FE Civil Practice Exam (2023 Guide): How to pass the FE Exam
Updated November 20, 2023
If you’re pursuing a career in civil engineering in the US, passing the FE civil practice exam, also known as the civil FE exam, is a crutial first step.
The civil FE exam, also known as the Engineer in Training (EIT exam), is a six-hour computer-based aptitude exam.
It is run by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) to standardize civil engineering across the US.
As such, the FE civil practice exam tests graduates and undergraduates in their final year on their civil engineering knowledge and aptitude.
Thousands of students take the FE civil practice exam each year. Your eligibility to take the test will largely depend on the state you reside in.
For instance, in some states, students can take the civil FE exam before their final year of studies. In others, you must demonstrate a set number of years of work experience in engineering before taking it. In Michigan, there are no admission rules for the new FE civil practice exam.
However, most state licensing boards require those taking the exam to be Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) engineering program graduates or undergraduates. ABET runs a series of civil engineering education programs across the US.
Anyone aspiring to be a Professional Engineer (PE) must pass the FE civil practice exam.
Open to those with an engineering or related degree, the exam is the first of two you must pass to become a licensed Professional Engineer (PE); the second is the Principles of Practice Engineering (PE) exam.
Once you have passed both exams, you are permitted to work towards your PE licensure, which usually takes around four years under the supervision of an experienced Professional Engineer.
There are many advantages to successfully navigating the civil FE exam. For a start, as a licensed PE, you can expect to have more career opportunities than a non-licensed counterpart. Although it can vary from state to state, you’ll be able to:
- Tender for Government contracts
- Stamp and seal civil engineering designs and blueprints
- Set up a business. You can own and run a building or civil engineering firm capable of meeting specific US Government civil engineering standards
- Become a consultant engineer. You can earn a lot of money advising building companies on what they can and cannot do
You can also offer your services to the public, although most PEs tend to work on big contracts at the start.
The role of a PE is instrumental in many engineering areas, so even if you’re not sure what you want to specialize in, it’s worth taking the FE civil exam as soon as possible. If you leave it too long between graduating and taking the exam, you run the risk of widening any education knowledge gaps you may have.
This is one of the reasons why undergraduates are encouraged to take the FE civil practice exam. While at college, you have access to libraries, online materials, and research papers. Crucially, you also have the chance to ask your professors for advice on passing the exam.
The civil FE exam takes around six hours in total and is 100% computer-based. You’ll be expected to answer 110 multiple-choice questions during that time.
It starts with a nondisclosure agreement and tutorial that lasts 10 minutes before going straight into the FE civil exam questions, totaling five hours and 20 minutes, with a 25-minute break in between the two sessions.
The FE civil exam dates are every Monday to Saturday during every month of the year. The tests do not take place on Sunday.
The FE civil exam structure cover varies topics and is designed to test your engineering knowledge.
FE examinations, including the civil engineering discipline, are all delivered as computer-based tests (CBTs).
The exams are conducted with no physical reference materials allowed, but a select electronic reference is provided.
The FE Civil Exam covers a breadth of 14 unique content categories, each with varying numbers of questions.
It's important to note that all the questions follow a multiple-choice format.
Even if a question seems perplexing, candidates are encouraged to attempt every single one, as there is no penalty for incorrect responses.
No deductions are made from your overall score for wrong answers, so it's worth giving every question your best guess!
Here are some sample questions:
A simply supported beam with a span of 10 meters carries a concentrated load of 20 kN at its midpoint. What is the reaction force at each support?
Given a rectangular cross-section beam with dimensions 150 mm (height) x 75 mm (width) and a length of 3 meters, determine the maximum bending stress when subjected to a moment of 15 kN·m.
A pipeline with a diameter of 200 mm carries water with a flow rate of 0.1 m^3/s. Calculate the velocity of the water in the pipeline.
A soil sample has a void ratio of 0.7 and a specific gravity of 2.7. Calculate the porosity of the soil sample.
A vehicle is traveling at a speed of 60 mph on a highway. Calculate its speed in meters per second (m/s).
Determine the concentration of a pollutant in a water sample with an absorbance reading of 0.25, using a calibration curve with known concentrations.
Analyze a determinate truss to find the internal axial forces in its members under given loading conditions.
Given the rainfall data for a region, calculate the peak flow rate of a river using the Rational Method.
Calculate the total float and project duration for a critical path in a network diagram.
Analyze a hypothetical scenario involving ethical considerations in an engineering project.
Although the subjects are not officially labeled, they do cover the following FE civil practice problems:
- Mathematics (calculus, vector analysis, fractions and geometry) - 8-12 questions.
- Probability and statistics (single mean estimation, regression, and curve fitting, expected values, and measuring central tendencies and dispersions) - 8-12 questions.
- Ethics and professional practice (codes of ethics, licensure, liability, sustainable design, business skills and contract law) - 4-6 questions.
- Computational tools (spreadsheets and structured programming)
- Economics of engineering (discounted cash flow, cost variations and analysis, and managing project uncertainty) - 5-8 questions.
- Statics (force systems, rigid bodies, frames and trusses, area centroid, inertia, and static friction) - 8-12 questions.
- Material mechanics and mechanical reasoning (stresses and strains, deformations, column analysis and composite sections) - 7-11 questions.
- Dynamics in FE civil practice problems (kinematics, mass inertia, force acceleration, impulse momentum and structural rigidity) - 4-6 questions.
- Materials (mixed material designs, test methods, and knowledge on the physical and mechanical properties of certain materials) - 5-8 questions.
- Structural review (beams, frames, trusses, loads and load-bearing paths) - 10-15 questions.
- Structural design covering steel and reinforced concrete items - 10-15 questions.
