Wondering how long the PE exam is? You’re in the right place. In this article, I’ll tell you how long your specific PE exam is and explain what it’s like to take a test that long.
The PE Exam is an 8 or 8.5-hour long exam with 80 or 85 questions. The Civil, Mechanical, Chemical, Power, and Environmental PE exams are 8 hours and 80 questions. All other PE exams are 8.5 hours and 85 questions.
Below is a table of the length of testing time, break, and the number of questions for each PE exam.
Note that the break time does not take away from the length of your test. So if your test is 8 hours, it will be one 4-hour session, followed by a 50-minute lunch break, then another 4-hour session.
|PE Exam||Length of Testing Time||Break||Number of Questions|
|Civil||8 hours||50 min||80|
|Mechanical||8 hours||50 min||80|
|Chemical||8 hours||50 min||80|
|Power||8 hours||50 min||80|
|Environmental||8 hours||50 min||80|
|Petroleum||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Nuclear||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Fire Protection||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Industrial & Systems||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Agricultural & Biological||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Architectural||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Computer||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Electronics, Controls, & Communications||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Mining & Mineral Processes||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
|Naval Architecture & Marine||8.5 hours||50 min||85|
The actual details of what test day is like go way beyond just these numbers though. We’ll get into that next.
If you’re curious to know what it’s like before you get into the exam room, check out my post on what the PE exam is like. For now, I’ll just focus on what it’s like to take the actual test.
I took the Civil PE twice in 2019 before it was computer-based. If your PE exam is computer-based then it will be similar to the FE if you took the computer-based version of that.
Generally, though, a lot of the difficulty and nuance of taking an 8-hour exam is similar whether it’s pencil and paper or computer-based.
The PE exam is hard. I go over this more in my post on how hard the PE exam is, but let’s just say that it takes a lot of preparation and mental fortitude.
That being said, it’s not impossible. You can pass it. Taking the actual exam isn’t that bad.
The morning session consists of 40 “breadth” questions on general subjects within your engineering area. For the Civil PE, this means you’ll see questions from all five disciplines, including:
- Water & Environmental
The morning session is easier than the afternoon, but it’s still tough. At least, that’s what I thought until I took a review course like School of PE.
I took School of PE to prepare for my second attempt at the PE exam and the morning session was actually easy because of it.
As for what it feels like to work problems for 40 hours, it’s not as bad as you’d think. The time flies by, especially if you’re well-prepared. I remember looking at the clock and wondering how it got to be an hour in before I even realized it. But that was probably because I was flying through a lot of the questions because I was so well-prepared.
You’ll want to take some breaks every so often. I made a point to stretch and look away from all my test materials at least once an hour to give my mind a little rest. This was also a perfect time to check in with myself to make sure I wasn’t hungry or needing to go to the bathroom.
You are allowed to take breaks even with computer-based exams. Note that the time you’re doing so does count toward your 4-hour time-allotment for the morning session, though.
During this time you can access your personal materials, which can include food and drinks. And I highly recommend that you do bring snacks because being hungry during a test that requires your full brain power is not going to lead you to perform at your best.
You’ll have about six minutes per problem so you’ll need to pace yourself. Skip problems that are hard, you don’t want to end up not answering easy questions because you wasted a lot of time trying to answer every question.
If you’re well-prepared, the time will go by faster. I honestly even found it a little fun showing how much I’d learned as I’d practiced problems to prepare!
You’ll have 50 minutes for your lunch break. I recommend packing a lunch instead of eating out. Restaurants may be busier than you anticipate. Plus, fast food is not going to help your brain perform at peak performance, which you’ll need for the afternoon session.
After you’re done eating it’s good to get some movement in. Don’t just sit there and check your phone. I walked around the testing site and it helped me relax my mind to prepare for the next four hours.
The afternoon session is a lot tougher than the morning. But as I mentioned before, if you’re prepared, it’s not too bad.
To pass the PE exam you need a cumulative score of a certain amount (NCEES doesn’t say what it is), so if you do well in the AM you have a little more wiggle room to miss some problems in the PM portion.
The afternoon part is the “depth” section, going deeper into your chosen discipline from the ones you had general questions about in the morning. I took the structural depth for the Civil PE, so I didn’t see questions about any of the other disciplines.
Again, you’ll need to pace yourself and I recommend skipping hard questions. It’s also a good idea to take regular breaks, even if it’s just staring at the ceiling for 60 seconds to help your mind and eyes get a little rest.
The more well-prepared you are, the easier and faster the afternoon portion will go. You’ll get tired, though, because your body is trying to digest lunch and diverts energy toward that.
This is also why it’s a good idea to not eat too big of a lunch and to not eat out. Fast food will digest more quickly than healthier options like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. That means you’ll have to use the bathroom more often, get hungry faster, and lose more energy to digestion.
Know that your energy levels will drop in the afternoon but don’t worry too much when it happens. Again, if you did well enough in the morning, you’ll be just fine.
I was super confident on my second attempt, which made even the more difficult afternoon portion somewhat enjoyable as I got to show myself how much I’d learned. If you want the same confidence, take School of PE’s review course.
After the Test
Before you know it, you’ll be done with the PE exam! You’ll be tired and will want to celebrate after months of hard work studying and preparing. Take the time to celebrate.
If your test is pencil and paper, it’ll take a while to get results. But if you’re taking a computer-based exam you can expect to see results in 7-10 days. The wait isn’t easy, but it’s a whole lot nicer than the busy schedule of studying and preparing. And it’s especially nicer than spending all day taking an 8-hour, 80-question exam!