Taking the PE Exam Early

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of and should not be attributable to the National Society of Professional Engineers.

A trend among states to allow early taking of the PE exam is accelerating. For many years, California has allowed candidates to take the PE exam in preparation for licensure after only two years of engineering experience. In recent years, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico have allowed candidates to take the PE exam after receiving a BS degree from an EAC-ABET accredited program, and having passed the FE exam. Now, in the past year, Illinois has instituted the same practice, allowing the early taking of the PE exam. In these states, the licensure candidate still needs to accumulate the requisite years of experience prior to being licensed.

What is the benefit? There are several. Allowing early taking of the PE exam provides a measure of convenience for potential licensees. This is particularly important for engineers in industry whose work experience might be narrowly focused, and who might be more apt to take the exam earlier. This could encourage the licensure of more engineers. For a young engineer who passes the exam early, the likelihood that he or she will become a professional engineer is significantly increased. And that young engineer’s qualifications are strengthened because employers can be confident that he or she will become a professional engineer. The benefit is substantial flexibility and convenience for those who are potentially on a track to become a professional engineer.

What is the effect on pass rates? David James, Ph.D., P.E., of the Nevada Society of Professional Engineers prepared a report for the NSPE Licensure and Qualifications for Practice Committee detailing the PE exam results in Nevada from 2005 through 2011 for civil and non-civil exam takers. The data spans seven years and 12 administrations of the PE exam. For civil engineers, the pass rate in Nevada for those taking the exam with less than four years of experience is 50%, and for those with 4+ years of experience, it is 46%. For all disciplines other than civil (“non-civil”), the pass rate over all 12 administrations in Nevada is 50% for early takers and 61% for those taking the exam after 4+ years of experience. For non-civil engineering disciplines, the pass rate appears to be somewhat higher for more experienced engineers.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying has presented data in the past showing pass rates after various numbers of years of experience. In my recollection, that data showed that pass rates are highest after four years, and somewhat, but not substantially, lower with fewer years of experience and lower still for those who wait many years to attempt the exam.

The exam content in each discipline is different. In civil and environmental engineering, much of the exam content is similar to problem sets that are included in academic curricula. It should be noted that the examination is in principles and practice. The principles portion is based on the academic background. There has been some discussion in the engineering community as to whether civil engineering is more rooted in its academic background for the first four years post graduation. In some other disciplines—control systems is a good example—much of the content is information learned in practice, not in school. This variation has to do with the nature of the engineering disciplines, and not with the exam preparation.

What is the downside? There are a number of issues that have been discussed within the engineering profession over the years. Each issue, with its associated counter, is discussed below.

  1. Comity: There are a number of states with statutes that require that the PE exam be taken after the requisite years of engineering experience have been attained—even 20 or 30 years after the fact. This has historically been a problem for engineers first licensed in California under the early-taking provision. This needs to get solved in all states, regardless of whether or not the early taking trend spreads, particularly now that Illinois, a state with a population of nearly 13 million in the middle of the country, is allowing early taking of the PE exam. Someone who can pass the PE exam after two years of experience can reasonably be assumed to be capable of passing the PE exam after four years of experience. From a qualifications standpoint, this is a non-issue, in my opinion.
  2. Experience Required for Licensure: Some engineers voice the concern that if the PE exam is allowed to be taken early, there will be a push to license engineers with fewer years of engineering experience than is currently required. This has not been the case to date, and need not be the case.
  3. Studying for the Exam after Four Years is Good: Some engineers contend that studying for the PE exam after four years of experience helps to tie together academic training and engineering experience. By that same argument, one could contend that perhaps we should require engineers to take the PE exam every four years throughout their careers, an idea which almost no one would advocate.
  4. Practice Exam: In some engineering disciplines, engineering experience is more critical to passing the PE exam than in others. However, the early taking of the exam is voluntary. If a control systems engineer wants to wait for three or four years to take the exam, he or she may do so.

In my view, there is upside to the spread of the early-taking trend to more jurisdictions as it may provide less of an obstacle to licensure for some engineers. The downside primarily pertains to comity, which needs to be resolved whether or not additional jurisdictions allow early taking of the PE exam.

Editorial input provided by Bernard Berson, P.E., F.NSPE; L. Robert Smith, P.E., F.NSPE, and Jeff Greenfield, Ph.D., P.E.

Published August 1, 2011 by Craig Musselman, P.E., F.NSPE

Filed under: Licensing, PE Exam,


Sanju - If you meet the academic requirements (BS in engineering from an EAC ABET accredited program) and have passed the FE exam, several states allow you to take the exam prior to accumulating the experience - Nevada, Arizona, perhaps Illinois.  You would need to check with the state PE board in those states to see if you are eligible.  In all states, you still need to accumulate the required number of years of acceptable engineering experience prior to becoming licensed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 8:05 AM by Craig Musselman

"could contend that perhaps we should require engineers to take the PE exam every four years"

I'm not seeing how the one leads to the other.  Seems like you're dismissing it out of hand when you should make your case.

Thursday, December 27, 2012 3:46 PM by W

I find it unrealistic the way several States handle foreign educated engineers even after relocating with a BSEE in addition to taking MSEE and even PHD in U.S. I have 14 years of experience in a foreign country and a MSEE from U.S and have passed FE. The State Board says that I have to work for 4 years under a licensed engineer before I take the exam.

