Passing the Principles and Practices (PE) exam is a high achievement for engineers. It represents responsibility-high expectations, priorities, and demands-and operating with an even greater standard of care to protect the health, safety, and welfare of society. The traditional path to achieve this success is to first obtain an undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate degree from an ABET-accredited institution and successfully pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. To obtain PE licensure, you must gain at least four years’ experience and pass the PE exam. Some states require you to have the experience before you take the exam. Each year, students have two opportunities to prepare for and pass the exam administered through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). There are many resources available to students to assist them through this process. Selecting the most appropriate study material, developing a study schedule, and implementing test-taking strategies and techniques can present challenges. Many people don’t know how to begin to prepare for such an exam. There is an abundance of resources available to examinees, such as publications, refresher courses, and practice exams. Concepts, exam problems, and scoring also change with each exam offering.
To begin preparing for the exam, candidates must submit an application with all requirements and be approved to take the exam by their respective licensing boards. Candidates must also register for examination directly through the NCEES (www.ncees.org). Each exam offered by the NCEES has downloadable specifications that provide concepts examinees will be tested on. The PE exam is an eight-hour, open-book exam containing 40 breadth questions in the morning portion and 40 depth questions in the afternoon portion. The NCEES offers 17 different PE exams that correspond to different engineering disciplines. All exam specifications contain design standards that test the specific knowledge of that depth discipline.
It is highly recommended that students obtain the correct editions of all design standards required for their respective disciplines. Design standards are undoubtedly expensive, and often candidates must purchase these references with no financial assistance. Although expensive, candidates must adopt the perspective that the PE exam is a worthy career investment. The chances for a successful outcome vary linearly with the amount of resources utilized. Design standards are large and can be overwhelming to examinees, especially if they aren’t used in everyday practice.
It is also highly advisable that students opt to take a PE exam preparation course to help them navigate through design publications. Courses such as those offered by School of PE review concepts with students and teach them the most effective way to study. Courses are developed by practicing engineers and past exam data. Another useful tool is for candidates to obtain supplemental publications that will allow them to practice problems. The NCEES and School of PE offer students that opportunity through exam practice problems. The more candidates practice working through problems, the better their chances for success. Candidates should end exam preparation with timed practice exams.