Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam


The Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam (PE Exam) is the last step on the road to becoming a licensed engineer. Before you qualify to take the PE exam, you must pass the FE Exam (or successfully waive the requirement) and gain at least 4 years of engineering experience under your belt. Your state licensing board will review your experience to determine if you qualify to sit for the PE exam.

You can choose to take one PE Exam based on your engineering specialty. The PE Exams you may choose from include:

  • PE Agricultural
  • PE Architectural
  • PE Chemical
  • PE Civil
  • PE Control Systems
  • PE Electrical and Computer
  • PE Environmental
  • PE Fire Protection
  • PE Industrial
  • PE Mechanical
  • PE Metallurgical
  • PE Mining and Mineral
  • PE Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
  • PE Nuclear
  • PE Petroleum
  • PE Structural I
  • PE Structural II
  • PS (Principles and Practice of Surveying)

The exams vary from 6-8 hours. They are all divided up into morning and afternoon sessions regardless of the length. The exams contain between 80-100 multiple-choice questions. The exception to this is the PE Structural II exam, which instead consists of 8 essay questions – 4 of which must be answered.

All exams are open book. Only specific, approved calculator models may be used. You may not bring any pagers or cell phones into the exam room.

Once you pass the exam, you will be licensed in your jurisdiction. You can apply for a license in other jurisdictions by contacting each licensing board. The PE Exam was first administered in 1966. The uniform, national PE Exam that is used today was adopted in the U.S. by 1984.

What Counts as Acceptable Engineering Experience for the PE Exam?

In order to qualify for the Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam (PE Exam), a candidate will need to work as an engineer for 4 years.

Some of this experience may have been accumulated during college (i.e. an internship). And in some states, an advanced degree (i.e. a Ph.D) may count for a portion of the experience. You will need to check the specific rules in your state.

There are several criteria that must be met for a specific position to count as acceptable engineering experience for the PE exam. Firstly, the work experience must be in a major recognized branch of engineering and it must also be in the specific branch of engineering the individual is claiming as his or her specialty. The experience must also have been conducted under the supervision of a more qualified engineer.

Further criteria include that the work experience should allow the individual to develop his or her technical skills. Lastly, the experience must progress from simpler tasks to more complex tasks with more responsibility and be considered “well-rounded”. It is important that the individual has performed independent decision making skills and accountability during the work experience.

You will have to communicate that your work experience meets these criteria to the state board when applying for your engineering license. Therefore, you should document your work experience as clearly and specifically as possible. Keep records of all the individuals who can verify your experiences. Take care when filling out the work experience portion of your licensing application as the board will review it carefully.

While gaining your engineering experience, it is wise to tell your employer that you plan to become a licensed engineer and they will usually be happy to ensure that your work experience meets the criteria for licensing.