Friday, December 28, 2012 10:15 AM by John Njoroge

I passed my E.I.T in State of california long time ago, My Bachelor degree in statistics and Master of Science in Quality Assurance.Presently working on MSEE and EE preparatory classes in University of Louisville,Kentucky, expect to graduate soonest.What are the requirement to take PE exam in Electrical Power System.

Thursday, May 09, 2013 7:53 AM by Wasiu Alaka

If you have a BS degree from an ABET accredited university, are you able to take the PE in California without passing the FE?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013 4:52 PM by Molly

I recently passed the FE exam and received my EIT certificate in CA. My BS is from a foreign university and I don't want to go through NCEES evaluation for now. I wanna take the PE exam ASAP (early PE exam) because my mind is very fresh after taking the FE exam, but I need to find a state that doesn't need an ABET accredited BS degree. What are my options? Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Illinois, does any of these accept a non-abet degree if I already have my EIT certificate in CA? Thank you!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013 4:57 PM by Robert

Robert, after passing the EIT in CA, did you need to submit the official transcript to the board through NCEES accreditation process or you just send a copy of your unofficial transcript to them?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013 11:46 AM by Saki

I have not been able to pass the EIT(FE exam), however, I have ten years of experience in California and graduated from a California State University. I want to take the PE and move forward. FE exam has been a major obstacle in my way since I have not been successful in passing it. Are there any states that would allow me to take the PE without FE or EIT?

Tuesday, October 01, 2013 1:53 PM by Tom

What would my Professional Title be now that I passed the PE Early Exam, but I still need 2 more years of experience to get my license?

Monday, August 04, 2014 1:42 PM by Amanda

With masters and two years experience in in Texas and would like to take early PE exam. But, the state Texas do not allow to take early.
So, can I take early PE in New Mexico or Arizona and transfer it to Texas after a year?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 3:28 PM by Lakshman

I passed the FE but never filled out my EIT paper work.  How will this impact my timeline for getting my PE?  I am not an EIT yet but can I get my 4 years of experience out of the way and go straight to the PE test or do I need to fill out my EIT paperwork?

Thursday, June 11, 2015 12:12 PM by Michael

So if someone passes the PE exam early, do they still need to re-take the PE exam to become licensed as a professional engineer?

Friday, June 19, 2015 2:24 PM by D. Williams

No, you do not need to retake the exam once you have passed it unless you want to change the topic (e.g. going from Civl: Transportation to Mechanical: HVAC). Sometimes, even if you do not want to do that, the board will make you retest for the competency field in which you have your experience in.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015 10:29 AM by Chris

I find it discouraging that the PE is being treated like the FE exam. I feel that in order for the engineering profession to be respected like many other professions (doctors, lawyers, etc) that the internship process and job experience should be more heavily regualted and stringent. I'm thinking of something similar to the internship process for Architects. Allowing graduating engineers to take a state exam to demonstrate competency is only going to degrade engineering as a profession. The engineer should have many years of real world experience and design under his/her belt before being licensed. 

Tuesday, December 08, 2015 4:44 PM by Jordan

Jordan, you must be young. The reason practioners in the fields of medicine and law are respected is because the public comes into contact with them when in dire need, and the public receives assistance for their trust. It is debatable whether lawyers are actually respected or merely feared, but certainly people have some idea what they do. The same could be said about school teachers, many of whom are fairly awful, but people love the idea of teaching the young, and so even the awful teachers benefit.Virtually nobody knows what engineers do. If they are not respected, it is because they toil alone and in the dark.
The public has no idea how their lives are protected and improved by the dedication and suffering of engineers. No ambulance announces their presence, and no graduation ceremony celebrates their successful concrete design. In truth, engineers are respected, but they are not idolized, and they are not seen as interesting, life-saving, important people as are doctors and other professionals. Your notion of making the licensing process more difficult is not going to make the public suddenly respect engineers, but it will make potential engineers choose more sufferable fields. The solution is to do what the AIA began to do some eight years ago: begin promoting the profession of engineering on national TV.
Show life without engineering and life with engineering. Show how lives are saved and how civilization is rooted in engineering. Most people do not know where their tap water comes from or what happens after they flush a toilet. They panic when the electricity fails, but they have no idea how it is produced or gets to their microwave. Young people think they invented cell phones and have no idea the decades of work by underpaid engineers. They need to be taught, and engineers need to begin demanding a higher wage for their labor. People do not mind paying high prices for movie or sporting event tickets so entertainers can live like royalty. Neither would they choose to go without the many things that engineers provide. Nobody needs to live like royalty, but no engineer should be making only twice minimum wage in one of these idiotic states that has raised burger flipper wages to $15/hour. The public does not respect a profession that earns only a pittance more than a burger flipper. It gives the impression that a burger flipper is just shy of being able to design a bridge. It may not be fair, but respect is tied to income much more than competence.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016 11:56 AM by Yitzhak

I partially agree with your sentiment here, but I feel the longstanding comparison between doctors, lawyers, and engineers is inappropriate. Doctors, lawyers, and executives perhaps - there really is no comparison between the earning potential of a doctor and an engineer. However, I do agree that licensure should come with experience.

Sunday, July 03, 2016 6:04 PM by Tom

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