FE Exam: What It Is, Who Can Write It, How To Pass

Mike Grossman
Professional Engineer
Chantal Flores
Education Facilitator
Minute Read
January 10, 2024
FE Exam: What It Is, Who Can Write It, How To Pass

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We strive to help you make smarter exam preparation decisions. We adhere to an editorial integrity, so this article does not contain references to affiliate products or services.

​You likely already have a basic idea of what the FE Exam is, but let’s define it, see who can write it, and find out how to best prepare for it.

🔑 Key Takeaways

• The exam is a 5 hour and 20 minute exam with 110 multiple choice questions covering your engineering degree.

• It is wise to write the exam within 12 months of graduation (before or after graduation), as the material will be fresh in your mind.

• The FE is a skill-based exam, requiring skill sets that are developed with practice. Watching instructors solving problems is not an effective strategy.

• Keep a sharp eye out for outdated products that are common online and in the Amazon Marketplace.

• The latest research-backed advice of experts in neurology and psychology has proven remarkably effective in helping people achieve goals like passing the FE Exam.

​What is the FE Exam?

The exam is a measure of your competency to enter the profession, since it is the first step to becoming a licensed professional engineer in the United States.

The FE Exam is also known as the NCEES Fundamentals of Engineering Exam or the EIT Exam. It’s a computer-based exam given any time of the year at most Pearson VUE test centers. It’s a 5 hour and 20 minute exam with 110 multiple choice questions covering most of your engineering degree. During the exam, you’re allowed to use an approved calculator and the FE Reference Handbook (free download from the NCEES | MyNCEES).

FE Exam dates

Main article: EIT / FE Exam Dates

The exam is offered every month of the year, from Monday to Saturday, excluding holidays. The dates for the 2024 FE Exam are:

  • January 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • February 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • March 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • April 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • May 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • June 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • July 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • August 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • September 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • October 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • November 2024: Monday - Saturday
  • December 2024: Monday - Saturday​

You can book an exam date anytime a seat is available at your nearest testing centre. Know that the testing centres have limited seats and can book out 2 weeks or more.

You can reschedule your exam date or even cancel it, within the MyNCEES portal. All things equal, it’s up to you when to book the exam, but know that there’s a rescheduling fee to postpone your exam date, and you must reschedule at least 48 hours in advance.

Tip: Some test centres are open 24 hours a day, so note whether you’ve chosen an AM or PM time.​

FE Exam fees

The exam fees for the Fundamentals of Engineering exam are $175. Many state boards apply an additional application fee as part of the licensing process once you pass the exam.

The 7 different FE Exam disciplines

The FE Exam is offered in seven disciplines, each with a syllabus to match your degree:

If your degree doesn’t fit in the first six categories, then the FE Other Disciplines is for you.

Who can take the FE exam?

The state boards decide who is eligible to write the exam. It’s generally available to anyone with an engineering degree, but know that it is designed for students or graduates of an EAC-ABET accredited engineering program. You can determine if your degree is accredited with the EAC-ABET Accredited Programs list.

Most states don’t require you to submit an application or pay fees before scheduling an exam. The exceptions are:

  • The boards of Guam, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, South Dakota, and the Virgin Islands requires you to submit an application before scheduling the exam.
  • The boards of Illinois, Kentucky, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, New York, and Vermont have special application requirements for those without an EAC-ABET BS degree.
  • Colorado makes you attest under penalty of perjury that you have the education and/or experience prior scheduling and writing.

​You’ll have one exam attempt for each testing window (Jan–Mar, Apr–Jun, Jul–Sep, Oct–Dec) and no more than three attempts in a 12-month period.

Tip: It is wise to write within 12 months of graduation (before or after graduation). It is common to write outside that time, but the material will be freshest within a year of graduation.

How to register for the FE Exam?

Main article: EIT / FE Exam Certification: Get Certified in 5 Easy Steps

The registration system for FE Exam is accessible 24 hours a day through your MyNCEES account.

Step 1: Check your state board requirements
Confirm that you meet the eligibility requirements of your state board, before registering with the NCEES.

Step 2: Create an account at NCEES and register
Log into or start a MyNCEES account at NCEES, and follow the registration process. You’ll select the FE Exam tab, choose your discipline (e.g. FE Mechanical), and choose the state board where you wish to write and practice engineering.

Step 3: Pay the NCEES fee
The fee is $175 to write the exam, and it is paid directly to NCEES. You’ll receive an email authorizing you to now schedule the exam at a location of your choice.

