Why You Failed the PE Exam?

You took your Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam last week and are anxiously waiting for your results to be released on Wednesday morning. Now that Wednesday has arrived, you are constantly checking your MyNCEES® account to find out how you did. You finally receive a notification at your MyNCEES® account.

You look at it while your heart is pumping – just to find out that you failed the PE exam.

A wave of anxiety washes over you. And a question pops up in your mind: Why couldn’t I pass the PE exam?

You spent so much time studying and now you’re not sure that you’ll be able to do it all over again. You hate everything about the exam and feel that it was all a waste of time, effort, and money as you’ll have to go through the process all over again.

So, how should you go about preparing for your second shot at the PE exam?

In order to retake the PE exam, you’ll first need to figure out why you failed the PE exam. Don’t worry, we’re here to help. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the common reasons why candidates fail the PE exam and also share with you some tips to pass it in the next attempt.

Top Reasons Why You Failed the PE Exam

Reasons Why You Failed the PE Exam

There can be several reasons for failing at something. The PE exam is no different. We have compiled a list of some common reasons that can result in a failed PE exam attempt and these include: not preparing sufficiently, not knowing the material well enough, or simply not being able to perform well on the exam.

In addition to these broad reasons, there may be other reasons that are specific to your individual scenario such as exam anxiety, personal/professional workload, life events, emergencies, exam day mishaps, etc.

So let’s start by taking a look at some of the main reasons why you probably failed the PE exam:

1. Underprepared

One of the significant causes of failing the PE exam is not being fully prepared for the exam. Many students think that quickly reviewing the exam specification, NCEES® Reference Handbook, and working through some problems may be good enough to pass the exam – but trust us, that is not the case.

Skipping your weakest subjects is not a sensible exam preparation plan. You should study all knowledge areas as per the latest NCEES® specification, not just the topics where you already feel comfortable. Even in the topics that you are feeling comfortable with, it is important to develop a deep level of understanding which may require you to go into great depths.

PE exam is very different from the FE exam because it tests your depth of understanding as compared to the FE exam which tests your fundamental understanding of the concepts. As you progress from the FE exam to the PE exam, it is important to adjust your mindset and study approach from surface-level learning to deep learning. 

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2. Poor Time Management During the Exam

When students ask, Why can’t I pass the PE exam, they are unaware of the most common mistake they make while studying for and taking the PE exam, which is failing to recognize the importance of time.

Not taking into consideration time management, students get stuck on one problem for more than six minutes – ultimately causing them to run out of time and fail the PE exam.

It is important to keep an eye on the clock during the exam and not to spend too much time on any single question. You should flag the difficult questions without wasting too much time on any individual question.

After you have solved all the ‘doable’ questions you should come back to the flagged questions and take a shot at them. This will guarantee that you don’t waste excessive amounts of time on problems that are out of your league and will also ensure that you score points on questions that are within your league.

3. Lack of Rest / Getting Stressed

Another common reason for not passing the PE exam is not taking enough rest and burning yourself out while studying for long hours without taking any breaks.

The PE exam is a tough project that requires candidates to have a solid understanding of engineering principles across a range of topics. It’s no surprise that many candidates struggle to get proper rest in the days leading up to the exam.

Most students are under the impression that they need to study relentlessly in order to pass the PE exam. While it’s definitely important to review the material, it’s also crucial to get a good night’s sleep. A lack of rest can lead to fatigue, excessive stress, and decreased focus, which can sabotage your efforts to pass the test.

4. Underestimated the Difficulty of the Exam

Taking the exam difficulty level as not a big deal and hitting the books just a week before the exam in the hope that you will pass the exam easily is another reason why you failed the PE exam.

It could also be possible that you didn’t find enough to study and kept living in the fool’s paradise that the reference handbook will save you at the last moment.

If I didn’t comprehend the fundamental concepts necessary to address the problems in the first place, the references wouldn’t be of any use to me.

That’s why it is important to realize here that you can only make full use of the reference handbook if you comprehend the fundamental concepts necessary to address the questions in the first place.  

5. Didn’t Study With the Right Materials

Studying is not enough to pass the PE exam, but studying from the right reference material is!

