Hitting the books: Study tips for engineering exams

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity” — Albert Einstein

image of hannah engel

When you are a recent college graduate who is striving to become a licensed engineer, earning your degree doesn’t mean you’ve studied for your last exam. As a new hire in Hanson’s aviation market, I knew that passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (F.E.) exam would be necessary for my path toward professional licensure. Knowing that passing these types of exams requires time and strategy, I equipped myself for the test by attending review sessions offered by my alma mater, Bradley University, and found a study buddy to help me review practice problems. If the F.E. or a similar exam is in your future, I have some tips you may find helpful during your preparation.  

Exam preparation

It's important to consider that everyone learns differently. Some people are visual learners, while others are hands-on, auditory or a combination. Once you know your ideal learning method, you can determine the best way to study. Be conscious of your reason for learning the material. Don’t feel like studying? Remind yourself why it’s important for you to pass this exam and find appreciation in knowing the exam will benefit you.

The first step is to schedule a time and place to take the exam. Choose a date based on the time it will take you to prepare. For the F.E. exam, two to three months (or 100 hours) is the average amount of study time. Some people are efficient procrastinators; others are not. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, plan accordingly by creating a study schedule that works for you.

The key to passing exams like the F.E. is to understand how the test is structured. This exam takes the average person about 5 hours and 20 minutes (110 questions equals three minutes per problem, on average). The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), which facilitates this exam, details on its website how much of each topic will be on the exam. This is extremely helpful for determining which topics might require more of your attention. The NCEES does not state the exact score you need to pass, and the exam is scaled based on its difficulty. A good rule of thumb is to answer about 70% correct on a timed practice exam.

Study methods

Once you understand the layout of the exam, study the material before taking a timed practice exam. This ensures that you have reviewed the topics and are prepared to take a stab at the real thing. There are different ways of studying the material, such as using an exam review textbook, watching YouTube videos, attending review sessions or purchasing software with quizzes containing common F.E. exam questions. Do not forget to use the “FE Reference Handbook” that accompanies the exam while you are studying so that you become comfortable with its layout and can reference certain sections quickly and efficiently during the exam.

Once you feel comfortable with the topics and the reference manual, it’s time to take the practice exam. It’s recommended to time yourself to prepare for the time limit during the real exam. While working through the practice test, mark questions that you skip or guess on. Score your practice test and study the topics you struggled with.

The same tips can be applied to other professional exams, but keep in mind that the exam structure and amount of time needed to study may vary.

Good luck!

Hannah Engel is a civil airport designer who started her Hanson career as a summer intern. To read more about Hannah’s journey into aviation engineering, see her Ascend profile.