Step 4: Schedule the exam
Log into your MyNCEES account, select the schedule button, select a time and location, and follow the checkout process. You’ll then receive another email confirming your appointment, including a PDF entitled “Appointment Confirmation Letter”, that you will bring to the exam.

Tip: Download a free copy of the NCEES FE Reference Handbook from your MyNCEES account. During the checkout process, you’ll see an offer to buy a physical copy handbook. Yet, you’re not allowed a physical copy during the exam, and you’ll want to simulate the exam day experience with a digital copy.
Tip: the exam day PDF search function is much more specific than your computer’s PDF search function. Your search terms must match exactly during the exam; punctuation, spelling, and spaces.

Critically evaluate preparation materials

The FE exam continually evolves, so keep a sharp eye out for old and obsolete preparation materials. The recent NCEES FE exam updates include:

  • 2021 Handbook: updates to the FE Reference Handbook formulas and formatting updates.
  • 2020 Syllabus: updates to the exam specifications or syllabus of all disciplines.
  • 2017 AIT Questions: introduction of AIT (alternative item types) questions, that include multiple correct, point and click, drag and drop, or fill in the blank.
  • 2014 CBT Platform: adoption of CBT (computer-based testing), new content criteria, and complete audit of 40,000 questions.
  • 2011 Discipline: removal of the AM-PM system and a move to complete discipline-specific exams.

Tip: Many of the available preparation materials are out of date. Most of the products listed on Amazon are published before 2017, missing 2017 AIT, the 2020 syllabus, and the 2021 handbook updates.

Compare the current FE exam preparation materials:

How to study for the FE Exam?

Nearly 40% of examinees fail their first attempt. An essential strategy to pass the exam is to stay committed for a three-month preparation time.

To help you, we’ve enlisted the research-backed advice of experts in the fields of neurology, psychology, and even a former covert CIA intelligence officer to help you achieve this goal.

  • Dr. Andrew Huberman, Professor and Neuroscientist at Stanford School of Medicine and Host of the Huberman Lab Podcast, where he teaches science and science-based tools.
  • Andrew Bustamante, former covert CIA intelligence officer, US Air Force combat veteran and host of the Everyday Espionage.
  • Dr. David Spiegel, Associate Chair of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Director of the Center on Stress and Health, and Director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine.

​Your time is valuable, and you want to pass your exam on your first attempt, so get the most out it with these zero cost tools and science-based protocols.

Goal setting grounded in science

For many years, we’ve heard a wealth of advice about goals and goal setting. Yet, there’s little publicly available information about the neuroscience of goals.

Here, Dr. Huberman describes his framework for setting and achieving goals that are aligned with our biology and neurochemistry.

1. Initiate goal pursuit. Take an important moment to visualize receiving the NCEES notification email announcing your success, or visualize sharing with colleagues and loved ones that you have passed the FE Exam.

An exciting field of study has goal seekers focus on the achievement or goal line, “simply by looking at the goal line, does something to the psychology and physiology of people, that allows them to move forward with less perceived effort and to do it more quickly” (Huberman 2022).

These goal seekers made remarkable improvements of achieving the goal with 17% less effort, and they achieved it 23% quicker, with a one-time simple exercise that takes 10 seconds (Huberman 2022).​

2. Maintain goal pursuit. Visualizing goal achievement, as above, is an effective method to get started, but it fails to help us maintain pursuit of that goal.

In fact, there’s a much better way to maintain ongoing action toward a goal that also involves visualization. It’s about visualizing failure” (Huberman 2022).

You can double your probability of achieving your goal if you anticipate on how things can fail. For example, if I don’t fulfill my study goal in this week, I won’t fulfill it next week either, then I’ll fail and be embarrassed. The brain and body are better at moving away from things we are afraid of than toward things we want.Don’t use this technique to punish yourself, just use it to drive your action steps.

3. Choose specific action steps. Stating that I’m going to study more often, or go to bed earlier, or party less doesn’t work.“We need to be exquisitely detailed about what the action steps are, that we are going to take, and to constantly update those action steps” (Huberman 2022). For the FE Exam, a great course of action steps are the weekly hours you dedicate to working exam questions or the number of questions you solve per week. This is easy to measure, to assess, and then to update for the upcoming week.​It’s important that this remains a positive feedback loop, and a way to give yourself a cognitive reward like checking a box in a spreadsheet or a checkmark on a calendar.

Zero cost tool: Habitica is a free habit-building and productivity app that uses retro RPG elements to gamify your tasks and goals.
Zero cost tool: BeeMinder is another habit-building app, complete with a sting. It’s free to use, but if you fail a goal, you’ll have to pledge money to try again.

