How to Study for the FE Exam? Tips to Ace the Test

Preparing for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is not that easy. Even though some people say that it is just a test of basic knowledge from college, it is still an exam that you should be ready. Right now, you may have scheduled your test date so you should start working on it. That's why I decided to share some tips and personal experience on how to study for the FE exam.


Determine Your Engineering Discipline

Before you start studying for the FE exam, you should first determine the engineering discipline that you will take. All the disciplines offered by NCEES are listed below.

  • FE Chemical
  • FE Civil
  • FE Electrical and Computer
  • FE Environmental
  • FE Industrial and Systems
  • FE Mechanical
  • FE Others

I suggest that you check out the exam specifications per discipline. Check out if the listed topics and subtopics coincides with your strengths and courses that you have mastered during College. In this way, you can choose the best discipline that suits your capabilities.

Since the exam specifications are given, you will have an outline on what topics to study. You don't have to deal with other unrelated subjects. This is a good thing because you will have an idea on what topics you should focus on.

Determine Your Review Materials

Personally, determining your review material is the most difficult one to do. It is because there are plenty of reviewers and books that you can choose from. I recommend that you only choose 2 - 3 materials for your review. This will help you to not get too overwhelmed when studying.

NCEES Reference Handbook

Among the review materials, the most important book that you should focus on is the NCEES FE Reference Handbook. It includes more or less 250 pages. Since it is the only thing that you can open during the exam, it is wise to spend enough time in familiarizing its content. Some important notes when using the handbook are listed below.

  • Know the sequence of the different sections.
  • Determine the locations of important values, tables, graphs and even the most used conversion factors.
  • Find out the words or phrases used in the handbook. Sometimes, there are different ways on how they present the terminologies.
  • Make sure that you distinguish the SI from the Metric units. Some equations are different for the two systems.

Practice Exam

FE Exam Study Guide

For the practice exam, I suggest that you purchase it a month before your test date. In this way, you will be able to determine your weaknesses that you should still work on.

Make a Study Schedule

After determining your discipline and review materials, you should also make a study schedule. This will guide you throughout your preparation period.

Honestly, it is not enough to just think about the days that you need to study. You should write it down in order to have a reminder. It is just easy to not keep track of your progress when you don't have a schedule. And this may hurt your performance during the exam.

Actually, I have a study schedule that you can use as a reference or you can revise based on your own needs. I used this when I took my FE Civil exam last 2016. Feel free to use it.

Steps to Solve a Problem

Here is a typical step-by-step guide on how you can solve practice problems. This is just a reference so you can freely revise it based on your own preference.


Step 1 - Read the Problem

Before you attack the problem, you should at least read it twice. Make sure that you understand the question so that you will understand what is required.


Step 2 - Determine the Required

After reading, write down the required. If possible, include the unit of the needed answer.


Step 3 - List All the Data Given

Write down the data given on the problem. This will be helpful when determining the appropriate formula needed.


Step 4 - Search for Keywords

On the problem, search for keywords that you can use to look for the formula needed.


Step 5 - Use FE Reference Handbook

Go over the FE reference handbook and proceed to the index. Look for the keyword that you have identified earlier. If you are using the electronic version, just use the CTRL+F feature to easily locate it.


Step 6 - Look for the Page Number

After looking for the keyword, determine the page number where it is located. Jump to that specific page to know the formula. 


Step 7 - Write down the Formula

Once you find the page number, it is important to write down the formula. This will help you when substituting the data given.


Step 8 - Incorporate all the Data Given

Right now that you already have the formula, incorporate the data given and find a way to find the required. Sometimes, the problem is not straight forward so you have to think on how you will use the formula and data properly.


Step 9 - Don't Be Shy to Study the Solutions

If you are stuck on a certain problem, I suggest that you look into the reviewer and go through the solution. Personally, I think that there is no point in spending too much time on a problem if you really don't know how to do it. Try to go over the solution and see how the answer was found. If you still don't understand the process, ask questions. There are plenty of people online (example: forum in reddit) that can give you a hand. You can also let me know if you have questions.


Step 10 - Solve the Problem on Your Own

After studying the solution, try to solve the problem on your own. Make sure that you understand the formula so you can use it properly.

Sample Practice Problem

For your reference, I decided to share on how I solve practice problems. By the way, this sample problem is from the practice test of NCEES.

A flexible plywood diaphragm spans shear walls located on lines A, B, and C, and is subjected to a lateral wind load of 320 lbf/ft acting in the direction shown. The maximum chord force created in the diaphragm is most nearly.

(A) 4200 lbf

(B) 4700 lbf

(C) 9600 lbf

(D) 12,000 lbf

By the way, here is my hand-written solution. We will go over each part by following the steps of solving a problem.

fe exam sample problem

Step 1 - Read the Problem

Step 2 - Determine the Required

After reading, the required on the problem is Force max.

Step 3 - List All the Data Given

The only data given are pound per foot force, length of chord and span length.

Step 4 - Search for Keywords

For this specific problem, there is no need to look for a keyword since we can easily solve it using the shear and moment diagram.

Step 5 - Use FE Reference Handbook

If you don't know how to use the shear and moment diagram, I suggest that you look for shear or moment keyword on the handbook.

Step 6 - Look for the Page Number

Step 7 - Write down the Formula

Step 8 - Incorporate all the Data Given

Since you already know how to attack the problem, use all the data given to try to solve the problem.

Step 9 - Don't Be Shy to Study Solutions

Like what I have mentioned earlier, if you don't get the correct answer on your first try, go over the reviewer and study the solution.

Step 10 - Solve the Problem on Your Own

Solve the problem one more time at your own understanding.

For this specific problem, the answer would be letter (B) 4700 lbf. If you have questions about the steps, please let me know on the comment box below so I can help you.

Tips on How to Study

Don't skip any Subject

Since there is no longer breadth type exam, you should study every section stated on your discipline exam specification. Focus on your weak subjects so that you will have a better chance of getting a passing score.

Write Down Your Solution

It may be tempting to just read the reviewer and memorize the solution but this is not very effective. I recommend that you get a pen and paper and write down your solution. Practice using the reference handbook and look for the formula and table needed. Use your calculator when solving and don't do the calculation in your mind. This lessens the chance of having a wrong answer.

How to Study for the FE Exam

Solve as Many Problems as Possible

It may sound cliche but practice as many problems as possible. This is the only way that you will train your brain to work smarter and faster. Reading the solution manual is never enough when reviewing for the exam. I recommend that you solve at least 3 to 5 problems a day. In this way, you will not get too overwhelmed when studying.

Memorize Typical Formulas / Values

When solving practice problems, you will encounter the same formulas and values most of the time. So, I suggest that you memorize or familiarize these values. This will definitely save you time when solving. Some typical values are density of water, specific gravity of water and gravity. For basic equations, try memorizing density, pressure or stress equations.

Master Your Calculator   

The only weapon that you can bring during the exam is your calculator. So it will be beneficial if you know the ins and outs of your device. I suggest that you only use one model of calculator during your review. In this way, you will get used to it.

Start Studying for the FE Exam

These are just some tips on how you can ace your Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. After reading the whole article, I suppose that you got some idea on how you can prepare and study for the test.

But you should remember that this is just a guide. You can revise and change the suggestions in here based on your own study habits and preference. The important thing is make sure that you stick to your plan and study schedule. In this way, you will be more prepared when you take the FE exam.

If ever you have questions, just comment on the comment box below so I can help you. Also, feel free to share your own personal experience and tips on how to study for the FE exam.

John Rico

John Rico is an Engineer-in-Training Professional that works his way up to become a Licensed Professional Engineer.

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