Is the FE Exam Hard? Here’s What to Expect

One pressing question for engineering students planning to take the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam is often asked: Is the FE exam hard? The NCEES®-administered FE exam tests knowledge and understanding and requires a great deal of commitment before one can achieve success.

In simple terms, the answer to this is yes and no. Succeeding on the FE exam requires dedicated effort and a tenacious attitude. To conquer this arduous test, you must be willing to review, revise, and strengthen your understanding of all concepts learned throughout college. If you don’t have such an attitude, then no doubt the FE exam is challenging.

But on the other hand, if you have developed a good understanding of the engineering concepts in your degree and have the innate ability to work hard and attain your goals through mental and physical alignment, then the FE exam is not a hard exam to undertake or pass.

The exam comprises 110 multiple-choice questions and spans nearly 6 hours, including breaks and instructions. Core subjects, as well as specialized engineering subjects, are covered in this examination.

To help you better understand how hard the FE exam can be, let us take you on tour to explore and match the realities and expectations of the FE exam and how you can prepare yourself mentally to appear in the exam along with intense and focused study-based preparation.

Is The FE Exam Hard?

How hard is the FE exam

How hard is the FE exam? There are a couple of factors that make the FE exam difficult. First, some problems on the exam require the students to point and click on answers,  fill in the blanks with the right answer, or even drag and drop the correct answer, making them more challenging to predict.

Examinees who have successfully graduated from a 4-year degree program in electrical engineering will likely be familiar with the FE exam’s content.

Let’s look at a breakdown of what the FE exam is like:

The total exam time is 5 hours and 20 minutes. 110 questions are broken up into two halves. You can take a 25-minute pause between portions in the second part of the examination, which has 50-60 problems.

Since the allotted time for the exam is 5 hours and 20 minutes, a 25-minute interval set for a break isn’t accounted for in the total exam time. If you do not take a break, you will not be able to spend time dealing with questions in the second section of the exam.

A PDF edition of the FE Reference Handbook will be available to you during the FE test. We have a separate blog that will help you learn how to get the FE Reference Handbook.

There are almost 500 pages of equations in the FE Reference Handbook to help you with any difficulty you run into. In addition, all of the exam-related formulas are contained in this reference guide.

Because many theoretical problems do not require equations, the FE Reference Handbook will not be of much help for such conceptual questions. However, conceptual-theoretical challenges account for 15% of the topics you will find. So for the rest of the 85%, the Reference Handbook is a MUST!

Furthermore, candidates are only allowed to use FE-approved calculators. During the exam, you will be given markers and a spiral book to use for a manual calculation.

Considering the test lasts more than 5 hours, it can be psychologically and physically taxing. However, taking the FE exam and applying everything all at once is an entirely different ballgame, which means the FE exam is complex and challenging.

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What Does the FE Exam Consist Of?

The FE test covers material covered in an EAC/ABET, Inc. approved B.S. engineering degree program. It covers a wide range of engineering topics in a suitable manner. The test consists of 110 problems to solve, as we mentioned earlier.

Most college students studying an engineering field have the opportunity to take the FE exam while still in college. One of the best ways to prepare for the FE exam, for two reasons, is to study while completing an engineering degree. First, it is very likely that the information has been studied recently and is fresh in mind. Second, if there are questions about the study material, there is expected quick access to classmates, instructors, courses, or books that can help answer those questions.

It is best to use many small efforts over a long period of time when studying for FE. Whether someone preparing for the FE exam is still in college or graduated, studies must begin at least three months before the test date. Some find it helpful to take just one or two subjects per week for the first month so there is a constant focus on the subjects in question. Taking FE practice exams can also help. As the test date approaches, one should examine sample issues from all engineering-related areas to help ensure that the material is less likely to be forgotten.

A beneficial tip for FE exam preparation is ensuring you get suitable study materials. The university exams or personal property available from acquaintances certainly have all kinds of relevant problems that can help the study. NCEES® offers many study materials for sale, including books containing sample questions and answers. The NCEES® Study Book is valuable because it indicates the exact format of the questions in the FE.

