FE Exam Study Tips
1. Make space for the FE Exam
Many of us are either working full time in the engineering sector or study engineering full time at university. On top of that, we may have family and other personal responsibilities. Adding the FE Exam on top of this busy schedule is the number one reason why students either unexpectedly extend their FE Exam prep or repeat their FE exam preparation.
To avoid this trap, consider making the necessary life arrangements so you have larger chunks of time for studying. You may tell your job or manager that you are planning to take the FE which may help reduce your work load. Also, communicate your needs with your family and loved ones about the importance of this exam for your long-term career goals. Try to agree with yourself and the people around you on a shared commitment and stick to it. Support from family and loved ones can really go a long way.
Studying for this difficult and long exam is mentally draining. Make sure you create the mental space for yourself by understanding your needs and communicating them with the people around you.
2. Aim for quality, take breaks, and don’t just study for the FE exam
This goes back to the old saying “quality over quantity”. It is unrealistic to force yourself to study 5 hours a day after a long day of work. So, listen to your mind and body. Also, studying with a tired mind for longer is not as effective as studying with a fresh energized mind for a shorter period of time. So, aim for the best quality of studying you can get done and not the maximum length of time. You can try to study the way that has made you most successful in the past. For some people this can be achieved by studying very early in the morning, right after going to the gym, when the kids are asleep, at a local library or cafe, etc., etc.
Studying with a tired mind for longer is not as effective as studying with a fresh energized mind for a shorter period of time.
Again, try to focus on quality instead of quantity and try to strike a balance between work, family, health, and your personal lifestyle in general. If you have been out of school for years getting back into that “student study mode” can be difficult at first. This will be an iterative process, so try different things and see what works for you. When you feel like you are feeling drained and exhausted, take a break and relax – don’t force it. Tomorrow is a new day where you can try get back at it.
After developing a solid routine with a consistent study schedule. You will always need to remind yourself to intentionally introduce breaks after long study sessions (especially at times when you feel mentally frustrated or drained). Take a walk, play a game, juggle a soccer ball, chill with yourself, friends, or pets, do whatever you can to help calm your mind. This will give you the change in perspective and the time needed to retain all the information you are accumulating daily.
Be honest with yourself. You will need to ask, contemplate, and answer certain questions.
Ask yourself whether you are really understanding the material. Is this method of solving the practice problems making sense to you? Does your method of solving certain practice questions really make sense to you? Are you understanding the concept behind the formulas used or are you just plugging things in the equation hoping for the best? Are you just looking over the practice problem solution instead of attempting and struggling through the problem?
Are you using the latest FE Reference Handbook for every practice problem you solve? Are you comfortable with applying the FE Reference Handbook? Are you comfortable with using your NCEES approved calculator?
Are you understanding the overall concept behind each practice question you do or are you just memorizing the steps? Are you just watching videos instead of attempt and struggling with the practice questions? Is reading the lesson notes and taking notes actually helping you understand how to solve FE type problems? This is course material really helping you learn? etc., etc.
The FE Exam is very different from any exam you have taken in your undergraduate degree. It is a very long exam and literally covers the fundamentals behind all the engineering topics you had as an undergraduate. You will need to make sure you are understanding these topics. If not, you will need to change your comfortable study techniques to make sure you’re always working towards progress.
Be honest with yourself. It will only benefit you in the long run.
4. Plan out your study blocks and create a timeline
Preparing for this exam requires a significant time commitment, especially if you have been out of school for a while! Don’t expect to get your studying done in a rush over spring break, winter break or in the weeks leading up to the exam. This isn’t something you want to procrastinate on.
If you are reading as an undergraduate student, we obviously recommend that you should begin prepping for the FE Exam early in your senior year of undergraduate studies. This will put you at a huge advantage since the engineering material is fresh to you and you are familiar with traditional problem-solving strategies. Make it a priority to take your FE at the middle or end of your senior year or as soon as you graduate.
The duration and intensity of your exam preparation depends on your needs and your life/work schedule. Just don’t leave it to the last minute and expect to skate through with flying colors. You will need to develop a study plan that works for you.
Developing a study plan can be very helpful for the following reasons:
- You won’t waste time figuring out what to do every time you sit down to study
- You stay on track with timelines, which is really important before your scheduled exam date
- It can give you a sense of progress beyond just the percentages you get after doing practice question, quizzes, and full-length exams.
A lot of students that use our platform plan their schedule on a weekly basis by using our printable Civil FE Exam prep course PDF study planner. Others prefer a customizable digital version in the form of an excel sheet.
