When you’re taking any of the computer-based Principles and Practice of Engineering exams, or PE for short, you’ll get access to a free, searchable, PDF document that you can reference throughout the exam. This over 500-page book is known as the PE Reference Handbook.
Although the PE Exam isn’t open-book anymore, the reference handbook has everything you need to pass the PE exam as long as you’ve prepared well.
Here are the steps to get your free PDF copy of the PE Reference Handbook directly through NCEES:
- Create a MyNCEES account or log in if you’ve already created one.
- Click on “View reference handbooks” under the “Useful Documents” section of “Common Tasks.”
- Find the link for your respective PE Reference Handbook, click on it, and the download will automatically begin.
Let’s dive into the details of these steps and a few other things you need to know about the PE Reference Handbook!
How to Download a PDF of the PE Reference Handbook for Free
The following steps are the detailed version of where to find and download your free copy of the PE Reference Handbook for your respective PE Exam:
- Click on this link to go to the MyNCEES website. Create an account if you don’t have one or log in if you do. If you’re creating an account for the first time, use a personal email, not a work one.
- Once you’re signed into your MyNCEES account head to “View reference handbooks” under the “Useful Documents” section of the “Common Tasks” area.
- Find the right PE Reference Handbook for your respective PE Exam and click on the link to start the download. I’ve highlighted the PE Civil Reference Handbook in the screenshot below as this will be the most commonly used one.
And here’s a list of the other PE Reference Handbooks that are available, including the details for those that have them, in case you can’t see the list above:
- PE Agricultural and Biological Engineering Reference Handbook 1.0
- PE Chemical Reference Handbook 2.1
- PE Civil Reference Handbook 1.0
- PE Electrical and Computer: Computer Engineering Reference Handbook 1.0
- PE Electrical and Computer: Electronics, Controls, and Communications Reference Handbook 1.0
- PE Electrical and Computer: Power Reference Handbook 1.1.1 (effective through September 30, 2021)
- PE Electrical and Computer: Power Reference Handbook 1.1.2 (effective beginning October 1, 2021)
- PE Environmental Reference Handbook 1.2
- PE Fire Protection Reference Handbook 1.1
- PE Industrial and Systems Reference Handbook 1.1
- PE Mechanical Reference Handbook 1.3 (effective through September 30, 2021)
- PE Mechanical Reference Handbook 1.4 (effective beginning October 1, 2021)
- PE Mining and Mineral Processing Reference Handbook 0.0 – refer to the SME Mining Reference Handbook, 2nd edition (available from SME)
- PE Nuclear Reference Handbook 1.2.1
- PE Petroleum Reference Handbook 0.0 – refer to the 2020 Update – SPE Petroleum Engineering Certification and PE License Exam Reference Guide (available from SPE)
Is The PE Reference Handbook Searchable?
The PE Reference Handbook is searchable, and you are allowed to search it while you are taking the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam. It makes finding what you need to solve a problem much easier than having a physical book that you have to search through, which was the case when the PE was open-book!
As you can see in the screenshot below, I found information on bending moment super fast by searching for it.
The actual PE Reference Handbook will look differently on screen when you’re taking the PE Exam, but the contents are exactly the same and it’s still searchable.
Here are the main chapter titles of the Civil PE Reference Handbook in case you’re curious what’s in the book:
- General Engineering (includes units, conversions, statics, economics, mechanics of materials, and more)
- Construction (includes earthwork, estimating, scheduling, safety, and more)
- Geotechnical (includes lateral earth pressures, consolidation, bearing capacity, settlement, slope stability, classification of soils, retaining walls, and more)
- Structural (includes structural analysis, steel, and concrete design)
- Transportation (includes horizontal and vertical design, pavement, and more)
- Water & Environmental (includes fluid mechanics, hydraulics, flow, hydrology, and more)
How to Use the PE Reference Handbook to Study
When I took the PE Exam it was still open book, so I’ve not personally used the PE Reference Handbook on a PE Exam. I did use the FE Reference Handbook on the FE Exam, though, and I’ve passed that and the PE Exam, so I’ll share with you how I’d recommend using the PE Reference Handbook.
If I were to take the PE Exam again but this time only have the PE Reference Handbook, the #1 thing I would focus on is using the handbook as I study. Every problem I worked I’d have a digital copy of the handbook available either on my phone, computer, tablet, or something else so that I could search it and use it as much as possible.
The reason why is because when I took the FE Exam, the only reason I passed was that I was so familiar with the reference handbook. I only had to look it over the night before to pass because of how much easier the FE was. But if it weren’t for that I don’t think I would have passed!
By using the PE Reference Handbook as you work practice problems, you’ll get familiar with it enough to use it to answer actual problems on the exam. Mimicking testing conditions is the best practice and preparation for the PE Exam, and the best way to do that is to include the reference handbook as you study.
The PE Reference Handbook, along with a lot of preparation, is your ticket to passing the PE Exam. You can search it during the exam to find the references you need, but it will only be as useful if you’ve prepared well by referencing it as you’ve studied!
Be sure to download your free copy of the PE Reference Handbook by following the instructions above. Use it as you study and practice so that you can know what you’re looking for, find those things quickly during the exam, and pass the PE much more easily!