FE exam Vs PE exam – Differences and Similarities

The FE exam is often seen as a precursor to the PE exam. But are they really that similar? In this post, we’ll compare and contrast the two exams and help you decide which is best. Spoiler alert: the answer isn’t always simple! Read on to learn more.

Both exams are rigorous, but there are some key differences. The FE exam focuses on theory, while the PE exam is more practice-based. The FE exam also has a broader range of topics, whereas the PE exam specializes in a few areas.

Which one is right for you? That depends on your career goals and experience level.

Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) and Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exams are challenging in their own respects.

In this post, I will focus on the FE exam vs the PE exam. Both of these exams have undergone some format changes in 2022. In this article, we will conduct a side-by-side comparison of both exams.

Difference Between FE Exam and PE Exam – [FE exam Vs. PE exam]

FE exam Vs. PE exam

1. The Order in Which You Take the Exam

The very first difference between the FE exam Vs. the PE exam is the order you have to take both exams in.

The FE exam is the stepping stone to getting the PE license to become a licensed engineer, so you have to take it first.

That being said, it is clearly evident that the PE exam comes second in order – you can only take it once you clear the FE exam.

2. Cost

The FE exam typically costs $175, which must be paid directly to NCEES® at registration. However, certain states may require submitting a separate application as part of their authorization procedure. As a result, you might have to deposit an extra filing fee to take the FE exam.

On the other hand:

The PE exam generally costs $375, but again, it can vary for each state’s licensing board, directly payable to NCEES®.

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3. Format

There isn’t any difference between the FE exam Vs. the PE exam when it comes to the exam format. Both the exams are administered via the computer-based testing (CBT) format.

4. Questions

All the FE exam disciplines contain the same number of problems, i.e., 110 multiple-choice questions, divided between the morning and afternoon portions. So, each portion contains 55 questions.

But for the PE exam, the number of questions varies depending on the PE exam discipline but lies in the range of 80-85 problems.

For more clarity, the PE exam for Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, Power, and Environmental disciplines comprises 80 questions, whereas, it contains 85 problems for the rest of the disciplines.

5. Time

The total FE exam time for all the disciplines is six hours excluding the scheduled break and you will get five hours and 20 min of actual exam time to solve the problems.

Whereas:

The total and the actual time of the PE exam depends on the discipline you intend to take the test in.

The total time for the Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, Power and Environmental PE exams is nine hours, and eight hours for the actual exam excluding the scheduled break.

The total exam duration for the rest of the PE exam disciplines is 9.5 hours, and 8.5 hours for the actual exam excluding the scheduled break.

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6. Break

The FE exam has a scheduled break of 25 min duration.

But:

As the duration of the PE exam is longer than the FE exam, that’s why you get 50 min of a scheduled break during the PE exam.

You can either relax, eat, check out on your car, or even take a nap during these scheduled breaks.

7. When Should You Take It?

Ideally, you should take the FE exam immediately after you graduate. It’s because the concepts are still fresh in your mind and you won’t have to put in a lot of effort to study for the FE exam.

However, you can also take the FE exam years after completing your degree. But, in that case, you will have to spend much more time preparing for the FE electrical exam as you won’t be used to taking and studying for the exams. 

Talking about the PE exam, you are bound to take it only after passing the FE exam.

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8. Pass Rates

On average, the FE exam passing rate for all the disciplines is 71% for first-time test takers.

In contrast:

The PE exam pass rate across all the disciplines for first-time test takers is 65% on average.   

9. Difficulty Level

In terms of the difficulty level, the FE exam lies in the range of medium-hard. It is due to the fact that it is only the first step on the road to obtaining your PE license and is specially designed to be taken by students during their studies or just after graduation.

On the other hand:

The PE exam can prove to be extremely tough as no one would want just anybody to design structures to withstand earthquakes, heavy winds, and everyday life!

10. Required Study Time

Though it completely depends on the person who’s going to take the FE exam, it is recommended to spend at least three-five hours per day for two-three months for preparation.

Whereas for the PE exam, it is suggested to devote at least 215-230 hours over a 3-month period.

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11. Open Book?

Both the FE and the PE exams are closed-book. However, you only get access to the NCEES® reference handbook’s electronic version during the exam, which contains essential equations, formulas, unit conversions, etc.

12. Get a Title After Passing

After passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination, you will achieve the Engineering In Training (EIT) title.

The EIT certification or title can just serve to highlight your knowledge of engineering fundamentals and capacity for more challenging tasks. It also lets the employers know that you have aced your FE exam and are all set to attain the PE license.

Contrarily:

You will be awarded the Professional Engineer (PE) after you clear your Principles and Practice Engineering exam, which grants you legal benefits such as signing and sealing stamps.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1 - Is the FE exam harder than the PE?

When considering its preparation process, the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is often considered more challenging than the Professional Engineer (PE) exam. This perception arises from the FE exam’s generalized nature and the need to cover a more comprehensive syllabus, unlike the PE exam, which is more specialized and focused on a specific engineering discipline.

2 - Should I take the PE or FE exam?

To be eligible for the PE exam, one must pass the FE exam and obtain an Engineer-in-Training (EIT) certificate. If you are completing your engineering degree or have recently graduated, you can register for the FE exam. This is the initial step toward fulfilling the prerequisites necessary to become a licensed professional engineer.

3 - Can you take the PE right after the FE?

No, you cannot immediately take the PE exam after passing the FE. After completing the FE exam, you must obtain an EIT license, which usually involves meeting educational and examination requirements.

Subsequently, you are typically required to accumulate at least four years of engineering work experience under the supervision of a professional engineer with a PE license. These prerequisites must be satisfied before applying for the PE exam, following the regulations established by state licensure boards throughout the United States.

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Conclusion

There is no substitute for studying hard and by putting in the conscious effort you will only increase your chance of success. But equally important is studying smart. I’ve authored several books on the topic of FE Electrical & Computer and PE Power exams and created online courses for both exams and understand the challenges involved in preparing for these exams.

When I was preparing for the FE exam I had to strategically allocate my time and effort to maximize my chance of success. For instance, I never took Control Systems as an undergraduate and it carries a similar exam weight as Linear Systems and Signal Processing. I made sure that I was proficient in Linear Systems and Signal Processing before investing too much time into Control Systems.

Recent graduates and final-year students may find FE preparation easier while working professionals (especially those in design engineering) will probably find PE exam preparation easier.

In either scenario, the best way to ensure success is by keeping yourself motivated and focused, maintaining exam preparation momentum, and putting in ‘conscious and well-planned effort‘ because failing to plan is planning to fail.

We hope that we’ve put in our very best to help you clarify the differences between the FE exam Vs. the PE exam.

If you want more information on the FE and the PE exams, we recommend you browse through our blog section.

wasim-smal

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.