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What’s the Experience Like of Giving the FE Exam?

In your first attempt at the exam, only attempt to answer questions you are sure about. Every second counts when passing the FE exam, so don’t waste it. When you take your exam for the first time, only answer the questions you are sure of. Don’t answer questions you’re unsure of. Instead, return to them later if you’re confident.

There is no time to waste, so you must attempt as many questions as possible. Regardless of how difficult the questions are or how much you know about the subject matter, many people take the exam, dealing with one problem at a time.

A drawback of this strategy is that it may avert you from answering other questions you could quickly answer because you didn’t have enough time to get to them. To avoid this mistake, focus on the easier problems and tackle the more difficult ones later.

One of the most common mistakes students make is to hand in their exams early, even though they have plenty of time remaining. Double or triple-check all of your answers on both halves of the exam. For example, if you get through half of a test early, don’t just hand it in and move on. Double-check your answers to any questions you had difficulty with, especially those that were difficult for you.

The difference between passing and failing an exam may be as simple as finding a mistake in one or two questions. Use the extra time to double-check or recalculate any unsure answers. Even though time is a significant consideration, DO NOT rush through the exam!

Preparing for an exam by taking practice exams in a timed environment will help you better understand how long each problem takes so you don’t rush through it and make mistakes. Once again, a single blunder can mean the difference between passing and failing an exam.

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What’s The Passing Ratio For The FE Exam?

The current FE Exam pass rates are as follows:

  • FE Chemical: 73%
  • FE Civil: 62%
  • FE Electrical and Computer: 73%
  • FE Environmental: 70%
  • FE Industrial: 62%
  • FE Mechanical: 71%
  • FE Other Disciplines: 65%

Is the FE Exam Difficulty the Same for Every Candidate?

No, NCEES® provides a scaled score for exam comparisons because the difficulty level of the exam varies from person to person, and the scale is necessary for that purpose.

A large problem bank that the NCEES® develops with the help of volunteers has been used to generate unique questions for the exam. The NCEES® sets passing scores that are not influenced by the achievement of other examinees. When you look at the pass rates for each exam, you’ll see that they vary year over year.

Factors Influencing FE Exams Difficulty

 Your Engineering Background: Recent engineering graduates likely have a stronger foundation in the exam topics than individuals further removed from their academic studies or those with non-engineering backgrounds. This gap in foundational knowledge can significantly impact perceived difficulty. Imagine a Civil Engineering graduate tackling fluid mechanics problems compared to someone without a recent engineering background – the level of prior exposure plays a significant role.

Study Habits and Time Commitment: The amount of dedicated study time is a powerful tool in your exam preparedness. By dedicating several hours daily to studying practice problems, reviewing core concepts, and actively engaging with the material, you can boost your confidence. Remember, consistency is key! There’s no magic formula for the perfect study time, but many sources suggest a dedicated study period of 2-3 months for recent engineering graduates, potentially increasing to 4-6 months for individuals with less recent academic exposure.

Exam Discipline Matters: The specific FE exam discipline you take (e.g., Civil, Electrical, Mechanical) can also influence perceived difficulty. Some disciplines are statistically more challenging and require a deeper understanding of concepts. For instance, the FE Electrical and Computer exam might involve complex circuit analysis problems compared to the FE Chemical exam, which might focus more on chemical reaction fundamentals. Understanding the specific demands of your chosen discipline can help you tailor your study approach and set realistic expectations.

These factors contribute to the subjective experience of the FE exam’s difficulty. By recognizing these influences and implementing effective study strategies, you can approach the exam with confidence and a clear roadmap to success.

If you’re seeking a comprehensive resource for your FE Electrical exam preparation, check out our FE Electrical Exam Prep course.

Our proven, on-demand content and live training have successfully helped thousands of students pass their FE exam.

What’s a Passing Score on The FE Exam?

The average passing score for the FE exam is 70%. However, to be on the safe side, remember that these figures are subject to sudden shifts.

