and researching articles about how technology is changing every industry. When she isn't working, Emily enjoys playing video games or curling up with a good book.