Licensure & Registration

How to Prepare for the NCEES Exams

By David C. Cotton, Jr., P.E., P.Eng., CEng, MIET

You finally did it – you sent the application in to take your P.E. exam.  In addition, you will take the exam in four months.  Being a good engineer, you prepare to take the exam by reviewing problems in a sample exam, or in a testing book.  Suddenly, every problem seems beyond your abilities — even after years of engineering practice.  All the stuff you learned in school has vanished into the ether.  What on earth did you sign up for?

First, breathe.  We have all experienced this dread on some level.  Some engineers dread tests so much, they don’t even try to take the P.E. Exam, or even the F.E. exam.  Now, start with one problem in the sample exam, or practice books.  Just one.  As you begin to review old material, it starts to come back to you.  If anything, it may come back better, because now you know the why and the how.  It will start to make sense again.  Repeat.

You may be thinking to yourself: How can I possibly understand these problems? Personally, I took the F.E. and P.E. exams more than 20 years after graduating from school.  To make things even worse, I wasn’t a very good undergraduate student.  If anyone could have felt more apprehensive, I was that person.  However, you and I have a couple of things in common.  We survived engineering school, and we got our degree.  We persevered — and we didn’t quit!

At this point, you must know your process, and what is available to you. Some of you may be fortunate enough to be able to take a review course in person or online.  For me, I was living in the country — far away from a college campus — so a review course wasn’t there for me.  Do you have enough initiative to study on your own?  In my case, I did.  I purchased review books, and even some older books, just to get in the habit of solving problems, as I did in school. Even better, you might find a fellow traveler in the same endeavor with whom you can study.  Only you know what will work for you.  There are some engineers who can go in cold and pass with flying colors – I wasn’t one of them.

As you study and review potential exam questions, know where you are going to take the exam.  Know where the exam center is and, if possible, go there before you take the exam to familiarize yourself with the location.  Have one less thing to deal with on test day.  Make something unknown known.  Do what you can do to reduce the stress and anxiety. Know the calculator that you are going to use. If you live far away, consider reserving a hotel room close to the exam center.

Go in with a plan — just as you would with any engineering project.  Most of all: Don’t be afraid or intimidated.  You’ve got this!

David Cotton is the owner of his own consultancy , providing RF engineering, health, safety, and regulatory compliance solutions.   He is a Registered Professional Engineer in all 50 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, two Canadian provinces (ON and SK) and is a Chartered Engineer in the United Kingdom and Australia.


Guest Contributor

IEEE-USA is an organizational unit of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), created in 1973 to support the career and public policy interests of IEEE’s U.S. members. IEEE-USA is primarily supported by an annual assessment paid by U.S. IEEE Members.

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