How Hard is The FE Exam? An Analysis of The Biggest Factors

How hard is the FE Exam

If you’re about to take the FE Exam and want to know how difficult it is, this article will explain it all for you in detail. I’ve looked at the data from pass rates as well as the length of the exam and the comments of many engineers who have taken it to gauge how hard the FE Exam is.

The 6-hour long, 110-question Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam is not too difficult if you know how to prepare. It takes anywhere from 5 to 150 hours of preparation to pass. Pass rates range from 68% to 77% for those taking the exam for the first time with an engineering degree.

Here’s a table that shows the various components that affect the difficulty of the FE Exam:

Difficulty of the FE Exam According to Different Factors

Pass RatesAbout 75%
Study Time Required to Pass5-150 hours
Length110 questions, 5 hrs 20 min

Let’s get into the details of each of these and see what factors are affecting the difficulty of the FE Exam!

How Hard it Is to Pass The FE Exam According to Pass Rates

Here are the pass rates for the FE exam during 2020, including comparisons of pass rates for those with a degree and without a degree between first and second attempts:

FE Exam Pass Rates (2020)

DisciplineFirst Attempts Pass Rate (With Degree)First Attempts Pass Rate (Without Degree)Non-First Attempts Pass Rate (With Degree)Non-First Attempts Pass Rate (Without Degree)
Electrical and Computer69%56%37%30%
Industrial and Systems68%58%44%44%
Other Disciplines73%62%35%21%

“Non-first attempts” just refers to the fact that the data includes people who have taken it two or more times.

Notice first that it’s much easier to pass the FE Exam if it’s your first attempt and if you have your engineering degree already. So, get your degree before you take the FE Exam. It’s much easier when you’ve been through classes that teach you everything you need to know to pass. 

If we take a rough average of the pass rate across all disciplines of the FE Exam, it’s about 75%. That means that almost eight out of ten engineers will pass the FE Exam on their first attempt. Those are pretty good odds, honestly, and the other data that we’re about to get into shows further proof that the FE Exam really isn’t too difficult as long as you know how to prepare.

Using Study Time Required for the FE Exam to Gauge Difficulty

I have my own experience with the FE that I’ll share in a moment, but I wanted to see what other engineers say about how long they studied so I could give a better answer here. Here’s a summarized version what some of them have said:

  • Didn’t really study at all.
  • A few hours familiarizing themselves with the FE Reference Handbook and working a few practice problems and that was it. There were a lot of responses similar to this one.
  • Studied seriously for a week. If you know how to use your calculator and the reference handbook, it’s not difficult.
  • 3 months of study. Best tip is to know the reference handbook.

Overall the most common response was not a lot of studying and that knowing the reference handbook was crucial. If you want to learn how you can get a free copy of that reference handbook, click here. Some responses mentioned studying for a few months but that may be overkill. 

Whatever the case, just make sure that you guage how much study time based on how you feel about the FE Exam. In my experience though, it’s really not that difficult if you know the reference handbook and paid attention in school.

All I did to pass the FE Exam was maybe work a few practice problems and review the reference handbook the night before for a couple of hours, like many of the responses said. I passed on my first try and it didn’t feel too hard at all.

This is relatively easy to try if you want since the FE Exam is fairly inexpensive and you can take it a lot more frequently than you used to be able to.

I also want to note that it’s been a few years since I took the FE Exam but that doesn’t matter for a couple of reasons. For one, the summarized comments from other engineers above are from more recent years. Additionally, I looked at the pass rates from when I took the FE compared to now, and they’re still very similar to each other. 

So all in all, I’d say you need anywhere from 5-150 hours of study and it really doesn’t have to be too in-depth, either, which makes the FE Exam not too difficult. 

It all just depends on how comfortable you feel with the material. And how willing you are to take the risk of possibly failing if you only study a few hours or of wasting your time if you study too much.

For best results, take the FE Exam after you graduate from college. That’s what I did, and the knowledge was still relatively fresh. And what I had forgotten was easy to remember by flipping through the reference handbook.

Difficulty of the FE Exam by Length

The FE Exam is 110 questions long and you get 5 hours and 20 minutes to complete all of them. That gives you about 3 minutes per question, which means that they’re not super complicated questions. 

From my personal experience, this is true. Most problems can be completed in the 3-minute timeframe or less. Many of them I remember taking less time than that but only because I was so familiar with the reference handbook.

To avoid wasting time figuring out what’s going on, be sure to familiarize yourself with the reference handbook and exam format before you take it. You might want to work a few practice problems to get an idea of what’s required to answer them during the exam.

Is The FE Exam Harder Than The PE Exam?

The PE Exam is much more difficult than the FE Exam. I did a really in-depth analysis of this which you can check out right here. There are four main takeaways from that though:

  • Passing the FE Exam requires only a fraction of the study time that the PE does. The PE takes 200-300 hours of study, while the FE only requires 5-150.
  • The FE Exam length allows for about 3 minutes per problem. For the PE, it’s 6 minutes per problem, which means they’re a lot more complicated. You have to have a far more in-depth understanding of engineering concepts to answer PE problems than you do for problems on the FE Exam.
  • FE Exam pass rates are about 75% and higher in some cases. For the PE Exam it’s 70% on the high end. Many are much lower than that and as I’ve looked at comments from engineers across the internet I find that a lot of them have to try multiple times to pass the PE Exam.
  • It took me 300 study hours, 900 practice problems, two attempts, and almost $2,500 to pass the PE Exam. The FE Exam cost me just the $175 fee and took only about 5 hours of study and I passed on my first try.

The PE is way harder than the FE Exam and you can’t pass it with little or no study like with the FE.

Wrapping Up

The FE Exam is difficult but not too bad if you have your degree and familiarize yourself with the reference handbook before going in. This is confirmed by the experiences of many engineers, data on pass rates of the FE Exam, the length of the exam, and my personal experience as well.

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