- Surveying and spatial ability (distances, angles, areas, earthwork and volume calculations, and ground leveling) - 6-9 questions.
- Fluid mechanics (flow measurement, fluid properties, as well as energy and momentum equations) - 6-9 questions.
- Hydraulics (basics of hydrology and hydraulics, pumping systems, reservoirs, water distribution, groundwater and emergency sewer collection systems) - 10-15 questions.
- Geotechnical engineering (involving all geological considerations and the relevant tests that must be carried out before and during construction)- 10-15 questions.
- Engineering for transport (including highway and street design, traffic safety, and transportation planning- 9-14 questions.
- FE environmental practice exam (water quality and environmental impact, water supply and wastewater management).
- Construction (document creation, procurement, project delivery, health and safety, and estimation of jobs) - 8-12 questions.
The questions are split into two sets of 55, and none of the subjects span both sets. So if you answered questions on material mechanics within the first 55 questions, you won’t in the second.
As is standard in multiple-choice questions, you will have four possible answers to choose from in each FE Civil exam question. Although the questions are asked in subject sets, they are not connected. So, if you answer one incorrectly, it will not affect your subsequent answers.
If you need to prepare for a number of different employment tests and want to outsmart the competition, choose a Premium Membership from JobTestPrep.
You will get access to three PrepPacks of your choice, from a database that covers all the major test providers and employers and tailored profession packs.
In terms of pace, you’ll have just under three minutes per question. You also have the freedom to work through the questions in any sequence. You can also revisit a question later within that sitting if you want to check an answer. However, you cannot switch between the two 55-minute sessions.
Once the FE exam has started, you can leave your seat if you need to visit the restroom; although the clock will not stop, and any unanswered questions will be marked as inaccurate. If you are unsure of an answer, it’s best to take an educated guess at a multiple-choice question than to leave it blank.
A lesser-known fact is that your exam will be unique to you. Everyone sitting the FE Civil exam will have a different set of questions. This is because the Civil exam is computer-based and randomly selects different questions for every candidate using an algorithm.
You’ll also want to keep in mind that the score you need to pass the FE civil practice exam varies each year. This is because the NCEES uses an adjusting percentage process based on the overall scores of participants. Therefore, you can expect to pass if you answer around 60 percent of questions correctly.
What’s more, around 70% of people who take the FE civil practice exam pass the first time – meaning if you’ve prepared, the odds are in your favor.
You will need to pay a $175 FE civil practice exam fee to NCEES each time you sit the FE exam at an NCEES-approved assessment center.
Unlike psychometric tests and numerical reasoning tests, however, this is not an exam you can expect to pass without quite a bit of practice.
To give you the best possible chance, here are some helpful tips:
A lot of the questions within the FE civil practice exam involve complex civil engineering math problems.
Typically, these range from calculus to analytic geometry, differential equations, and regression – all things you will have learned at college.
You will be allowed to bring a calculator into the FE Civil exam, although not all models are permitted – it’s best to check with the test center.
If you purchase a new calculator for the exam, remember to spend some time getting to grips with how it works.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with how questions might be presented, and the best way to do this is by taking practice tests.
However, there are very few good-quality free FE civil practice exam programs available.
You should expect to pay around the $30 mark for a set of 100 randomized practice questions.
If you’re a student, make sure you tap into every resource you can, from borrowing test-practice books from the on-campus library to speaking to postgraduates who’ve passed the test.
Do your research. Explore different books and online self-paced FE civil practice exam programs. You’ll quickly find that there are quite a lot of books reporting to be the perfect prep tool.
However, it’s very easy to become overwhelmed. The best piece of advice is to choose one publisher, such as PPI and a paid online learning platform, if you’ve been out of education for a while:
Price: Starting at $1,090.
This FE civil practice exam course is designed for those who have been away from education for some time.
It includes 80+ hours of lecture videos, personalized study plans, flashcards and much more.
Price: Starting at $895
This on-demand FE civil practice exam is self-paced, meaning you can access online training on the go, although the entry-level price is for a three-month access.
Therefore, you need to make sure you can apportion the prep time required.
Price: Starting at $897 for the year or $297 for a month’s access
As one of the most comprehensive FE civil practice exam courses on the market, participants have access to 14 core course modules, over 300 practice problem videos and two 110-question practice exams.
If funds are tight, however, you can explore the free FE exam civil engineering practice courses on Coursera.
If you’re a graduate or undergraduate, you’ll be all too familiar with FE Civil exam questions. However, you may not be quite so acquainted with the NCEES format. Therefore, you’ll need to consult your NCEES handbook for the topics covered.
Also, remember you can bring your NCEES FE civil practice exam handbook to the test center as it’s a permitted resource.
If you’re a student, it’s likely you’ll have a friend also taking the FE civil practice exam.
Given how fast-paced the exam can be and how many questions there are, consider timing each other in sets of, say, 20 questions at a time.
You could look to replicate 55 questions each time you meet up and go over your scores to see where your strengths and weaknesses are and help each other.
The NCEES is not looking for a 100 percent pass rate. In fact, the pass rate tends to be anywhere between 50-60 percent in any given year. So, if you’re consistently scoring in the region of 60-70 percent, you’ll have a good chance of success.
As far as aptitude tests go, the FE civil practice exam represents an essential milestone on the road to a career as a fully-fledged engineer. Hence, passing it is an absolute must for aspiring licensed professional engineers.
The important thing to remember is that you will know most of the answers – it’s just a matter of teasing these out with practice.
Keep in mind that everyone learns differently. You may prefer the comfort of a hand-held book to flick through between lectures or the ease of an app. Either way, if you’re consistent in your approach and putting in the work, you’ll ace the Civil FE exam.