As of January 1, 2014, The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) transitioned from the pencil and paper format of the FE, or Fundamentals of Engineering, examination to a Computer Based Training (CBT) format. This transition came after four years of content survey and review, policy change and coordination with Pearson VUE, the company that administers the exam.
The change to CBT offers numerous benefits. Rather than offering the exam twice a year, candidates can now schedule the exam when it’s convenient for them. The FE exam is offered year round except in the months of March, June, September, and December.
Pearson VUE has testing locations throughout the country eliminating long drives for many people. The pencil and paper exam took 8 hours. The CBT process is 6 hours including the tutorial. Test results are available within 7 -10 days after completion. Finally, the exam administration is identical, regardless of the testing site.
The CBT exam allows engineers access to an electronic reference manual for use during the exam. It is identical to the one that is available on the NCEES website. Candidates are able to search for keywords or look over the table of contents and click on the subject. People who’ve taken the test report that it’s easy to navigate. So make sure you use this reference when studying to become familiar.
The transition to CBT decreased not only the time needed to take the test, it also decreased the number of questions. The previous exam consisted of 180 questions. The CBT has 110. After completing the first 55, candidates get a 25 minute break. It also created discipline specific exams covering Chemical, Civil, Electrical and Computer, Environmental, Industrial, Mechanical and Other (aka general) Engineering. Note that you will not be permitted to review the first 55 questions after the break. However, you can mark questions for review and return to them before submitting each completed exam portion.
The FAQ section that follows outlines the basics for the CBT and what to expect when sitting for the exam.
Q: What types of questions are on the exam?
A: The exam is multiple choice. Many questions are worded as which response is “most nearly” correct. Some test takers have mentioned that sig-figs are popular on these types of questions.
Q: Are the questions grouped by category?
A: For the most part, yes. This makes it much easier when using the online reference manual. The test will have a section of Math questions, then move on. Note that the questions themselves aren’t grouped, but as you read them you will be able to tell when you move into a new grouping.
Q: How do I prepare for the test?
A: Since the questions are based on your area of discipline, you should review the NCEES reference guide. That goes quick. The real power is in practicing exam questions. The NCEES CBT FE exam is unique since the questions are meant to be answered in 2-3 minutes. Read the practice questions carefully and make sure you are using the correct units when solving equations. It will give you a good idea of the style of questions that are asked.
Q: What do I bring to the testing center?
A: When you get to the Pearson VUE testing center, you will need to show a current government ID, such as a Driver’s License. You are also permitted to bring a calculator that meets NCEES guidelines, glasses (if needed) and a light sweater or jacket. All other items, such as cell phones and keys, must be secured in the locker provided. You will be provided with a white board and markers for equations, as well as noise cancelling headphones.
Q: What happens when I get to the testing center?
A: After ID verification, you will be asked scan your palm and be photographed. When entering the actual testing area, you will scan your palm again, show your ID and your photo will be checked. Your palm will be scanned each time you enter and exit the testing room.
Q: What types of calculators are permitted?
A: According to NCEES, there are specific calculator models that must be used. Casio fx-115 models, Texas Instruments TI-30X and TI-36X models and Hewlett Packard, HP 33 and HP 35 are the only models that are permitted in the testing center.
Q: How is the test scored?
A: The test is scored based on the total number of correct answers. There are no deductions for incorrect answers. The correct answers are converted to a scale score that is adjusted for any differences in difficulty between the exams.
The NCEES does not have a passing score since the exam varies a bit based on the difficulty of the exam. Every exam stands on its own merit and is scored with no fixed percentage of testers to pass or fail. This allows every exam to be graded identically.
All exams are Pass/Fail.
Q: What happens after the test?
A: Once you complete the test, you receive a letter confirming you sat for the test. Results will be e-mailed 7 to 10 days after completion. If you should fail the exam, you will receive a report detailing the areas of strength and those that need improvement.