What Is the NCEES PE Exam?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Learn why becoming a licensed professional engineer is critical for your engineering career and how to prepare for the NCEES PE exam.

[Featured Image] A man studies for the NCEES PE exam at his laptop in his living room.

After passing two exams, professional licensure for engineers and surveyors comes from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The two exams are the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam and the Principles and Practices of Engineering (PE) exam. The PE exam tests minimum qualifications in your specific engineering discipline. 

The FE exam is a prerequisite for the PE exam for students finishing their engineering degree and recent graduates. Read on to learn why you should take the PE exam, other requirements, the disciplines it covers, the exam format, and what to do after you pass. 

Why should I take the NCEES PE exam?

The NCEES PE exam is the final step before aspiring engineers apply for certification and licensure from their state board. The public uses the structures and technologies engineers work with daily, so their safety is of the utmost importance. Becoming a licensed professional engineer (PE) ensures that you have the minimum level of competency to design and build these structures with public safety at the top of your mind. 

Licensed engineers have more opportunities for advancement from employers, giving you the ability to become a leader in the field or a private consultant and giving you the ability to teach engineering courses and work for government institutions. Additionally, licensed engineers are the only engineers who can prepare, sign, and seal engineering plans and documents for public boards or clients. 

As engineering work and technologies constantly change, being a licensed engineer means you don’t need additional certification.

What are the eligibility requirements for taking the PE exam and becoming a PE?

Before taking the PE exam, successful completion of the FE exam is necessary. Then, you need four years of work in the field after college graduation in your engineering discipline to take the exam. Afterward, you must register to take the PE exam by creating an account on the NCEES website, navigating to the PE exam tab, and filtering by your state and discipline to learn what other requirements your state requires before taking the PE exam. 

What are the exam disciplines?

The PE exam covers 27 engineering disciplines. Each engineering discipline has its own exam specifications. Be sure to read about your discipline on the NCEES website on the PE exam page to see how often your discipline offers the exam and the time of year the exam takes place. 

Below is a list of some engineering disciplines that the exam covers, the frequency of exams, and how many questions each one has:

  • Agricultural and biological: Once a year; 85 questions

  • Architectural: Once a year; 85 questions

  • Chemical: Year-round; 80 questions

  • Civil: Year-round; 80 questions

  • Electrical: Once a year;85 questions

  • Computer: Once a year;  85 questions

  • Environmental: Year-round; 80 questions

  • Mechanical: Year-round; 80 questions

  • Metallurgical and material: Once a year; 85 questions

  • Nuclear: Once a year; 85 questions

Refer to the NCEES website and select your specific discipline to learn more about exam requirements, format, and specifications. 

Guide to taking the NCEES PE exam

The PE exam is a vital step toward your career as a licensed professional engineer. Let’s take a look at what you need to do before taking the exam:

  1. Register for the exam.

  2. Schedule your exam appointment.

  3. Exam day preparation.

  4. Learn the exam format. 

  5. Learn the exam policies.

  6. Understand your exam results.

Always refer to the official NCEES guide and the NCEES website for specific details regarding the PE exam. 

1. Register for the exam.

Before taking the NCEES PE exam, you need to review any state-specific guidelines, register on the NCEES website, pay the exam fee, request any ADA or military accommodations, and schedule your exam. While each discipline exam differs, $375 is the typical PE exam fee [1]. However, each state has varying requirements that could accrue additional costs on taking the exam. Use the state-specific drop downs on the PE exam tab of the NCEES website to see how much it will cost for your discipline and location. 

2. Schedule your exam appointment.

After you receive the approval from your stand board, you'll receive an email to schedule your exam appointment. To do so, log in to your NCEES account, go to the website’s “schedule” section, make your selection, and await confirmation. Each discipline’s exam has specific dates every year, so review your discipline and when the exam is available. If needed, you may be able to cancel or reschedule your appointment if you meet specific criteria and provide at least 48 hours' notice. 

3. Exam day preparation.

Before exam day, study for the exam. The NCEES website lists practice exams for each discipline for purchase. Here are some basic steps to prepare for the PE exam:

  • Study the PE exam format and subjects for your discipline. 

  • Obtain a PE reference manual and purchase any other necessary study materials. 

  • Find how you want to study by reviewing theory or solving problems and identify your strengths and weaknesses in each subject.

  • Take practice exams available on the NCEES website or third-party recourses. 

  • To ease stress, make a thorough review plan, find study groups, schedule, and practice self-care. 

When exam day comes, give yourself ample time and plan to arrive 30 minutes before your appointment. Be sure to have a government ID, passport, or military ID. You also need an approved calculator and any approved comfort items. Visit the NCEES website for a detailed list of approved calculators and items. 

4. Learn the exam format.

All PE exams have two sections, which are not timed separately. Instead, you receive the entire test at the beginning but complete each section simultaneously, making time management necessary. NCEES lists each discipline’s exam topics on the NCEES exams page

The majority of exam questions are multiple-choice with one correct answer. However, exams may have a variety of questions, which include:

  • Multiple choice with multiple right options

  • Point-and-click questions that require you to click on part of a graph as an answer

  • Drag and drop questions that you need to match, sort, or label 

  • Fill-in-the-blank questions that require you to put a numerical answer in

Are there breaks during the exam?

You have one scheduled break after you submit the first section of exam questions. You can leave the building during this scheduled break but must return before it’s over for readmission into the exam room. If needed, you may take an unscheduled break at any time during the exam to access personal items, food, or water, but this will take up exam time, and you cannot leave the building. 


5. Learn the exam policies.

NCEES does not permit any irregular exam behavior such as cheating, having someone else impersonate you to take the exam, having items prohibited by the comfort list, using a cell phone or the internet in any way, or disclosing exam content publicly after completing the exam. If irregular behavior occurs, NCEES can invalidate your results without a refund and possibly restrict future test-taking. 

6. Understand your exam results.

After you finish your exam, NCEES typically emails you with your results about seven to 10 days after completion. If you don't pass, you'll receive a more detailed assessment of your mistakes. The email includes information on how you should move forward to your state licensing board based on your performance. 

What to do after passing the PE exam?

After passing the PE exam, you won’t automatically receive the PE title. You must apply for your licensure from your state board and submit your NCEES records to them. Be sure to review your state board’s qualifications for PE licensure. You are an official professional engineer once you receive approval and pay the state board fee. You can display your license and purchase a PE stamp or seal for engineering documents.  

Salary and job outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected growth for all engineering positions from 2022 to 2032 is 7 percent [1]. Let’s look at some engineering positions and their median annual salary. 

(All salaries are median annual salaries from BLS as of February 2024)

  • Civil engineer: $89,940 per year

  • Conservation scientist and forester: $64,420 per year

  • Environmental engineer: $96,530 per year

  • Mechanical engineer: $96,310 per year

Getting started with Coursera

If you’re an engineer looking to boost your leadership skills while becoming a professional engineer, try the Engineering Management Graduate Certificate from the University of Colorado Boulder on Coursera. This program helps you build essential leadership, project management, and budgeting skills focused on leading engineering and technical projects. 

Article sources


NCEES. “Examinee Guide, https://ncees.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/11/NCEESExamGuide_November-2023.pdf.” Accessed November 15, 2023.

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