I made things hard on myself and don’t want you to do the same
Nobody told me.
I never knew why someone would want a PE license and how it may be useful in my engineering career.
Looking back, I remember a single lunch & learn event in engineering school where someone mentioned the PE license and it’s value. Unfortunately, it’s (potential) importance was not clearly conveyed to us undergrads. So I never took the FE Exam as the first step towards the PE license until THREE YEARS out of grad school.
The FE Exam is based on your undergrad material and is not meant to be a particularly grueling exam. Yes, you need to study for it, but it’s not nearly as insane as the PE license exam.
However, by the time I took it, I was already 5-6 years away from some of the material and it was HARD. I ended up passing on my first attempt, but what should have been fairly straight forward caused me plenty of heartache and late night studying.
Due to this experience, I push all engineering students to take the exam shortly after they are eligible. For those that attended ABET accredited schools, you are set to take it right after graduation.
For non-US engineers reading this, the details may be different, but apply the concept of taking that first step in your country’s process as soon as you are eligible.
What if I never need the PE license?
This is the most common pushback I get.
It’s true, some, perhaps even most, of you will never be in a role where you need the PE license.
However, I want you to look at it from a different angle. I want you to look at it from the stance of “what’s the downside?” to taking the FE Exam now just in case. From this vantage point, if you never go for the PE license all you lost was some study time (which is minimal considering when you are taking it) and the exam fee.
Yet, what you gained was piece of mind if you do continue for the PE license as well as a nice thing to add to your resume since it shows you have solid future time orientation.
One caveat . . . All of this is particularly true for civil, mechanical, and electrical engineers that may work on projects where a PE is required. Other disciplines can decide on a case by case basis if they think it is needed. I still think it’s a good plan of attack to have it just in case, but it’s not as imperative.
I’m several years out of engineering school, should I still take it?
I’ll be honest, once you are 3-5 years out of engineering school, it really makes little difference if you take it at this point. You’ve already passed the threshold where it becomes much harder.
If you find yourself in this situation, then only take the FE Exam if you see a career path towards a role that requires the PE license. Assuming you see it as necessary for your future, then I would still say to take it sooner rather than later to avoid life getting in the way. The studying will be the same, but the longer you wait, the greater the chance of kids or work responsibilities getting in the way.
So you agree with me . . . what now?
Now that you have come to my side and are ready to take the FE Exam, I want to offer several tips to help you pass:
- Set a date NOW – If you keep pushing off applying with the plan of setting a test date when you are ready, then you will never feel ready. You need to create a sense of urgency that will force you to set up a study schedule to follow. Once you have that date, then you can work backwards to set a schedule of the subjects you need to review and the time you need to spend each day. Three to four months is generally sufficient.
- Focused & fixed study schedule – Set daily times during which you will study. No excuses. Stop checking in with friends. Don’t take long food breaks. I would recommend turning off all notifications on your phone so you are not even tempted by the alerts. If you can, set blocks of 50 minutes where you can focus 100%. Then take a 10 minute break to get a snack, stretch your legs, and go to the bathroom. Having set time to study, but also set break times will help you maintain focus. You will mentally be able to push through since you know a break is coming in not too long.
- Prioritize the Topics – Start with the topics where you are the strongest first. This may sound counter-intuitive, but think about how they score these tests. Your actual grade doesn’t matter; it’s just pass or fail. Therefore, if you can lock down some points in your strong subjects you will be better off. Once you feel confident in those, then you can work on your weaker subjects to pick up some additional points. At this point, the chance that your weaker subjects will all of a sudden click is less likely so partial points in these areas might be the best you can do.
- Accountability – Get an accountability/study partner. For the most part, it is best to study for these exams alone. However, when you hit a roadblock, it is good to have someone you can turn to for questions. If you can find someone who is taking the exam at the same time, that would be great. You two can touch base every other day to go over some material and work through stuff together.
- Get a good review book – Yes, you can learn each topic from your textbooks or other sources. However, a review book that is specifically geared to the exam will have two advantages. First, you’ll make sure that you are reviewing the right material within each topic. Second, You’ll be presented with problems of the same type & style that you’ll see on the exam. I recommend finding one the review books by Michael Lindeburg such as PPI FE Mechanical Practice Problems – Comprehensive Practice for the FE Mechanical Exam. He’s a pretty thorough author and they have editions for each exam track and also a rapid review version.
Good luck to all of you . . . You CAN DO THIS!
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