You are being unable to pass the PE exam on your first try might be because you perused through outdated-college books or references.

Your prep sessions might have gone well, but when it came time to take the exam, you discovered that some of the problems weren’t in your review notes, leaving you completely stunned.

Therefore, you should always keep an eye on the latest reference material and use authentic and appropriate material for studying. You can also benefit from your diagnostic report to identify your weak areas or topics in which you didn’t perform well. You can then concentrate on them to solidify your concepts.

6. You Are Being Distracted While Studying

Distractions are everywhere, whether in the form of using smartphones, surfing social media sites, reading your favorite novel, or watching football matches. And probably, these distractions might have caused you to pay a hefty cost – failing the PE exam.

Or maybe you were distracted by some events you had to attend, and despite having a solid study schedule, you could not dedicate the entire amount of time to your studies because of your personal or professional responsibilities.

For this reason, it is always advisable to defer your PE exam if you have an important life event until you are fully available to devote sufficient time to PE exam preparation. Setting your mobile phone to airplane mode or keeping the gadgets out of your reach may also help you avoid distractions and concentrate properly on your studies.

7. Exam Stress and Anxiety

Ultimately, the reason for failing your PE exam might be the severe exam stress and anxiety you took while studying or at the time of the exam.

Suppose you felt anxious to the point where you completely went blank answering a particular exam question even if you knew it well. In that case, you might have experienced exam anxiety then. Due to this, it might have become challenging for you to recall your lessons and focus on the problems at hand.

It might be challenging to overcome exam anxiety, especially if you’ve failed the PE exam. It’s possible that you don’t feel your performance will be satisfactory to pass the exam and that you’ll unavoidably fail it once again.

Still, you can reduce your anxiety by doing certain things on exam night, like eating your favorite dish, listening to relaxing music, and thinking back on how many challenges you’ve overcome to pass the FE exam.

On the PE exam day, feeding your brain with optimistic statements like “I prepared for this, I remember the information that is being asked in the question” can also help you alleviate your test anxiety and perform better on the exam.

PE Exam Passing Rates of 2022

PE Exam Passing Rates

The NCEES® PE exam passing rates of both first-time takers and repeat takers for the year 2022 are as follows:

Exam DisciplineFirst-Time Takers (%)Repeat Takers (%)
Agricultural and Biological82%N/A
Civil: Construction53%37%
Civil: Geotechnical54%30%
Civil: Structural62%42%
Civil: Transportation63%41%
Civil: Water Resources and Environmental67%44%
Control Systems67%43%
Electrical and Computer: Computer Engineering49%N/A
Electronics, Controls, and Communications69%N/A
Electrical and Computer: Power58%47%
Fire Protection82%59%
Industrial and Systems66%35%
Mechanical: HVAC and Refrigeration71%54%
Mechanical: Machine Design and Materials73%46%
Mechanical: Thermal and Fluids Systems70%34%
Metallurgical and Materials82%25%
Mining and Mineral Processing51%N/A
Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering62%33%

How to Pass the PE Exam on Your Next Attempt

Pass the PE Exam

If you didn’t pass the PE exam on the first attempt, don’t worry – it’s not uncommon.

There are plenty of things you can do to increase your chances of passing the exam on the next attempt.

1. Understand the Preparation Process

We recommend that you revisit your PE exam preparation process and see how you can improve it.

Ask yourself these tough questions:

  • Did you plan your preparation for the PE exam months in advance but ended up studying only weeks before the exam?
  • Did you study inconsistently or set aside time to study on a regular basis?
  • Did you study deeply, or did you assume you already knew most of the details?
  • Did you use effective exam preparation resources?

Understanding exactly what you did to prepare the first time is crucial to boosting your chances of passing the PE exam the second time.

2. Change your Study Strategy

Consider what resources you used and how you used them to study for the PE exam. Did you work through many practice questions to get familiar with your NCEES® Reference Handbook? Did you use content retrieval to quiz yourself on key definitions, concepts, and equations?

Keep track of all of your exam preparation resources, courses, textbooks, reference YouTube videos, and PE practice exam problems. Then, use this list as a guide to examine what worked and what didn’t and devise new strategies before retaking the PE exam.

