Is the FE Exam Open Book?

The FE exam is the first step for all engineers to become professional engineers (PE). It is a licensure exam administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES®). After passing the FE exam, you can legally put your engineering skills to work in practice.

Are you the one looking forward to taking the FE exam to establish your engineering career?

Then you might want to know each and everything about the FE exam, and the very first thought that might come up to your mind would be:

Is the FE exam open-book?

To find the answer to your question, continue reading this blog.

What Is the Purpose of the Reference Handbook?

Keeping in mind that the FE exam is computer-based, it’s obvious that it is a closed-book exam.

It means:

When you walk into the testing center for your FE exam, you’ll be asked to leave all reference materials at the door. This includes any FE exam study books, guides, or notes you might have brought with you.

Being unable to bring any reference guide to the testing center could seem quite daunting at first, but you can still pass the FE exam without any hurdles.


You will be supplied with a reference handbook’s pdf version, the sole reference item you can benefit from during your FE Electrical exam preparation. This reference handbook is 494 pages long and approved by the NCEES® for the FE exams based on computer testing format. In addition to being searchable, it contains all the information you’ll require to ace the FE exam.


The NCEES® reference handbook does not contain examples of solved questions and the details needed to solve each exam problem and only includes infographics, tables, formulas, equations, unit conversions, etc. This reference handbook does not cover some fundamental concepts, conversions, equations, and terminologies that test takers must be familiar with.

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Can You Bring a Cheat Sheet to the FE Exam?

Though creating cheat sheets for the toughest FE exam topics is recommended to help memorize the essential information, you can still not bring them to the FE exam center. And the reason for this is the same as we have mentioned above – the FE exam is a closed book test, and the reference handbook is the only item you can utilize throughout your exam.

How long does it take to pass the FE exam? 

The FE exam is crucial to becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE). Naturally, aspiring engineers wonder – how long does it typically take to pass the FE exam? The answer, unfortunately, isn’t a one-size-fits-all. Several factors influence your preparation timeline.

  • Academic Background: Recent engineering graduates likely possess a strong foundation in the exam topics. They require less preparation time than individuals who graduated several years ago or those with non-engineering backgrounds.
  • Study Intensity: The amount of time you dedicate to studying significantly impacts your preparation. Candidates devoting several hours daily will likely be ready sooner than those studying sporadically.
  • Prior Engineering Experience: Practical engineering experience can provide valuable context for the FE exam content. Individuals with relevant work experience might feel more prepared and require less study time.
  • Exam Difficulty: The specific FE exam discipline (e.g., Civil, Electrical, Mechanical) can also influence preparation time. Some disciplines are considered statistically more challenging, requiring more in-depth studying.
  • A Realistic Timeline: While there’s no guaranteed timeframe, many sources suggest a dedicated study period of 2-3 months for recent engineering graduates. This timeframe can increase to 4-6 months for individuals further removed from their academic background or with busier schedules.
  • Focus on Efficiency: Maximizing your study efficiency is crucial regardless of your timeline. Utilize adequate study resources like practice problems, review courses, and the official NCEES FE Reference Handbook.

Consistency and focus throughout your preparation will significantly increase your chances of passing the FE exam on your first attempt.

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.

Are Calculators Allowed?

The FE exam, or Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, is a crucial step for aspiring engineers in the United States. It assesses your understanding of core engineering concepts. Being prepared with the right tools can make a big difference on exam day, and a common question is: can you use a calculator?

The answer is yes but with limitations. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) administers the FE exam and has a strict calculator policy. Only specific models can ensure a level playing field and focus on foundational engineering knowledge.

Approved Calculators

The NCEES approves calculators that perform essential math functions, including:

  • Arithmetic operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division)
  • Exponents and logarithms
  • Trigonometric functions (sine, cosine, tangent, etc.)
  • Basic statistics

Here’s a breakdown of the approved calculator models:

  • Casio: All fx-115 and fx-991 models
  • Hewlett-Packard: HP 33s and HP 35s models only
  • Texas Instruments: All TI-30X and TI-36X models

Important Tips

  • Familiarize yourself with your chosen calculator beforehand. Don’t waste valuable exam time figuring out functions.
  • Double-check the NCEES website for the latest information on approved models, and you can also check out our list of the best calculators for your FE exams. .
  • Practice using your calculator to solve typical FE exam problems. This will boost your confidence and efficiency.

While the FE exam doesn’t require complex calculations, having a permitted calculator can save you time and mental strain, allowing you to focus on applying your engineering knowledge to solve problems effectively. By understanding the calculator policy and practicing beforehand, you can ensure this tool becomes an asset, not a hindrance, on your path to becoming a licensed engineer.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1- Can you bring notes to the FE exam?

No. You cannot bring notes to the FE exam. In fact, you cannot take any of your FE exam prep books inside the examination hall. You will only be given access to an electronic version of the NCEES® reference handbook during your FE exam.

2- Can you bring a calculator to the FE exam?

Yes, you can bring a calculator to the FE exam. But it is important to note that you can only bring FE-approved calculators to the exam. These calculators are approved by NCEES® and include the following:

Casiofx-115 and fx-991
Hewlett PackardHP 33s and HP 35s
Texas InstrumentsTI-30X and TI-36X

You can check out our separate article to learn about the TI-36X pro calculator tips and tricks for the FE exam.

3- What should I do before the FE exam?

Make sure to tick in all the following boxes before the FE exam:

  • Buy the NCEES® FE Reference Handbook. We recommend you download the PDF version as you will be provided with an electronic copy during the exam, not the printed one.
  • Create a study schedule.
  • Recognize the topics in which you are weak. Work out on them.
  • Learn to use your calculator properly.
  • Take practice exams and solve as many FE practice problems as you can.

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From the details provided in this article, we can more appropriately refer to the FE exam as a partial reference exam than an open book exam. It is because apart from the NCEES® reference handbook, you cannot bring or use any other FE review manuals during the exam.

You can buy a printed version of the reference handbook or download the free pdf copy by navigating through your MyNCEES® account. However, it is strongly suggested to download the pdf copy and become familiar with it as you will be getting the reference handbook in an electronic format on your FE exam day.

We hope this article helped you clarify your doubts regarding “is the FE exam open book?” For more informative articles like this, head over to our blog section.


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.