You don’t have to Ace every Subject to Pass the FE Exam
Joel Erway posted on May 27, 2013 |

Hint – leverage your strengths 

The Fundamentals of Engineering Exam (the FEExam) is the first step aspiring professional engineers take to open many doors of opportunity. Sadly, many frustrated engineers tirelessly (and repeatedly) prepare for the exam and can’t seem to succeed.

Most of the time it’s not that they aren’t smart enough, but rather that they don’t have time to relearn what they were taught years ago. But as Vilfredo Pareto taught us, 80% of our success lies within 20% of our efforts.

I was fresh out of college when I sat for the FE Exam in October 2009.  “No sweat”, I thought. But as I began preparing in mid-summer I quickly realized that there were quite a few topics that my mechanical engineering degree never taught me, such as Biology, Chemistry, and Magnetics. On top of that, there were other subjects that I wasn’t particularly strong in. My first reaction was that I needed to learn these subjects quickly or I was going to fail. Boy was I wrong.

My friend and I signed up for a 6 week online review class. The class covered every topic on the FE Exam and set us back a cool $700. Around week 2 I began beating my head against the desk (literally) trying to cram 4 years’ worth of lectures into my brain.  Soon I realized that I was hardly better off than when I started. I knew it was time to shift gears or I’d be toast come test day.

During week 3 I decided to take the time set aside for the review class to perfect what I already knew. If I could maximize my success on my strongest subjects and provide educated guesses on my weaker subjects then my odds should be better, right? After all, we are not penalized for incorrect answers. Why not use this to my advantage?

I decided to completely neglect my weaker subjects. If I didn’t retain what I learned in school I wasn’t going to retain it by cramming for the FE Exam. Instead, I decided to refocus on my stronger subjects and categorize my strengths and weaknesses into what I call the “A, B, C’s” of the FE Exam.   

For my 5-6 best subjects, my “A” group, my goal was to get at least 85% of the problems correct. My “B” group would be 3-4 subjects in which I could get 60% correct.  The “C” group represented those 3-4 subjects where I expected to get only 25% correct.

This method allowed me to not sweat the small stuff. For my “C” subject groups I focused on learning only the most basic formulas and terminologies that weren’t already in the reference manual and didn’t spend more than 4 days in total preparation. The “B” group – not more than 2 weeks in total preparation; “A” group subjects – four to five weeks in total preparation with strong focus on more advanced problem solving (mechanical engineering subjects and math topics for me).

Whether you are a recent college grad or have 15 years in the workplace, passing this exam is essential to advancing your career. None of us have enough time to learn every subject on the exam, but using this technique should help you free up some valuable study time, reduce stress, and ultimately pass the FE Exam.

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