FE Vs PE: What’s the Difference Between the FE and PE Exams?

FE vs PE Exam - Difference between FE and PE Exams

If you’re just getting started out as an engineer, you might be wondering what the FE and PE exams are all about. I remember being just as confused as you when I first heard about these, but after taking them both and becoming a Professional Engineer, it’s all simple to me. In this article, I’ll explain the difference between the FE and PE Exams.

The FE, or Fundamentals of Engineering Exam, is the first exam in the pathway to becoming a licensed Professional Engineer. It costs $175, is 110 questions long, takes 5 hours 20 minutes, and you want to take it right around when you graduate. Passing the FE usually makes you an Engineer in Training.

The PE, or Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam, is the final exam you need to take to become a licensed Professional Engineer. It costs $375, is 80-85 questions long, and takes 8-8.5 hours. You take the PE Exam after the FE but most engineers take it after about 4 years into their career.

Here’s a table with all the major differences between the FE and PE Exams to give you a better idea:

FE Exam (comes first)PE Exam (comes second)
Order to Take ItFirstSecond
Time5 hrs 20 minutes8-8.5 hours
Break25 minutes50  minutes
Cost$175$375 plus
When to Take itRight around when you graduate from college but check with your state’s requirements to be sureAfter the FE Exam. Check with your state’s requirements to be sure when you can
Title You Get After PassingEngineer in Training or EIT (must apply with state board in some cases)Professional Engineer or PE (must apply with state board in all cases)
Pass Rates (average across all disciplines)71% (first-time attempts)65% (first-time attempts)
What’s On ItQuestions from all disciplines (Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, etc.)Questions from only one discipline (ex: Civil)
DifficultyMedium – HardVery Hard
Study Time Required5-50 hours, depending on your confidence300 hours +
Open Book?No, but open FE Reference HandbookNo, but open PE Reference Handbook

A few other things to note as you consider the difference between the FE and PE Exams:

  • The FE Exam isn’t too difficult. I only reviewed the reference handbook the night before the exam and passed on my first attempt. The PE Exam, on the other hand, is much harder. I had to spend over 300 hours and do 900 practice problems over the course of two different attempts to finally pass.
  • Some states have very specific requirements to take the FE or PE Exams. Check the NCEES website for information on what your state requires you to do. You also need to check this to make sure you know how to get your EIT status (after passing the FE) or PE license (after passing the PE and meeting all other requirements).
  • Passing both the FE and PE Exams takes a lot of work but it’s definitely worth it. After I’ve now passed both I can say that I’m glad I took them because throughout the process I learned a lot, grew personally, and best of all, gained a Professional Engineering license that boosted my income and confidence!

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