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Preparing for the FE Exam

By Christopher Medora posted 12-12-2019 05:37 PM


The Fundamentals of Engineering – or FE – exam is a great way to test (pun intended) what students learned while pursuing their undergraduate engineering degrees.

Although the exam is in the same format for every examinee, it is an entirely different experience from person to person. Because of this, there isn’t one perfect way to prepare for the FE exam, but here are some tips and tricks that helped me pass:

1. Familiarize yourself with the “FE Reference Handbook”

Every examinee is given the same reference to use during the FE exam. In preparation for the exam, I took my time to go through the handbook, looking through each section and picking out equations I was not familiar with and seeing how I could manipulate the equation to solve a problem. It is easier to decide which formula to use if you have seen it before and know where to look during the exam.

2. Take a practice exam

NCEES has practice exam books available on its website. I borrowed a copy from a friend, and sitting down and treating it like the real thing helped me gauge how ready I was and what I needed to focus my time on studying.

A good time to take a practice exam may be after you have covered all you believe you need to know or during the week of your exam. I did both, and it really helped me gauge my progress.

3. Do practice problems

If you are unable to access a practice exam, there are plenty of free resources online that provide PowerPoint slides with step-by-step problem-solving and practice problems (feel free to contact me for some of the ones I used!).

Friends or upperclassmen who have already passed the FE can be great resources as well. They may be able to give you their own study materials. Chances are, they have no more need for what they used to study and won’t mind passing their resources along.

4. Know yourself

One of the most critical things you can do to prepare for the FE exam is to understand yourself. I am personally not the best test-taker, and I hate to skip questions during exams. The great thing about the FE exam being computer-based is that you can flag or skip a question you don’t know and you will be able to review all of your answers before submitting each half of the exam.

When I took the FE exam, I made it a point to recognize this, and I trained myself to read through each question and put it into one of three categories:

  1. Without hesitation, I know how to do this problem so I will attack it immediately.
  2. I thought I knew what I was doing but I’m stuck halfway through, so I flag the problem and will go back to it after answering everything I know.
  3. I have absolutely no idea how to even begin this problem, therefore I am going to completely skip this problem and save it for the end of the session.

At the end of the section, there is a review screen that alerts you of any unanswered questions that need to be resolved. It also brings up any questions you flagged throughout the exam.

The FE exam is definitely a tough exam, but it is well worth all your preparation when all’s said and done! Lastly, take it easy the day before you take the FE. Do some practice problems, but do not force yourself to learn any new material. If you don’t know it already that close to the exam, it’s no use stressing yourself out more with new material when you have the opportunity to perfect topics you already have a grasp on. Get some rest the night before!

Don’t forget, there’s no right way to prepare for the FE exam, only the right way for you! Ask friends or coworkers for advice and resources, and don’t be afraid to overprepare. During the exam, relax and remember the FE exam is like a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself and take a breather when you feel yourself hitting a mental roadblock.

Good luck!

Christopher Medora is a highway designer at Gannett Fleming. He graduated from Villanova University in May 2018 with his B.S. in Civil Engineering and minors in Mathematics and Theology. He is involved with the (ASCE) Philly YMF, American Society of Highway Engineers (ASHE) DelVal Section, and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE). He enjoys hanging out with friends, listening to and performing music, exploring the city of Philadelphia, and trying new places to eat and drink!​

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1 comment

05-12-2020 03:04 PM

Hi Christopher,

These are the same techniques I used when I took my FE exam. One of the most helpful advice is #4 and #1, knowing ourselves and identifying our weaknesses is crucial to improving our strengths. If we don't know what subject or category we are weak in, it is difficult to find a way to improve. And knowing our resources well enough to know how some formulas are presented in the reference book lets us know ahead of time which equations we might need to solve for or memorize.