10 Reasons You Failed The FE Exam (And How To Improve)

Mike Grossman
Professional Engineer
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Minute Read
April 15, 2022
10 Reasons You Failed The FE Exam (And How To Improve)

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The fundamentals of engineering exam can make or break your career as an engineer. Well that's not completely true, but it will definitely feel that way if you don't pass. Discover the pitfalls that will held you back from passing this exam, and fix problems before it happens again.

1. Taking more than 2-3 minutes per problem

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while taking the exam is to spend too much time on one problem. The questions on the FE exam are designed to take two-to-three minutes maximum. Do not keep working on a problem if you are going to take more than the three-minute time limit.

2. Trying to answer all the questions manually

You are allowed a calculator in the FE exam; choose the best FE exam calculator wisely, and buy it long before the test. Purchasing your calculator in advance allows you to get used to it beforehand. Getting to know your calculator can also help you answer questions efficiently. If you can answer a question with a calculator in less time than you can answer a question manually, why would you try to answer your question manually? ​

3. Not mastering the NCEES handbook

You are allowed to use the NCEES handbook during the exam and you should know it inside and out. Again, no question should take longer than five minutes to answer.  So if consulting your handbook adds too much time to a problem, then skip it until the end.  But, get used to the CRTL F function to search the PDF version that is available on the CBT FE Exam.

4. Failing to make an educated guess

Some questions you will find tricky. Some questions might take an inordinate amount of time to complete. Making an educated guess on questions that are taking longer than three minutes is the best way to tackle these challenges. Don’t skip a question in fear you won’t get the right answer.  You won't be penalized for wrong answers ... know this. Answer the question with a guess that shows you don’t need to be perfect to give every answer an educated try.

5. Shooting for a perfect score

This is similar to the previous point but time is so critical for this exam. If you try too hard to get a perfect score, you might not pass the FE exam at all. The exam isn’t about answering every question right.  It’s about answering the highest number of questions in the least amount of time. If you plan on getting a perfect score, your perfection might get the best of you. Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for the most right answers in the least amount of time possible.

6. Solving every problem on the test

You don’t need to solve every problem on the test to pass. In the past, many engineers have passed this test with a score of only 50 percent. The best way to solve the highest number of problems in the least amount of time is to answer only the questions you know you can answer.

Once you’re confident you’ve answered every question correctly continue to the questions you’re not sure you can answer. If a question looks like it might take longer than three minutes, skip it for the time being and make a guess.

7. Failing to set aside enough time to prepare

The best way to pass the FE exam is proper preparation. Start studying for the test at least one month in advance. Buy reference materials and practice tests early to find enough time to prepare. Time yourself with practice tests so you can enter that test with confidence. Take practice tests with friends to elevate your experience and find out how you rank next to your colleagues and friends.

8. Spending time on theory rather than exam questions

The FE exam is an unusual test for many engineers. Learning to prepare for a test can either make or break your score. Unfortunately, the test doesn’t prove you are an amazing engineer. It simply shows you are able to take a test quickly, and answer more questions correctly than your fellow future engineers. To pass this test, you need to know how to play the game.

When taking an FE practice test you want to test yourself on a few more factors than right or wrong answers. You need to look at your commonly made mistakes.  Track your answer times.  Start using your calculator and master that NCEES handbook..

After your practice test, make a check mark next to the questions that took more than three minutes to answer.   Determine which types of questions you should take less time to answer and which ones you should disregard altogether on the test.

9. Confusing Imperial and SI units

The FE exam uses both Imperial and SI units. Ensure you are familiar with both. The most embarrassing and frustrating way to flunk the test is by using the wrong units. ​

10. Succumbing to panic

Being late, bringing the wrong materials or experiencing a case of the panics all cause stress.  Some fail the test by being in the wrong mind set. Don’t forget your manuals, calculator or other test materials. Don’t freak out and make a mad dash for the door. You’ve been studying for this test throughout your entire time as a future architect. You got this.

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