4. Structure goals wisely. Choose a goal that is just outside your abilities, or something you’ll have to work hard to achieve, and you’ll nearly double the likelihood that you’ll engage in the ongoing pursuit of that goal.“It turns out that if the goal is too easy, it’s too within reach, it doesn’t recruit enough of the autonomic nervous system to make pursuit of that goal likely” (Huberman 2021). A similar phenomenon occurs if the goal is too difficult to achieve.For the FE exam, a 5-hour weekly commitment has shown a high pass rate probability for Civil Engineering students at The Citadel Military College in South Carolina.The students realized “a considerable increase in pass rates” (Nale et. al. 2022), after adopting an online platform that reported individual study time and questions attempted. Further, they found that students had an 90% probability of passing with a study commitment of 5 hours per week, and attempting 300 questions in total.

5. Limit your goals. Keep it to 1 goal at a time, or at most 2 goals. Supermarkets have long known that they can override your budgetary goals by distracting you with many choices of the same products.

6. Embrace errors. Research shows that some unsuccessful attempts enhance learning and even drive our motivation.

When we make errors, it feels stressful, but that is just an increase in attention that puts us in a much better place to perform and execute learning-related behaviors the next trial—meaning on the next attempt” (Huberman 2022).​ So don’t delay working on practice exams even if you don’t feel you’ll score well. The aim is to build skill sets like recalling knowledge, working mathematical methods, and applying engineering principles. We strengthen our skill sets with practice.

7. Use random, intermittent rewards. We lose our motivation quickly when we can see a reward coming. Huberman suggests leveraging random and intermittent rewards, “that is what casinos do to keep people gambling. It works” (Huberman 2022).

Zero cost tool: Google search “3-sided dice simulator.” Leverage the dice app and your favorite treat, like chocolate or a social media break, to randomize your reward.

Optimize your study day

You’ll want to leverage the natural rhythms of your brain and body to make it more likely that you will engage or maintain habits,” says Huberman. He indicates this is made easy by dividing your waking hours into phases:

7AM–3PM (first 8 hours awake): This time is best suited for analytical thinking and challenging study time. So protect it, and save less productive tasks for a later time in the day.

Your brain and body are more action and focus oriented due to elevated dopamine, adrenaline and cortisol levels” (Huberman, 2022).

If you work during the week, and you’re unable to study during the weekdays, then leverage the first 8 hours awake on weekends for intense study periods.

3PM–11PM (second 8 hours awake): This time is great for review and reflection activities that require less focus.

At this time, serotonin levels are relatively elevated, which lends itself to a somewhat more relaxed state of being—optimal for brainstorming and creative work” (Huberman, 2022).

Realize during this period, that concentrating for long periods will be more challenging, so hamper your expectations and take breaks.

Optimize your focus periods

1. How to start. Many of us know what focus is, and what it feels like, yet few of us know how to enter a state of focus or how long we should focus.

Our visual concentration is the key method for establishing cognitive focus” (Huberman, 2022)

A practical method to improve your ability to focus before beginning a task is to look at a place on a wall, screen, or object for 30 to 60 seconds, blinking as needed.

After this, begin your focused study period with the right sound environment.

2. How to focus. Set up your focused study period with science-supported background noises to place you in a better state for learning.

Some kinds of background noise are particularly good for our work output. Working with white, pink, or brown noise in the background can be good for work bouts of up to 45 minutes” (Huberman, 2022).

Zero cost Tool: YouTube search “white noise”, “pink noise”, or “brown noise”. Other people enjoy silence, or calming background noises like “waves”, “fireplaces”, and “rainfall”.
Zero cost tool: Vesper app, Elpy app are great sources of calming background noise, complete with timers.

​3. How long to focus. “Solid research shows that 90 minutes is about the longest period we can expect to maintain intense focus and effort toward learning” (Huberman, 2022).

Many people do well with 60 minute periods, and few people can do more than 4 learning periods per day. You can study outside focused study periods, but take breaks and keep the intensity low.

Optimize your workplace

1. Stand & sit. “It is best to arrange your desk and workspace so that you can alternate between sitting and standing periods of time,” (Huberman 2022). These periods range from 10-30 minutes or so for most people.

Zero cost tool: books or boxes work well for a sit-stand desk.

2. Vision location. Ensure your screen is elevated slightly above eye level to help maintain your levels of alertness.“There’s a relationship between where we look and our level of alertness. When looking down toward the ground, neurons related to calm and sleepiness are activated. Looking up does the opposite” (Huberman, 2022).

