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Examining Examinations

The process of obtaining licensure as a professional engineer historically requires four steps.

  • Graduate from a four-year, accredited engineering program
  • Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Accumulate four years of professional engineering experience under an appropriate amount of licensed tutelage
  • Pass the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) examination

In most jurisdictions – these requirements are sequential and chronological.

Nearly 25,000 engineers sit for the PE exam annually.  According to Tim Miller, PE, NCEES Director of Exam Services, the exam development committees “…determine the tasks, skills, and knowledge that people with four years of experience and a degree from an accredited program need to know to be able to practice and protect the public health, safety and welfare.”

As a member of the Iowa Engineering and Land Surveying Examining Board, I am aware of a trend called ‘decoupling’.  This means that some state boards are changing the link, or coupling, between experience and examination requirements.

A decoupled process goes something like this.  An engineer graduates and passes the FE exam.  Instead of waiting four years to take the PE exam, they are allowed to take the exam as soon as they choose.  If they pass, they still must accumulate four years of experience prior to award of the license.

Nine states have adopted decoupling rules, and some issues are naturally starting to appear.  The pass rates for early takers is much lower than those with four years of experience.  This makes sense as the exam is written to evaluate an engineer who has gained those four years of progressive experience.

Another difficulty is how to treat those who are seeking comity, or in other words, those who are getting licensed in additional states based on their initial license.  There will certainly be more to come on this.  I’ll be watching.

What do you think about decoupling?  Is this acceptable, or should all licensees be required to get four years of experience before they sit for the PE?

About the author

Marlon is our account executive in the Power market. He has more than 35 years of experience with all aspects of planning, design and construction of 12.5 kV-345 kV distribution and transmission systems, including right-of-way, design, regulatory coordination, public information meetings, public testimony and project management. With an extensive background in power transmission and distribution, Marlon brings a wide variety of knowledge in discussing the energy industry and the issues it faces. From education of future engineers to critical infrastructure analysis, he offers a unique perspective on the industry and where it's headed.