How Hard Is the PE Exam – What you should know!

When preparing for the Professional Engineers exam, the question “how hard is the PE exam” is bound to pop up in your head. If you are one of those who are neck-deep in this struggle and want to know all about the PE exam, how difficult it is, what is the passing score, how to score better, and all the questions that are consuming your mental energy, then continue reading. In this blog, we will discuss all the possible questions and concerns you might have in detail.

First thing first, how difficult is the PE exam? The short answer is that it is quite difficult. Of course, that’s for a reason. You only want the most competent engineers to be designing the structures for safety against natural disasters like earthquakes and windstorms and even the less extreme hazards of everyday life.

This professional engineers’ test is a grueling 8-hour long test. Just the time is given to complete it hints at how exhausting and extensive it is. The percentage of successful candidates can be as low as 49% or as high as 82% for first-time takers. The average passing score for the PE power exam is approximately 59 right answers out of 80. If you want to see the pass rate for your desired engineering field, then you can see it in our separate blog NCEES® PE exam pass rates.

PE exams are conducted for various fields of engineering and are either in pencil-and-paper format or the Computer-based testing exam format. The PE Power exam is now conducted in the Computer-based format and NCEES® is in the process of shifting all exams to the computer-based exam format.

Most candidates who attempt the PE electrical engineering and computer exam claim that it is the most difficult exam they have taken in their lives. They never experienced such a nerve-wracking exam throughout their college life. It takes hundreds of hours of practice, a considerable amount of money, several setbacks, and undeterred determination to successfully clear the PE exam.

If you have read up till here and are already questioning why you ever thought of taking this exam, listen up. Although it is extremely difficult, it is not impossible. Although it requires a lot of effort, it’s all worth it in the end. Although the pass rate varies and many people do not clear it on the first attempt, there is always hope. With the right set of mind, resources, and motivation, you can be one of the successful candidates, and look back at your journey in awe and disbelief.

Let’s probe into the question “why is the PE exam so difficult in the first place?”

Why Is the PE Exam So Hard?

Why Is the PE Exam So Hard

Both the content and the time given for the exam account for the PE exam difficulty. It is not easy to sit in one place for 8 hours, much less if you are taking one of the most difficult exams in the world. The mental energy required for you to stay focused for over 8 hours is humongous.

By the end of it, you are not just drained mentally but also physically. Come to think of it, if an engineer cannot successfully pull through this test, how will they be able to sustain themselves in the far more challenging professional world? You can say it is the first real taste of what the future holds for them if they want to be competent and successful engineers.

Secondly, the content is diverse and complicated.

If you are taking the PE Power exam, you must answer 80 questions in 8 hours. The questions will revolve around:

  • General Power Engineering
  • Circuits
  • Rotating Machines and Electrical Power Devices
  • Transmission and Distribution

If you are planning on taking the PE Civil Exam, which is the most common, then the 80 questions broadly fall under 5 categories. They are:

  • Construction
  • Geotechnical
  • Structural
  • Transportation
  • Water

You can assess for yourself how broad these topics are, and what elaborate preparation and practice would be required to answer them. The questions themselves are so advanced that you can only understand what they are asking if you are highly equipped with the relevant knowledge.

However, none of this is to say that you should not take the exam. Instead, all this is to make you realize that the PE exam is going to be the most difficult test of your life. So, buckle up for some intense hard work.

With the right resources and preparation material, you can certainly be one of the successful candidates in your first attempt. Speaking of the right preparation material, you might want to check out our PE Power practice exam.

Let’s move on to the tried-and-tested tips and tricks that can help you score better.

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Steps to Alleviate The PE Exam Difficulty

Steps to Alleviate The PE Exam Difficulty

Preparing for the PE exam could be a nightmare but there are some things that can help you throughout your way. By talking to experts who prepare candidates for the exam and the candidates themselves, we have shortlisted some of the things that they have said to help them prepare better.

Here is what they suggest to ease the PE exam difficulty.

  1. Use Study Guides and Reference Materials
  2. Practice, Practice, and Practice
  3. Seek Help From Previously Successful Candidates

1. Use Study Guides and Reference Materials

This should be a given. While there is no doubt that you will leave no stone unturned to prepare for the test, there are some things that the experts know better. Take help from the preparatory material and resources available online.

You can start by downloading the PE Power Exam Planner for free to keep a track of all the hours of hard work you put in, and also sign up for the PE Power webinar to kickstart your preparation journey.

Apart from the NCEES® PE Reference Handbook and resources which you can find online, you can also take this PE Power Exam Course which has brilliant reviews and a commendable pass rate.

2. Practice, Practice, and Practice

Practice all the PE power exam sample questions that you can find. When you feel you have an adequate grip on the required concepts, level up your preparation by using the official practice exams given by NCEES®. Assess which questions you were able to answer correctly, and where you need more learning and understanding. Each paper is 8 hours long, and you want to practice at least a few. So, keep in mind that this would be considerably time-consuming so plan wisely and start early.

Ideally, you should be able to understand and answer all the questions in the official paper. Devote time to attempting question papers, and you will be able to see how essential they are to preparing for the PE exam.

3. Seek Help From Previously Successful Candidates

Don’t waste time making the mistakes that others who have attempted the test have made. Seek guidance from those who have already passed the test. Ask what worked for them and what did not. Their experience is surely going to enrich you with insight that inexperienced candidates can not.

If you personally don’t know someone who has taken the test, search online groups and put up a post asking for help. Hopefully, you will be surprised to see how many people are willing to help.

If you know someone who was not able to pass the test and can share their learnings, then that’s good too. Apply the lessons they share and make the best use of their learnings.

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The Difficulty of “Nearest” Questions

Often, when you are done with the elaborate calculation for a question and come up with the final answer, you see that your answer doesn’t exactly match the given options.

What do you do now?

You should quickly take a look at your work and check if you have used the right units and made the necessary conversions. If you have extra time, quickly do some of those calculations again. If your answer still comes the same, then choose the one that is closest. For instance, if your answer is 40 W, but the options are 15W, 25W, 45 W, and 60W. Then you should choose 45W.

Sometimes, two of the answers could be close to the answer you calculated. In this case, try to do the calculation again, and stick with the one that is nearest to your answer.

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If you want any motivation to start preparing for the PE exam, it should be knowing that you have passed the FE Exam. That too was an extremely difficult journey. If you can clear that exam, you can clear this too. Remember that after successfully taking this exam, you can officially call yourself an engineer. Doesn’t that make all this hard work worth it?

Set your mind and strengthen your will. With your persistence, best preparatory resources, and hours of practice, you will be one of the successful candidates for this PE Electrical Engineering and Computer Exam.


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.