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3. Focus on Your Weak Areas Instead of Trying To Achieve a “Passing Score”

You can significantly improve your chances of passing the PE exam by concentrating on your weak areas links rather than being obsessed about achieving the passing score of the PE exam. Because of the wide variety of topics and variations of problems that can be asked within each topic, you shouldn’t expect that just retaking the exam multiple times without changing your approach significantly will help you achieve your goal.

Multiple attempts can leave you discouraged as you continue seeing new problems on the exam each time. Moreover, if you don’t study deeply, some of those problems can be utterly unfamiliar to you, even after repeatedly studying your strong topics over and over again.

So instead of wasting too much time practicing the same problems you already know just to bolster your ego, spend time on new and challenging exam topics that are clearly your weak areas.

4. Reinforce Your Strengths

The best way to cement the concepts that you’ve learned is to reinforce them by actively recalling them through practice problems and theoretical reviews. If you didn’t get a practice question correct or are deceived by the pseudo-right answer trick, mark it and go over it again and again until you grasp the underlying concept. Then, look for similar questions and compare them to make sure you understood the theory and concept for not just the particular question but the entire knowledge area.

After that, create your own list of such topics and questions so that you can revisit them later on. This approach will allow you to solidify your understanding of strong areas and make you comfortable with weak topics. Push yourself as much as possible. It’s recommended to work on ten challenging problems per day that are completely new rather than practicing 50 fundamental and easy problems.

5. Avoid going ‘too deep’ in knowledge areas

Even though the PE exam tests you on your depth of understanding, sometimes you may find yourself going too deep into some concepts which are counter-productive. Finding the right balance is very important.

There are several topics on the PE exam that qualify as specializations in themselves. For example, power system engineers can spend their entire career as ‘protection specialists’ which is just a small portion of the overall PE Power exam. Therefore it is important to balance the big-picture view of the exam with deep learning.

6. Adopt the ‘learning mindset’ not the ‘passing mindset’

When you switch your mindset from trying to pass the exam to trying to learn the topics, it can do wonders. This approach will help you enjoy your exam preparation and also reduce stress because your goal is to gain a better understanding of the exam topics rather than pushing yourself to score a certain percentage.

Due to this paradigm shift, you will be able to learn difficult concepts more effectively without the pressure of exam preparation. It will take some time to get used to this approach but once you adopt it and stick with it, this strategy will start delivering results very quickly. Your daily/weekly study session will not seem like a burden and you might actually start looking forward to them.

Effective Online PE Exam Preparation Course

If you have failed the PE exam the first time around especially after trying it on your own, you’ll most likely benefit from an effective exam preparation course to help streamline your efforts. Because without effective preparation resources, retaking this high-stakes exam will probably result in the same outcome as before.

If you are a power systems engineer who is preparing for the PE Power exam then you can consider taking our online PE Power exam preparation course, which can help you in filling in the gaps in your preparation and pass your PE Power exam in your next attempt.

This course contains 100+ lectures and quizzes, theoretical explanations, and detailed solutions that will help you cover all exam sections as per the latest NCEES® specifications.


It will enable you to gain mastery in the relevant knowledge areas and develop skills to solve problems of different types. The on-demand nature of this course will provide you with the freedom to learn whenever, from wherever, and at your own pace.

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The PE exam is not a walk in the park and it can be exceedingly difficult to pass the exam on the first attempt especially if you are not using effective exam preparation resources and don’t have the right plan.

PE exam is designed to ensure that the engineers who are about to qualify as professional engineers are meeting an outlined competency requirement in their specialization because very soon they will be authorized to design, build, supervise, maintain and operate systems that are critical to public safety and progress.

But, if you couldn’t pass the PE exam, it does not imply that you should abandon your ambitions of becoming a licensed professional engineer. Instead, you should persevere to keep the dream alive and take a step back to review your exam preparation strategy before diving back into it again.

We hope reading this article gives you a better understanding of why you failed the PE exam on the first attempt, its passing rates, and what steps you can take to pass the exam on the next attempt.


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.