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Your experience taking the exam (FE and PE exams)

  • 19 April, 2021

My personal experience with the FE and PE exams was quite challenging. I hope that by sharing my story, I encourage others in similar situations to pursue the road less travelled.

I graduated from college with a chemical engineering degree, and after working in that sector for a year, I transitioned to the environmental engineering field. As soon as I joined an environmental consulting firm, I was faced with the choice to pursue the PE license by taking the FE exam. It took me 3 years to come to the decision to study for the FE exam. The reasons being:

  • Studying would take time away from my personal and work life. I had a 1-year-old son, and other than my spouse, I had little support.
  • Four years had passed since I'd been in school.
  • I would have to learn environmental engineering topics from scratch.
  • Figuring out whether environmental engineering would be my career path.

Knowing that a PE license could set me apart and make me a more confident engineer, I decided to give it a shot.

Taking an online course would optimize my studying strategy - so I signed up with the School of PE for a 3-month long weekend FE course. I must admit that it was pretty daunting that most of the topics were completely new for me. But it was also comforting to know that the FE course was all encompassing, which meant that if I studied all the chapters in the course, I would be fine. Outside of the 6-hour long weekend classes, I committed to studying 2 hours before work each day, and 1 hour during lunch break. I did lots of practice problems which helped me understand concepts better. I focused on topics that weighted more heavily in the exam. I did two practice exams a week before the exam and went through a third exam the day before the exam.

Your experience taking the exam (FE and PE exams)

Exam day was surreal to me. I had this adrenalin rush which helped me focus on the computer screen and answer questions during the exam. I was trained in my FE course to quickly skip through questions I did not know and first answer questions that I was comfortable with. The downside of that was that I spent time reading through questions, before skipping ones I didn't know right away, which ate up time during the exam. A lot of questions were plug and chug for me, meaning if you searched for key words and found the relevant formula in the handbook, you were all set. In the last 8 minutes of the exam, I still had 18 unanswered questions. I quickly went over them and made the best engineering assumptions to answer those questions, without having to actually solve them.

My experience studying for the PE exam was better. I took the PE exam only a year after my FE exam, so a lot of the concepts were still fresh in my mind. I modeled my studying around what I had done for the FE exam. I opted to take the recorded version of the School of PE course, which still allowed me to reach out to instructors with questions. I listened to the recorded lectures several times to prepare. I recall spending a good 4 months studying for the PE exam. There were times when I felt I wasn't ready. I took three practice exams the week of the exam and did a lot of practice problems in the weeks leading up to the exam. Ideally, you would want to take these exams well ahead of time. On exam day, adrenalin rush made me focus for those 8 long hours. The exam questions were very similar to what my PE course had prepared me for, which was very helpful. I was getting tired near the end of the exam, and when I wanted to give up and move on, I thought of all the sacrifices my family had made to reach this point. I came out of the exam, feeling unsure, and thinking I would have to re-take it. I passed.

Studying for the FE and PE exams were hard, but attainable. Taking the exam made me better at my job - I look at every project from an ethical and safety standpoint. It also feels great to have a P.E. designation after my name! Good luck on your journey to becoming a licensed P.E.!

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