Just Released: FE Electrical & Computer Exam Preparation Masterclass

Just Released: FE Electrical & Computer Exam Preparation Masterclass

FE Electrical & PE Power: Applying the Pareto Principle for Studying Efficiency

The 80/20 rule, or Pareto Principle, states that 80% of the outputs come from only 20% of the inputs. For example, 80% of the sales of a company may come from only 20% of the customers, 20% of the clothing in your wardrobe may be worn 80% of the time, or 80% of the wealth in a country may be owned by only 20% of the people.

The 80/20 rule could also be the 90/10 or 70/30 rule, but the meaning remains the same that a large output comes from only a small portion of the input. In the case of the FE Electrical Exam, you may come to realize that 80% of your learning comes from only 20% of the things you do.

For example, a passive activity such as re-reading a textbook may lead you to spend 80% of your study time for the day but it might only contribute 20% in your ability to tackle exam questions. Whereas solving problems and actively figuring out why you make mistakes may only constitute 20% of your study time for the day but result in a drastic 80% contribution in your ability to tackle exam questions.

Pareto Principe - FE Electrical


The 80/20 Rule, or Pareto Principle, was named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian Economist who, in 1906, observed that most of the wealth in Italy and many other countries was owned by only a small percentage of the people.

Almost 45 years later, Joseph Juran applied the Pareto Principle to productivity in his book The Quality Control Handbook. He showed that focusing on a handful of the most vital tasks can eliminate most of the problems related to inefficiencies. Interestingly, Joseph Juran’s contemporaries joked that nobody could understand more than 20% of what he said.


There are many examples where the 80/20 rule applies, some of these are listed below:

  • 80% of crimes are commited by 20% of criminals
  • 20% of employees are responsible for 80% of the results.
  • 20% of a company’s products result in 80% of the sales.
  • 20% of drivers cause 80% of the accidents.
  • 80% of a teacher’s time is taken up by 20% of the students
  • Fixing 20% of a computer program’s bugs can eliminate 80% of the errors and crashes.
  • 20% of a Sports Team’s players produce 80% of the wins.
  • 20% of patients consume 80% of healthcare resources.
  • 20% of occupational hazards cause 80% of the injuries.

Perfectionism Is the Enemy

Stressed Business Woman - FE Electrical

One of the biggest sources of inefficiency is our desire to achieve perfectionism. When reading a textbook or reviewing a lecture, you may be tempted to review an entire topic that you already understand quite well. You could be convincing yourself that there might be a hidden sentence written or said somewhere that you may have missed, even though you can solve the questions on this topic. This is a major time waster as your time could be much better utilized by focusing on your weaknesses. An hour spent reviewing something you’re already proficient in will bring you less results than an hour spent trying to understand something you clearly have weaknesses in.

Another important thing to note is that the FE Exam has a variable number of questions for each of its 17 sections. In some cases, if there is one small section that a student finds extremely difficult with fewer than 4-5 questions alotted to it, it could potentially be neglected. However, this strategy can only be used in very few cases for a single section and you should be careful. This strategy should only be used if learning that specific section would require far too much time and is simply not worth fitting into your study schedule. A table describing the range of questions you can expect from each section can be found by clicking here.

Applying the Principle to the FE Electrical & PE Power Exam

Engineer - PE Power Exam

The first step to applying the 80/20 Principle to your exam preparation is to identify inefficiencies. If you dedicate 3-4 hours a day studying for the FE Exam, figure out how much of those 3-4 hours you’re actually improving your ability to tackle exam questions. Often, when we read textbooks or watch lectures, its easy to get relaxed and transition into a passive observer state. That’s why its extremely important that you actively engage with the content.

If you see a question, first try to solve it yourself. If you get a question wrong, make sure you figure out why you got it wrong before moving forward. If you make notes, don’t re-read your notes. Instead, try to rewrite them without looking. Regardless of the strategies you use, make sure you strive for learning more actively and being more engaged with the content while studying.

You can learn more about Active Learning in our upcoming blog.


Helpful references for FE Electrical and Computer Exam Preparation

FE exam Overview

FE Electrical and Computer Exam Specification

NCEES FE Reference Handbook

List of Approved Calculators

Helpful references for PE Power Exam Preparation

PE Power Exam Overview

PE Power Exam Specification

Pass Rates

National Society of Professional Engineers

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