The FE Exam Isn’t Open Book, It’s Open “Reference Handbook”

Is the FE Exam open book?

It might seem a little scary to think about not being able to take books into the FE exam, but it’s not as bad as you think. I passed the FE on my first attempt, without studying other than looking through the Reference Handbook the night before. 

The FE Exam is closed book because it’s a computer-based test. You cannot bring any books into the testing center. You do, however, get to access the electronic version of the 494-page Reference Handbook. It includes everything you’ll need to pass the FE Exam, plus it’s searchable, too!

Let’s get into more about what the FE Exam is like without being able to take your books in.

What the Closed-Book FE Exam is Like

On the day of the FE you’ll get to the testing center, check-in, and then get into the testing area. At my testing center in Utah, it was a fairly small room with about 20 computers in it. 

The computers were separated by dividers and I felt like I had plenty of room between me and the other examinees. 

When you begin the exam you’ll start with a couple of minutes to do the non-disclosure agreement. This is basically signing to agree that you won’t talk about certain aspects of the exam with others. 

Next, you go through an eight-minute tutorial on how to use the computer-based testing platform. It’s really straightforward and might seem like you can just rush through it, but don’t. You might miss important details that could be the difference between you passing and failing.

Then, you begin the test. How it worked for me is that I would look at the question, think of a word or phrase I needed to search for in the Reference Handbook, then go to the handbook to search for it. I’d take a few minutes to sift through the answers and find what I needed, then use it to answer the question. 

The main takeaway here is that you won’t feel totally lost as to what to do on each question. The Reference Handbook has everything you need. And if you go through it the night before, like I did, you’ll have a fresh idea of what’s in there, where to find it, and how to use it. 

What’s the Reference Handbook?

If you want to get your own digital copy of the Reference Handbook for free, you’ll need a myNCEES account. Click on this link to create an account or sign in if you already have one. The create new account link is at the bottom of the page. Don’t use your work email if you’re creating a new account. 

Once you log in, on the right-side you’ll see “Common Tasks.” Then look under “Useful Documents” then click on “View reference handbooks” and you can download any of them that you want.

The electronic Reference Handbook is something that all computer-based test-takers get to use during the exam in place of the previous open-book format of the FE and PE exams. 

It’s tailored to each exam type specifically. So there is just one for the FE, because it’s the same for all engineers, and there is a unique Reference Handbook for each discipline of engineering for the PE Exam.

The current version of the FE Exam Reference Handbook is about 500 pages and contains everything from Units and Conversion Factors, to Heat Transfer, Economics, and more. As I mentioned before, it’s got everything you need for the FE Exam. 

One interesting thing about the FE exam is that it’s got questions from every engineering discipline. So if you’re a Mechanical Engineer, you’ll see a few Civil Engineering problems in addition to the regular mechanical ones, and vice versa. It’s this way with all disciplines, too.

The cool thing about the Reference Handbook was that it was good enough that I was able to figure out some of the problems in other disciplines that I hadn’t studied in college. 

Wrapping Up

The FE Exam isn’t open-book, but it is open Reference Handbook, which is just as good, if not better. 

The Reference Handbook is thorough, searchable, and will help you pass the FE if you know your way around it. Just review it the night before the exam or as you study and you’ll be ready to go on test day!

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