This is because the board uses the test takers’ minimum ability score to calculate the score. In addition, test scores may not reflect the difficulty of a test if the number of people taking it is higher than average. Therefore, the fluctuation in the passing score may not be an accurate reflection of the tests’ difficulty. Ensure that the preparations are adequate to deal with these issues.

Is Curved Scoring Used in FE Exam?

The FE exam is not scored based on the curved scoring method. This means that the scoring is not done on a comparable basis, and candidates are not marked based on a normal distribution. This is done to protect the sanctity of the exam itself and ensure that it is fair and that no means of cheating or other unfair practices are conducted during the exam duration. All candidates receive questions that are unique but of the same difficulty level.

The NCEES® determines the passing scores for each exam, and examinees are not marked compared or relative to each other’s score. However, a general trend observed is that the passing scores are falling yearly for reasons that may be attributed to the exam’s difficulty level.

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How to Prepare for the FE Exam?

How to Prepare for the FE Exam

As we have discussed earlier, the difficulty level of the FE exam depends on how well-prepared you are to take it and how you approach the preparation process.

To make this voyage uncomplicated for you and help you take the FE exam, we suggest the following tips and methods to make the preparation journey a detailed, focused, and in the end, successful endeavor for you. To explore our suggestions in more detail, along with expert advice, we suggest you check out our detailed guide for preparing for the FE exam in electrical engineering.

1. Collect and Organize All Relevant Material

Before starting your prep for the FE exam, you must gather all relevant study material and resources and organize them by subject, type, and any other relevant organization category you deem appropriate.

First and foremost, you need to get your hand on the Latest NCEES® FE Reference Handbook. This is a collection of formulae, equations, charts, and tables relevant to the exam’s subjects. During the test, applicants are given an electronic version of the FE handbook to help them answer questions.

Secondly, you must procure a Study Guide for Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Electrical & Computer CBT Exam by Wasim Asghar P.E, P.Eng, M.Eng. This is the ultimate guide for the FE exam, covering all 17 sections and over 700 practice questions.

2. Make a Realistic Schedule

Once you have collected all the relevant study material, you must make a schedule to align and dedicate proper time to the preparation. Remember to keep this schedule realistic, along with the presence of breaks.

It is recommended that you divide the schedule subject-wise. Dedicate time to one subject and move on to the next once the preparation is complete. Studying two or more issues/topics at the same time reduces efficiency and causes confusion as well.

3. Follow a Thorough and Detailed Approach

When studying and preparing for the FE exam, you must follow a comprehensive approach and cover every topic, whether it may seem easy or difficult and even sometimes relevant or irrelevant. This is because you never know what kind of question and from which topic you might face in the examination.

Once you have covered a subject in a detailed manner, attempt relevant questions from the practice questions to check and evaluate your preparation.

4. Stay Focused and Determined

The study process for preparing for the FE exam might seem cumbersome and lengthy at some point, but you must remain focused and steadfast and focus on your end goal, which is passing the FE exam.

Once your preparation is complete and you feel satisfied, you must also be prepared to expect anything because the passing score for the FE exam changes every year. Therefore, experts suggest that after giving the exam, one should mentally prepare themselves for a second attempt if needed.

5. Take a Break When Needed

You must not exhaust yourself and burn out. Instead, take a break to reenergize and refresh your mind to refocus with increased zeal and zest.

Always remember that good preparation and retention happen when the mind is relaxed and not overburdened. Check out our blog on ways to improve retention during your FE exam preparation to ace your exam on the first try.

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With the engineering community abuzz about how challenging professional exams can be, one of the most sought-after questions remains: Is the FE Exam Hard? Contrary to popular belief, with sufficient dedication and effort, this exam is totally achievable. So don’t let difficulty stop you from reaching your goal!

So, what are you waiting for? Utilize the tips and guidance we have mentioned in this blog and the detailed advice we have provided on our website to achieve your goal and pass this exam to start your professional engineering career as soon as possible.


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.