FE exam specifications for 2014
In January 2014, the current specifications for the FE exam will change when the exam transitions from a pencil-and-paper administration to a computer-based one.
The creation of NCEES exam specifications focuses on developing and administering a content survey and analyzing the survey results. This is a detailed process in which each step contains checks and balances to ensure that the resulting exams are fair to the candidates based on the coursework that they take in their engineering curriculum and to provide the state licensing boards with an adequate measure of each candidate’s minimum competency to begin the licensure process.
NCEES conducts a content review for the FE exam every six to eight years. This review maintains the exam consistency with the important topic areas being taught in U.S. engineering programs.
Development of the new FE exam specifications began in spring 2011. A stakeholder group—made up of representatives from the NCEES FE exam development and exam oversight committees, academic personnel whose institutions use the FE exam for assessment purposes, and members of state licensing boards—guided this review process.
The current pencil-and-paper FE exam, introduced in 2005, is a breadth-and-depth format. It has a common breadth portion that all examinees complete in the morning. For the afternoon portion, examinees must select one of seven depth modules for various technical disciplines.
For the past few years, engineering curricula across the nation has been showing less uniformity in core engineering curricula. This loss of a common core affects the FE exam’s relevance to professional licensure as well as examinees’ perspectives on their ability to do well. It also affects institutions’ perspectives on the usefulness of the FE for outcomes assessment if they do not teach some of the exam topic areas.
Therefore, the stakeholder group decided to develop the FE content review survey as seven freestanding discipline-specific exams in the areas of chemical, civil, electrical and computer, environmental, industrial, mechanical, and other disciplines. The other disciplines exam is envisioned to provide an equitable exam for candidates who are not majoring in one of the six specific disciplines; it is not intended to be an alternative exam for students in those six disciplines. While there was no separate breadth module in the survey, relevant core content was included on each exam’s survey.
In August 2011, NCEES held a survey-creation meeting with 59 participants, including 33 people representing 20 different technical societies. The group was diverse in terms of geographic location, employer type, engineering discipline, and other demographics. The primary meeting goal was to develop a draft survey containing the subjects in each discipline and establish consensus support. NCEES distributed pilot surveys in September 2011 and reviewed the results in October. It modified the survey questions based on these pilot results.
NCEES launched the web-based survey in October 2011. It distributed the survey through its website and press releases. To collect broad results, NCEES sent the survey to technical society members, institution report recipients, deans and department heads of all EAC/ABET programs, PE and FE exam committee volunteers, and others. NCEES also encouraged recipients to forward the survey to other engineers. More than 7,000 people completed the survey. Respondents rated the importance of each topic area on a scale of 0 to 4 to indicate how important it is for an engineer intern to have minimum competence in that area with regard to protecting public health, safety, and welfare. After the survey closed in December 2011, Pearson VUE, the company providing support for the computer-based FE exam, analyzed the results and prepared data for discussion at the specification meetings.
Seven specification meetings (one for each exam) were held in January 2012 to review the survey analysis and develop exam specifications for the seven new exams. Seventy-three volunteers participated, 42 of whom represented 24 technical societies. The group was diverse in geographic location, employer type, engineering discipline, and other demographics.
The FE exam development committee presented these exam specifications to the NCEES Committee on Examinations for Professional Engineers, an oversight committee made up of state licensing board members. The committee formally approved the specifications for the seven individual exams. While these exams will contain some overlapping content (e.g., mathematics and engineering economics), there will no longer be a common breadth portion. Each FE exam will be a freestanding exam.