Make sure to have study blocks that are specific, attainable, and have a time-limit.
A time block that says “Engineering Economics” isn’t quite enough—how do you know when you’re done?
Instead, make your tasks like this:
- “Monday 5-9 pm: Watch practice videos covering the “Time Value of money section under Engineering Economics, take personal notes”
- “Tuesday 6-8 pm: Take 15 minutes to review notes from yesterday. Attempt the practice video questions covered under the “Time Value of money section under Engineering Economics, note down any important equations used in FE Handbook 10.1”
- “Block 3 (2 hours): Learn how to apply the Kinematics equations from the FE Handbook 10.1, then do 10 timed practice questions and review.”
5. Ask why and set Goals for yourself
You will need to understand “why” you are putting in this much time and effort in preparation for the FE. Why are you even preparing for this exam? Are you trying to get a raise? Are you trying to get a promotion? Do you want to take that extra step forward into becoming a professional engineer? We will all have a different why and the answer to your why may be a combination of these things.
With your why defined, it is easier now to move towards a goal. To pass this exam, you will need to work towards an ultimate goal with multiple small goals in between.
For most of us, the ultimate goal is to become an EIT by passing the FE exam. Extrinsically, this is absolutely true. Intrinsically, your ultimate goal may be more of a long-term commitment that simply makes you feel good.
If we consider the short-term, Ultimate goal of passing the FE exam, you will need to set smaller goals throughout your preparation journey for this exam. These may be:
- how much study material you’ll cover in the span of a week
- how many hours you want to spend studying
- making sure you are just under 3 minutes when solving an FE type question
- what score you’d like to achieve on your practice exams
- getting an exam score over 70% after doing a full-length practice exam.
Small goals like these will help keep you accountable along the way and help you make progress toward your ultimate goal.
6. Use practice questions with your material review
Nothing feels worse than spending time and effort studying a topic in great detail, only to find out that the FE Exam doesn’t really ask for those details, or you need to think about the topic in a different way. This when doing updated and relevant FE practice questions becomes so important.
This exam is not based on just pure memorization or even just applying engineering formulas. Over years, the NCEES is making sure they are testing:
- fundamental concepts behind certain equations
- fundamental concepts behind the laws of physics
- decisions involving ethical and practical engineering judgment
- practical engineering applications
- application of equations or formulas with proper unit conversions
From this list, let us just say this exam will test your ability to apply your knowledge of engineering concepts with corresponding formulas that can be applied to different engineering design/analysis scenarios while forcing you to think critically about the given information. Practice problems are the best way to hone these skills.
We can always fall into this trap of “false competence” where we may think “oh, this makes sense” by just watching videos or looking over the solutions to practice problems. But, once we actually try doing a similar practice problem on our own, we don’t know where to even begin. All this means that we did not really have a solid understanding of the overall process involved. Building understanding requires deliberate, active practice, and this is not done by passively watching someone else do the problem or taking shortcuts by just looking over the solution.
Take your time, build your own problem-solving ability by working and struggling through practice problems.
You will need to do hundreds if not thousands of FE practice problems to develop your “problem solving muscle memory”. Get your hands on as much “Relevant” FE Exam practice questions as you can, and use them not for assessment purposes, but to help you see what details you’re missing, and to practice test-taking strategies outside of practice tests.
This is where our Civil FE Exam prep course comes in handy. In this course, we heavily rely on doing as many practice questions we can. We will do ALOT. We don’t just do one or two practice questions per section; we will make sure we are exposed to hundreds and a variety of FE practice questions. Each practice question is cleverly designed to apply majority of the discipline specific equations/formulas provided in the latest NCEES FE Handbook.
7. Use Practice Exams to build endurance and space them out!
Having all of your FE Exam content review down is only half of the battle. As with any standardized test, the FE exam does not only test what you know, but also your ability to take the test itself.
You will have 5 hours and 20 minutes to complete the 110 questions, giving you about 3 minutes to solve each question. Just like how you would never choose to run a marathon in one day, taking the FE Exam without having built up the stamina is a bad idea. Similarly, running a full marathon every day of race week will only burn you out.
You will need to build your endurance and mental stamina are built by starting slow at the beginning by making sure you are understanding what each practice question is asking you to find, noting down what you are given, and attempting to arrive a solution. You can apply this find, given, solution method as you solve questions with a sense of urgency by timing yourself.
After you’ve gotten comfortable with solving chunks of timed practice questions during you content review stage, you will need to attempt full-length practice exams. There are plenty out there today but the NCEES full-length exams is the closest you’ll get to the real FE exam outside of test day, so use this to your advantage!
