Thursday, October 15, 2009

When to take the P.E. Exam?

I've been an EIT/EI (term varies by state) for about three and a half years now. I'm almost ready to take the P.E. Exam. In legal terms, the main thing that separates a Professional Engineer is the ability to stamp and certify drawings. It means the P.E. is taking full responsibility for the design.

In order to become a P.E. you need to graduate with a Bachelor's of Science* in Engineering from an ABET-accredited university. You'll generally have about 100 credit hours worth of math, science, and engineering out of 120-ish total for your diploma.

Then, you take the Fundamental of Engineering exam (FE Exam). I took and passed the FE a few weeks before I graduated in Spring 2006. The FE is only given twice a year, so as long as your school certifies that you're going to graduate on time, you're allowed to take it the semester you graduate. Tulane, despite having many graduates in Biomedical Engineering who don't have a full load of thermodynamics, hasn't had a student fail the FE in over 30 years. That's partially because it's graded on a state-by-state curve (thank you, LSU students, for anchoring down the scores!).

Once you pass the FE Exam, you become a EIT/EI. Engineer In Training (EIT) is a more common term, but Louisiana uses Engineer Intern (EI).

You then gain experience while working under a licensed Professional Engineer for usually 4-5 years. I've been very fortunate in that I work for a firm that's got the best reputation in town for over 50 years and I've had the opportunity to work in several different industries (mining, oil & gas, commercial, etc.) under several different P.E.'s and gain some great experience.

I was originally planning on taking it as soon as possible, but I'm pretty much settled into taking it in October of 2010. I've recently learned, however, that Louisiana technically only requires 3 years, 9 months of experience, due to the exam being scheduled only twice per year (April/October) and once per year for less common exams (nuclear, industrial, etc.). I could, if I chose to, take it in April of 2010, about 6 months from now. Unfortunately, that April date is very close to another busy day for me. I'd also have only 6 months to study for it (a full year studying about 10-20 hours a week to prepare is recommended).

I've asked around and from what I can tell, Mechanical Engineering and Civil/Structural are the two most difficult subjects. Mechanical Engineering is extremely broad; I like to describe it as 'everything that moves.' The three main subjects on the Mechanical P.E. exam are Thermo/fluids, Machine design, and HVAC/Refrigeration. If the exam were just on fluids, I could probably take it in my sleep, but I've done virtually no HVAC work. It takes learning a huge amount of material to pass.

Anyway, that's what I'm considering now. I'm probably going to take it in October 2010, like I was planning. The only consideration I might have is I might want to study as much as I can and just take a stab at it in the spring. If I pass, I pass and if I fail, I know what to study. It's $255 to take the test, plus $100 to LAPELS, so I'm not sure I want to take it just for kicks.

* There are other ways to become a P.E., but I'll stick with the most common route. This is how 90+% of new P.E.'s go. See NCEES for more.


Ryan said...

I don't think you need to study for PE exam for a year. I would suggest preparing for the exam for about 5-10 hours per week for 3 months, unless its been decades since you graduated. Study for a few months (or take a review course) and get familiar with your references and calculator. Then buy a practice test and work through the problems. (If you get Lindeburg's ME practice exam, don't worry too much about your score or time, because it's much more difficult than the actual exam).

I just took the Oct 2009 Mechanical PE exam (in machine design). I studied for about 30 hours during this last month and I don't think spending more time would have helped me much at all. (My initial study plan was much more ambitious ... life got in the way). Hehe, of course, I don't know if I passed or not.

Adam Quintana said...

Where did you learn that Louisiana only requires 3 years, 9 months? As far as I know, all states offer the PE exam only twice a year. I would like to take the Electrical PE in Oct. 2010, but if I wait until the very last minute to apply in July 2010 I will only have ~3 years, 10 months.

Clay said...

I called LAPELS (state board). I talked to a lady named Heidi, I believe. The 3 years, 9 months rule will be eliminated after next year.

Louisiana is one of the only states to allow people with less than 4 years experience to sit for the exam. It can become a problem when applying for reciprocity, though.

evilanemone said...

I took the Environmental P.E. back in 2007, in Washington State. I had graduated in Civil back in 1989 (I was already a P.Eng. in Canada) and done my M.S. ten years later. I studied very intensively for four weeks before the P.E. exam and found it easier than the EIT/FE exam because it directly related to my daily work. I kept plenty of time to review my answers, and actually walked out early in the afternoon so I would avoid the parking mess...

My recommendation is to simply pick the topic that is closest to your daily work and your expertise, organize your study plan very carefully, and be very methodical when you take the exam.

Clay said...

I mainly do pumps and piping. I may choose the Thermo/Fluids section, but HVAC problems are very quick I'm finding.

The problem with MechE is it's so broad.

We'll see how it goes.