Earning your Professional Engineering (PE) certification proves that you’re one of the most qualified engineers out there. Passing the PE exam proves that you’re a master in your chosen branch of engineering.
However, passing the test and earning professional licensure can be a very difficult endeavor if you don’t know what you’re getting into.
Before you start preparing for the test you’ll want to know what the prerequisites are, what the exam is like, and how difficult it is to pass. I’ve gone ahead and put all that information together for easy access.
That info can be found below— keep reading to learn more about all the most important professional engineering requirements!
Professional Engineer Educational Requirements
To start, every PE exam engineering candidate needs to complete a 4 year college degree. This degree must be in a related field to your particular engineering discipline— for example, a Mechanical Engineering degree is ideal for aspiring mechanical engineers, Chemical Engineering is the best fit for future chemical engineers, and Civil Engineering is preferred for civil engineering candidates.
After that you need to pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and earn your Engineer in Training (EIT) status. Make sure that you choose the correct branch of engineering for your FE; branches can’t be mixed and matched when working towards a PE certification!
After completing all your education requirements, it’s time for you to work on the other PE exam prep requirements.
Work Experience Requirements for Professional Engineers
It’s time to focus on building up work experience after completing your education requirement and passing the FE exam.
PE Exam Requirements by State
Currently, the minimum experience requirements for most states is 4 years. Some may require more work so make sure to check with your state’s engineering board. For example, you may need up to 10 years if your state allows you to take the PE exam without passing the FE first. However, this is a very rare case.
All engineering work experience must be completed under the direct supervision of a licensed PE. Once they’ve signed off on your work experience you’ll be good to go. All that’s left is to sign up for and pass the FE exam.
Make sure to check out the NCEES website for a more detailed breakdown of engineering prerequisites.
Professional Engineering Exam Format
Formats for the exam differ based on your chosen engineering discipline. However, there are some commonalities between all of the tests.
Typically the exam will be between 80-85 questions. Each question is multiple choice and focused on a major component of your chosen engineering branch. You’ll need to complete the exam within 9.5 hours. This time limit includes a 10 minute tutorial of your testing software and a 50 minute break midway through the test.
Topics explored on the exam are based on which engineering discipline you’ve chosen. There are currently 16 different versions of the PE exam:
|Engineering Discipline||# of Exam Questions||Time Limit||Exam Fee||Learn More|
|Agricultural and Biological Engineering||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Architectural Engineering||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Chemical Engineering||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Civil: Construction||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Civil: Geotechnical||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Civil: Structural||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Civil: Transportation||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Civil: Water Resources and Environmental||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Control Systems||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Electrical and Computer: Computer Engineering||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Electrical and Computer: Electronics, Controls, and Communications||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Electrical and Computer: Power||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Environmental||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Fire Protection||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Industrial and Systems||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Mechanical||80||9 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Metallurgical and Materials||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Mining and Mineral Processing||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Nuclear||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Petroleum||85||9.5 Hours||$375||Click Here|
|Structural||86-88||16 Hours (2 Days)||Varies||Click Here|
Each one comes with an exam blueprint that breaks down exactly what topics are tested and how many questions are dedicated to each content area. Study this well since it’s the best way to know exactly what you’re going to be tested on.
PE Exam Costs
As you can see from the above chart, the NCEES charges $375 to register for the PE exam. Certain states may also ask you to pay their state boards on top of this fee. Make sure you’ve completed all prerequisites ahead of time— this fee is non-refundable and you will be charged a 2nd time if you need to redo your application.
Also, keep in mind that there are a few other costs associated with this exam. PE exams must be taken at NCEES approved Pearson VUE testing centers. Some of these may be far away so you’ll need to set money aside for transportation.
You also need to remember that the test is over 9 hours long— especially if you’re taking the Structural exam, which takes two days to finish. You will spend the entire day on this test. That means you have to take time off work to do this (unless you schedule the exam for one of your days off). Make sure you have lunch prepared for the 50 minute break or you’ll have to purchase food in the area.
Aside from this, your costs outside of the registration should be fairly low as long as you plan ahead. Being under-prepared will cost you valuable time and money.
PE Exam Pass Rates
Pass rates are fairly low for this difficult set of exams. However, there are some notable outliers among the different engineering branches.
Structural Exam Pass Rates
Most of the exams have a pass rate between 60-70%. Despite that, there are 2 that have much higher pass rates than the others. Agricultural and Metallurgical Engineering both have a pass rate of 82%. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re easier, since they have a far lower volume of test takers compared to the other tests.
On the other end of the spectrum are disciplines with a much lower pass rate. Computer Engineering has a pass rate of 48% while Construction, Geotechnical, Mining, and Nuclear Engineering all have pass rates in the low 50s.
If you’re still figuring out which discipline you wish to specialize in for your professional licensure, it may be smart to consider one of the options with a higher pass rate if you’re nervous about the exam.
Consider some of these answers to common questions about engineering and surveying licensure if you’re still unsure about any aspect of the process:
A: The PE exam is typically 9 hours long, although some exams can be 9 ½ hours. This includes a 50 minute lunch break midway through the test and an 8 minute tutorial at the start. The PE Structural exam is the exception— it’s a 16-hour test taken over the course of two days.
A: According to the NCEES, all computer based tests are available year round through Pearson VUE test centers. This includes every version of the PE exam.
A: The NCEES Examinee Guide states that you can attempt the exam every 3 months. However, you can only take the test 3 times in a 12 month period.
A: Earning your PE license requires a lot of hard work. You need to complete a 4 year degree, have 4 years of work experience, and pass 2 certification exams. It’s difficult but not impossible as long as you’re willing to put in the necessary work.
Bryce Welker is an entrepreneur and owner of over 20 test prep websites dedicated to helping professionals earn certifications and pass their licensure exams. Bryce is a regular contributor to Forbes.com, Inc.com, and Business.com where he shares his knowledge to help others boost their careers.