Full-length exams are very important, at the beginning, you don’t necessarily need to take each one timed, but you need to gain enough experience taking the full-length test so that you know what to expect going in on exam day.
A month or a couple weeks before your exam, make sure you are taking at least 2 timed full-length practice exams. For the practice exam, make sure you attempt 50-55 questions for the first section, take a 25-minute break, and do another 50-55 questions for the second section. Some students will take this a step further by mimicking the testing environment as much as possible.
For example, if you plan on taking the FE at 8 am on test day, take your practice exam at 8 am too. If you are able to, find a quiet computer room and take the practice exam there.
The most important part in all of this is to make sure you are building your mental endurance and get used to sitting for long hours solving timed practice questions.
8. Focus on the quality review and not the quantity of the practice
This goes back to tip number 2. Going through as many practice questions as you can will help to a certain extent. But the majority of students who pass their FE exam spend equal amounts of time (if not more!) reviewing the explanations in the lesson material, watching videos discussing concepts, researching concepts online, reviewing the fundamental concepts behind questions, creating their own notes/equation sheet, and thinking about different ways to connect the content to the questions.
Develop a quality review process that will help you generate appropriate takeaways so that you’re not making the same mistake again!
9. Make sure you are using relevant and updated content review material
You will need to make sure you are using updated material relevant to the 2021 FE Exam and most importantly use material that covers the NCEES Exam Specification sections.
If you are using an FE exam preparation course, service, or books. Make sure they are updated and cover these ONLY specifications. Many FE exam preparation books and courses out there today are made and taught by traditional college professors who jam pack the review material irrelevant details which is likely to waste your time and effort. On top of that, many students who have taken these courses are exposed to long and boring lectures that made them you feel uninterested in the subject matter and demotivated to keep studying.
Again, look at the FE Exam specification topics listed under “Exam Specifications” NCEES website under the FE exam review page. Make effective use of your time by making sure you strictly focus on studying these topics.
There are a lot of topics to cover and this can be overwhelming. However, quantitively each topic is not equally tested since the number of questions you will see for each section varies. Make sure you note down the “number of questions” provided under the specifications and allocate enough time for the big sections with the greatest number of questions. Watch this video explaining the breakdown of the NCEES FE Exam topics.
It is rather rare for the FE Exam to require a lot of detail for a particular topic. Shortcut your work by doing some digging into what is important for the FE by making sure you have covered the application/concept behind the formulas in the FE Handbook.
10. Take the FE Exam only when you have completely reviewed all the topics and feel somewhat ready
The truth is it will never feel like enough prep, but at some point, you have to trust yourself and take the exam. Trusting yourself involves being honest with yourself and not just walking into the test day and hope that you get lucky.
- If your practice test scores indicate that you are way below your goal score then you’re not ready.
- If you are getting overthinking and getting stuck on too many problems (especially the fundamental ones, “we should know”) then you are not ready.
- If you are spending way too much time finding equations in the FE Handbook, the you are not ready.
- If you did not review and practice the most important sections for your FE discipline, then you are probably not ready.
Don’t be a perfectionist but do set realistic study goals as recommended by these tips. If you are achieving these goals, feel like you have made a lot progress, and feel somewhat confident. Go for it and take this exam.
Bonus tip: Minimize the Number of Study Resources Used
When looking for relevant and updated FE Exam review material, the sheer number and variety of FE Exam study resources available can be overwhelming. As a hard-working full-time engineer or university student, you may be tempted to want to make use of as many resources as possible to feel confident that you’re well-prepared and covering all the sections. In reality, you may end up using too many FE exam tips and tools inefficiently, rather than optimizing your use of the few resources best suited to your individual learning style.
When it comes down to it, the majority of FE study resources can be classified as sources for content review through:
- lecture notes
- lecture videos
- practice videos
- practice question banks
- practice tests
To narrow things down further, it can be helpful to select one major resource per category when structuring your studying. For example, one such combination of resources would be using our Civil FE Review Course which has lecture notes, lecture videos, and practice question videos and using the NCEES Practice Exam for the full-length practice exam.
Take some time to become familiar with which resources you enjoy, and focus on the ones that make your FE exam studying feel like fun. In this case, one of the best FE exam tips to remember in regard to FE study resources is that less is more!
If you are looking for a full/in-depth Civil FE Exam review course covering all the NCEES Topics, you may like our Civil FE Review Course. This is the only course you will ever need to buy to pass your FE exam. We will walk you through hundreds of practice problems, provide you with FE exam tips and tricks, show you how to use your calculator optimally, and so much more.