3. Leverage caffeine. Proper levels of dopamine help us sustain our motivation and help us focus our attention on our goals. Your favorite form of caffeine, “will cause a mild increase in dopamine but also increases the availability of dopamine receptors, so your body is more sensitive to circulating dopamine” (Huberman, 2022). Avoid caffeine late in the day, and avoid energy drinks containing taurine that can have negative side effects.

Recovery and defocus

1. Active Recovery. Andrew Bustamante shares strategies the CIA agency taught him.

​“We know cortisol will be part of our everyday routine. So, we don’t try to eradicate cortisol, we try to recognize how it works, and try to minimize its impact” (Bustamante, 2021).

How this CIA protocol works:

  • Get quiet. Remove yourself from the environment and get some peace.
  • Get air. Head outdoors to get fresh air and help your system process cortisol.
  • Get moving. Leverage light excise like walking to help process stress.

2. Leverage Naps or NSDR. After 1 or 2 focused study sessions, incorporate a 20-minute shallow nap, or NSDR (non-sleep deep rest), to help you rewire your nervous system. This protocol especially helps you improve focus if you are sleep-deprived.

Two studies (on humans) published in the past 2 years show that shallow naps and/or NSDR can enhance the rate and depth of learning” (Huberman 2022).

Zero cost tool: a 20-minute nap works well, but some people struggle to relax without help.
Zero cost tool: YouTube search “NSDR”, "Michael Sealey", or “Yoga Nidra”, to help you relax.
Zero cost tool: Reveri app is a research-based app by Dr. Spiegel, to help you relax.

Master your sleep

A recent study from MIT found a strong relationship between students’ grades and the amount of sleep they get.

Sleep is the foundation of our mental and physical health and performance in all endeavors. Yet no one is perfect about sleep” (Huberman, 2021).

Here’s Dr. Huberman’s science-based strategies for getting better at sleeping (Huberman, 2021):

  • Optimize your sleep-wake cycle by getting outside shortly after sunrise, and shortly before sunset. The light energy during these times helps set your circadian clock.
  • Avoid bright lights between 10 pm and 4 am.
  • Go to bed when you first feel sleepy, and get up at the same time each day.
  • Avoid caffeine within 8–10 hours of bedtime, and avoid alcohol or sleep medications, as they disrupt your sleep.
  • Leverage the NSDR protocol, described above, if you wake up in the middle of the evening.
  • Decreasing the room temperature, decreases your body temperature, helping you to fall asleep and remain asleep.

Article Sources:

  • Balcetis, E., Riccio, M. T., Duncan, D. T., & Cole, S. (2020). Keeping the Goal in Sight: Testing the Influence of Narrowed Visual Attention on Physical Activity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 46(3), 485-496. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167219861438
  • Volkow N., Wang, GJ., Logan, J. et al. (2015). Caffeine increases striatal dopamine D2 /D3 receptor availability in the human brain. Translational Psychiatry 5, e549. https://doi.org/10.1038/tp.2015.46
  • Huberman, A. D. (2022). The Science of Making & Breaking Habits. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/the-science-of-making-and-breaking-habits/
  • Huberman, A. D. (2022). Optimizing Workspace for Productivity, Focus, & Creativity. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/optimizing-workspace-for-productivity-focus-and-creativity/
  • Nale, D. et al. (2022). On-Line FE Exam Review Course Results in Effective Instructional Model. 2022 ASEE Southeastern Section Conference. https://papers.aseese.org/openconf/modules/request.phpmodule=oc_program&action=view.php&id=99&type=3&a=
  • Huberman, A. D. (2021). Teach & Learn Better With A “Neuroplasticity Super Protocol”. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/teach-and-learn-better-with-a-neuroplasticity-super-protocol/
  • Huberman, A. D. (2022). 5 Science-Based Steps to Improve Your Workspace. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/5-science-based-steps-to-improve-your-workspace/
  • Huberman, A. D. (2021). Toolkit for Sleep. Huberman Lab. https://hubermanlab.com/toolkit-for-sleep/
  • Huberman, A. D. (2022). The Science of Setting & Achieving Goals. Huberman Lab.
  • https://hubermanlab.com/the-science-of-setting-and-achieving-goals/
  • Richland, L. E., Kornell, N., & Kao, L. S. (2009). The pretesting effect: do unsuccessful retrieval attempts enhance learning?. Journal of experimental psychology. Applied, 15(3), 243–257. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0016496
  • Bustamante, A. (2021). OPTHINK Cognitive Base 2 - Mental Strength Lesson. Everyday Spy. https://vimeo.com/578188902
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