Advantages And Disadvantages Of A Computer Based PE Exam

The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam measures a candidate’s proficiency in a certain engineering discipline. It is intended for engineers with at least four years of post-college work experience in their chosen engineering discipline.

Beginning April 1, 2022, the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam will be administered through computer-based testing (CBT), with appointments accessible year-round at Pearson VUE test centers. The test will be administered in pencil-and-paper format for the final time in October 2021. On November 1, 2021, registration for the April 2022 CBT test will open.

NCEES originally planned to complete the PE exam’s transition to CBT format in 2023 but fast-tracked the change as part of its response to COVID-19. After April 2020, pencil-and-paper exam administration was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic; NCEES added an extra day to the October 2020 administration and began exploring the possibility of moving the PE exam to CBT earlier than planned.

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Advantages & Disadvantages:

NCEES is working on the introduction of the computer-based PE exam. It certainly is a significant change, and therefore there are certain advantages and disadvantages of a computer-based PE Exam.

Advantages of a computer-based PE Exam:

Here are some CBT PE exam advantages:

  1. Easier and efficient: Computer-based programs are easier to manage in developing the exams, making problems, getting scores, and conducting the exam. The whole process is made easier and efficient.
  2. Testing all year round: The computer-based exam is available to be taken at any time of the year. Instead of having the opportunity only twice a year, you can now prepare and give the exam whenever you want, which adds to the PE Exam benefits.
  3. Easier scoring: With computer-based exams, NCEES will be able to calculate the scores of its huge number of applicants easily. Instead of manually calculating all the scores, the computer can now help you to total scores, take out averages, and scrutinize how the candidates did on the exam.
  4. Flexibility: It gives candidates greater flexibility of giving the exam wherever and whenever they want according to what is suitable to them. Thus it makes scheduling and preparation for the PE exam much easier for the candidates.
  5. Uniform conditions: The candidates are provided with a computer terminal where they have to answer their questions. They are all provided with the same environment and procedure. The questions, although different, are also of the same difficulty level and the same number of questions from each topic.
  6. Separate testing environment: You can have your own testing space and computer terminal to help you concentrate on your exam. You will not be distracted by what your neighbors are doing and can focus on solving your problems quickly.
  7. Enhanced security on the exam: The computer exam has more security of the exam content, and there are very few chances of cheating or questions being known by students beforehand.
  8. Reach all around the world faster: The PE exam is accessible outside the US, and with the help of a computer-based exam, that process will be made faster.
  9. Helps candidates with special needs: Those candidates who are not able to write properly due to some form of disability can easily give the computer-based test as it only involves using the mouse.
  10. Reduces the time taken: The overall test takes less time as opposed to the paper-based test as they don’t have to write long answers. The candidates are allotted a specific time to finish the exam, and they cannot go back to the questions answered. This reduces the total time while attempting the exam.

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Disadvantages of a Computer-Based PE Exam:

Here are some disadvantages of computer-based PE assessment

  1. Cannot go back: If you realize that you’ve marked a previous answer wrong and want to correct it, unfortunately, you cannot go back. In CBT Exam, if you skip a question or make it wrong, you cannot go back to it once you’ve moved to the next question.
  2. Glitches in the computer: Giving a computer-based exam is risky. If suddenly your computer turns off or the power shuts down, everything you’ve done till then gets wasted. Either your test gets canceled, or you have to do everything all over again.
  3. Cannot write down the answers: The questions are objective-based, and therefore, if you cannot remember the exact answer, all other related knowledge you have on the topic goes to waste. You cannot write your own answer and justify it to get marks.
  4. No writing is allowed: In a written exam, you can navigate your thoughts through writing, you can write notes for yourself to help you through questions, and you can mark the questions you are skipping. It helps you to give your exam organized, but in a computer-based exam, you just have to stare blankly at a screen and cannot write anything down to help you.
  5. Technological backwardness: People from various cultures give this exam. If someone doesn’t have enough knowledge about computers or technology, they might end up messing their exam even if they have adequate academic knowledge.

Online vs. Paper-based PE Exam: Which is Good for You?

In my opinion, online exams are a better option for conducting PE Exam. It will help you in the process and enable you to add a superior level of specifications in the exam that is suited to the exam’s value. Furthermore, when candidates are selected through such an advanced procedure, you will be sure that you have made the right choice. It will also help the candidates and make this problematic test easier for them.

Not to forget there are disadvantages of online exams too as mentioned above but those disadvantages are those which can easily be controlled. Through effective management, training of candidates, and providing appropriate facilities you can make sure that the computer-based exam is conducted efficiently.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

1 - Is the PE Exam computer-based?

The PE exam is moving to computer-based testing (CBT), with appointments available year-round at Pearson VUE test centers in 2022. The exam will be offered for the last time in pencil-and-paper format in 2021.

2 - Is computer-based PE exam open book?

Once the exam transitions to a CBT format in 2022, it will no longer be an open book. Examinees will only have access to an electronic NCEES PE Reference Handbook and design standards for their depth section.

3 - Is the online PE exam all multiple choice?

The CBT PE electrical exam is not conducted yet. However, PE Exam conducted for other disciplines is an 8-hour, 80-question exam including multiple-choice, multiple-correct, point-and-click, drag-and-drop, and fill-in-the-blank questions. The first 40 questions are breadth questions, and the second 40 questions refer to your chosen depth area.

4 - Is the PE exam going to be computer-based permanently?

The PE computer-based exam will start from April 2022. It will be a permanent change, with the last pencil-paper exam being conducted on 0ctober 2021. After that, all exams will be computer-based.


No doubt the computer-based exams have their disadvantages, but the CBT PE Exam advantages outweigh them. It is a very good decision taken by NCEES. The NCEES computer-based PE Exam will help in the future progress in the authenticity and value of the exam.

In an era where we focus on technological advancement providing computer-based PE exams only helps to create enlightenment among the candidates regarding technology and its uses. But it is a different procedure, and so this article provides you with all the information you need to understand these new changes to help you in PE exam preparation.


Licensed Professional Engineer in Texas (PE), Florida (PE) and Ontario (P. Eng) with consulting experience in design, commissioning and plant engineering for clients in Energy, Mining and Infrastructure.