Future of FE and PE Exams: CBTs, AITs or Simply Alternative Item Type Questions
This month we would like to start answering some of our readers’ questions regarding the PE exams.
All Civil Engineering PE exams (Construction, Geotechnical, Structural, Transportation and Water Resources and Environmental) are currently offered in pencil-and-paper format and available once or twice per year depending on the exam. Computer Based Tests (CBTs) for all civil engineering disciplines is scheduled to start in 2023 and they will be offered year-round. A brief background about the CBTs:
In 2010, NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) started moving toward Computer-Based Tests (CBT’s). The process of first converting the FE and FS exams from paper-and-pencil to computerized exams changed the whole system of exam delivery.
This method of administering exams allowed candidates to have more flexibility in scheduling exams and provided a more uniform testing environment for all candidates while allowing NCEES to better protect exam content from theft, copying, and collusion. There are two types of CBT exams, year-round and single day exams.
Some CBT exams are administered year-round. NCEES constructs these exams using a linear-on-the-fly (LOFT) algorithm. This means that all examinees for a particular exam are required to answer the same number of questions in the same topics; however, no examinees will have the same set of questions.
The second type, single-day, CBT exams have a smaller examinee population using a different high-stakes testing model and are administered on a single day each year. All examinees taking these exams receive the same questions.
The question formats used on both types of exams are the same, independent of the statistical model employed.
After this brief introduction for CBT’s, now let’s talk about AITs.
Computer Based Exams include traditional multiple-choice questions as well as alternative item types (AITs). AITs provide opportunities to assess the technical knowledge of examinees using methods not available through paper-based testing.
As of July 1, 2017, the examinees taking a computer based NCEES exams have been receiving up to five types of questions on their exams.
Traditional Multiple-Choice (MC) questions that feature four answer options from which to choose. One of which is the correct answer.
Multiple Choice questions with Multiple Correct Options feature more than four answer options from which to choose and allow for multiple answer options to be selected or simply it requires examinees to select multiple answers.
Point and Click (P&C) questions require the examinee to select one or more pre-determined clickable areas that become visible when the examinee move his/her cursor over the graphic. To give an example for a P&C type question, you will be given the figures of a simply supported beam and its cross section (for example a rectangle). Assume the beam is under vertical transverse loads and the question asks you to mark (click) on the cross section where the maximum normal stress takes place. As you may’ve guessed, the correct answer would be at the top fiber (top portion) of the cross section. Another typical P&C type of question would a cantilever beam under downward transverse loads. In this case the entire top fibers of the beam will be under tension and bottom fibers will be under compression. Depending on the question, it is easy to mark the correct location on the figure to get the correct answer. Sometimes you will be given a graph, or a chart and you may be asked to mark a particular area depending on the question.
Drag and Drop (D&D) questions require the examinee to click and drag his/her answer options to sort, rank, match, or label a provided graphic. For example, you will be given the figures of four beams such as a simply supported beam, an overhanging beam, an indeterminate beam and a multispan beam. Next to the four figures you may see the list of four beam types. In this type of question, you will be required to match each of the beams with its correct description.
Fill in the Blank (FB) questions require the examinee to enter her/his response instead of choosing it from a list of answer options. Such questions can reduce or remove the potential for candidates to guess the correct response.
But in any case, don’t let these new AIT type questions scare you. As a rule, practice as many problems as you can. And never forget, during the FE and PE exams, the more time you spend on a difficult question, the more time you risk second guessing yourself. Always trust your intuition. You have worked hard, don’t doubt yourself. Come back to that difficult question when you might have a clearer mind.
Until next time,
Ahmet Zeytinci (Dr.Z.)
Conquering the FE & PE Exams:
Prove Yourself Without Saying a Word
We hope our readers had an enjoyable and relaxing summer. The month of September signals the end of summer, the beginning of autumn, and of course the start of a new school year if you are living in the Northern Hemisphere.
I had a very busy summer, working on several projects and as always, I was helping engineering students and practicing engineers, pro-bono, to conquer their FE and PE exams. I must admit, I also had a chance to visit my 95-year old mother living in Istanbul. It was a wonderful trip and my batteries are fully charged!
This month, I would like to answer two most frequently asked questions that we’ve been receiving from our readers in the United States and from overseas.
Who prepares, administers, and scores the FE and PE exams?
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) develops, administers, and scores the FE and PE exams used for engineering and surveying licensure in the United States.
In a nutshell, what is FE exam?
The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is generally your first step in the process to becoming a professional licensed engineer (P.E.). According to NCEES, every year 55,000 people take the FE exam and most of them are college seniors within one year of graduating or are recent graduates. It is designed for recent graduates and students who are close to finishing an undergraduate engineering degree from an EAC/ABET-accredited program. The FE exam is a computerbased exam administered year-round at NCEES-approved Pearson VUE test centers.
The FE exam includes 110-questions. The exam appointment time is 6 hours long and includes a nondisclosure agreement (2 minutes), tutorial (8 minutes), actual exam (5 hours and 20 minutes), and a scheduled break (25 minutes).
The FE exam is offered in seven disciplines. Specifications for the exams are as follows: FE Chemical, FE Civil, FE Electrical and Computer, FE Environmental, FE Industrial and Systems, FE Mechanical, FE Other Disciplines. The NCEES FE Reference Handbook, version 9.5 is the only reference material that can be used during the exam. You will be provided with an electronic reference handbook during the exam. For access prior to your exam, you may either purchase a hard copy or download a free electronic copy.
In a nutshell, what is PE exam?
The Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam tests for a minimum level of competency in a particular engineering discipline. It is designed for engineers who have gained a minimum of four years’ post-college work experience in their chosen engineering discipline. The PE exam is offered in the following seventeen disciplines:
Agricultural and Biological Engineering, Architectural Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Control Systems, Electrical and Computer, Environmental Engineering, Fire Protection (New), Industrial and Systems, Mechanical Engineering, Metallurgical and Materials, Mining and Mineral Processing, Naval Architecture and Marine, Nuclear Engineering, Petroleum Engineering, Software Engineering, and Structural Engineering.
PE Civil Exam Specifications
The PE Civil exam is an 8-hour exam with 80 questions. It is administered in pencil-and-paper format twice per year in April and October. It is important to familiarize yourself with your state licensing board’s unique registration procedures before registering for a PE exam. Special accommodations are available for examinees who meet certain eligibility criteria and sufficiently document their request.
The PE Civil exam is a breadth and depth examination. This means that examinees work the breadth section in the morning and one of the five depth modules in the afternoon. The breadth section contains questions from all five areas of civil engineering. The depth section focuses more closely on a single area of practice.
The details on the format, length of the exam, the topics covered, and applicable design standards, depend on the disciplines as listed belo
Construction (with design standards for the 2018 exam), Geotechnical (with design standards for the 2018 exam), Structural (with design standards for the 2018 exam), Transportation (with design standards for the October 2018 exam), Water Resources and Environmental.
It is important to remember that when registering for the PE Civil exam, you will also be asked to select an afternoon module. Your answer sheet will be scored based on the module that you selected during registration.
PE exam specifications and design standards are posted 6 months before the exam administration. Updates for the April exams are posted in November, and updates for the October exams are posted in May.
I would like to close with an exciting news. Starting this month, Prof. Howard Gibbs, P.E., F-NSPE will be contributing to Dr. Z’s Corner on “Ethics.” His career highlights are included at the end of the problems section.
Until next time,
Ahmet Zeytinci (Dr.Z.)