Is the FE Other Disciplines the easy engineering exam?

fe other disciplines easy vs fe civil vs fe mechaical fe od

You might often hear that the FE Other Disciplines exam is the easiest of all the disciplines. If you’re a mechanical or civil engineer, maybe you’ve heard that FE Other Disciplines is easier than the Civil or Mechanical exam. Or maybe you’ve failed your FE exam before, and your coworkers advise you to switch to FE Other Disciplines. But is that going to be the best decision for you? Is it actually going to be easier?

What is the FE Other Disciplines

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is offered in seven different disciplines: Chemical, Civil, Electrical and Computer, Environmental, Industrial and Systems, Mechanical, and Other Disciplines. The FE Other Disciplines is meant as a catchall for any other discipline not covered by the previous six and is viewed as a more “general” engineering exam than the others. However, even if you are a civil or any of the other named engineering types, you can still take the FE Other Disciplines exam if you so choose.

Now that we know more about the FE Other Disciplines, we’ll compare it to the FE Civil and FE Mechanical to see which one will be the right exam for you.

Specifications: FE Other Disciplines vs FE Civil

First, let’s look at the specifications for both the FE Other Disciplines and FE Civil. Then we will consider the passing rates for both exams.

Highlighted in the table below (yellow for strong topic overlap, blue for some topic overlap) are the similar topics between the two exams. However, this ignores the difference between the number of questions for each topic.

FE Civil FE Other Disciplines
Subject Problems Subject Problems
Mathematics and Statistics 8-12 Mathematics 8-12
Ethics and Professional Practice 4-6 Probability and Statistics 6-9
Engineering Economics 5-8 Chemistry 5-8
Statics 8-12 Instrumentation and Controls 4-6
Dynamics 4-6 Engineering Ethics and Societal Impacts 5-8
Mechanics of Materials 7-11 Safety, Health and Environment 6-9
Materials 5-8 Engineering Economics 6-9
Fluid Mechanics 6-9 Statics 9-14
Surveying 6-9 Dynamics 9-14
Water Resources and Environmental Engineering 10-15 Strength of Materials 9-14
Structural Engineering 10-15 Materials 6-9
Geotechnical Engineering 10-15 Fluid Mechanics 12-18
Transportation Engineering 9-14 Basic Electrical Engineering 6-9
Construction Engineering 8-12 Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer 9-14

yellow = strong topic overlap | blue =some topic overlap

Get the full exam specifications for each discipline on ncees.org/engineering/fe.

The NCEES include some topics in both exams: math, ethics, statics, etc. But even though these are the same topics, the number of questions changes. For example, in dynamics, if you take FE Civil, you would only get four questions vs. Other Disciplines, you get 9-14 questions. Therefore, if you are weak in dynamics, this is something to consider.

How well do you know the different subjects?

Now, let’s look at the subjects only in FE Other Disciplines. Chemistry, instrumentation and controls, safety health and environment, electrical engineering, thermodynamics, and heat transfer. So, for those with a civil engineering background, it’s likely you’ve never been exposed to these topics before. Learning a brand new engineering topic coupled with the stress of taking the FE might be overwhelming.

In comparison, FE Civil covers surveying and construction. As you likely took these classes in college, you probably only need to refresh your knowledge of these. Not learning a completely new subject might mean the FE Civil is a better option for you.

Passing Rates for FE Civil vs. FE Other Disciplines

The NCEES publishes the passing rates every six months and includes passing rates from those who took the FE exam for the first time and attended an EAC/ABET-accredited engineering program, and took the FE exam within 12 months of graduation. However, as we review these numbers, keep in mind that these passing rates are limited to these criteria. Many people retake the exam or wait for a few years after college.

FE Civil passing rates 2021
NCEES Published Pass Rates as of July 2021
FE Other Disciplines passing rates 2021 for civil and mechanical
NCEES Published Pass Rates as of July 2021

For FE Civil, the passing rate is 70%. But for civil engineering students who decide to take Other Disciplines, the passing rate is only 40%. This stark difference could mean two things:

  1. The FE Other Disciplines is actually a harder exam.
  2. Students who switch to FE Other Disciplines because they mistakenly think it’s an easier exam don’t study as much and are not prepared.

But if you’re not ready to pass the FE Civil, you’re not prepared to pass the FE Other Disciplines. You need to study for your exam either way. So, I suggest that my students pick a discipline closer to their major as that likely means less to learn.

Specifications: FE Other Disciplines vs FE Mechanical

Now, we’ll compare FE Other Disciplines and FE Mechanical specifications. Then we’ll review the passing rates for these exams.

The FE Mechanical and FE Other Disciplines exams are very similar. See the highlighted topics in the chart below.

FE Mechanical FE Other Disciplines
Subject Problems Subject Problems
Mathematics 6-9 Mathematics 8-12
Probability and Statistics 4-6 Probability and Statistics 6-9
Ethics and Professional Practice 4-6 Chemistry 5-8
Engineering Economics 4-6 Instrumentation and Controls 4-6
Electricity and Magnetism 5-8 Engineering Ethics and Societal Impacts 5-8
Statics 9-14 Safety, Health and Environment 6-9
Dynamics, Kinematics, and Vibrations 10-15 Engineering Economics 6-9
Mechanics of Materials 9-14 Statics 9-14
Material Properties and Processing 7-11 Dynamics 9-14
Fluid Mechanics 10-15 Strength of Materials 9-14
Thermodynamics 10-15 Materials 6-9
Heat Transfer 7-11 Fluid Mechanics 12-18
Measurements, Instrumentation, and Controls 5-8 Basic Electrical Engineering 6-9
Mechanical Design and Analysis 10-15 Thermodynamics and Heat Transfer 9-14

yellow = strong topic overlap | blue =some topic overlap

Get the full exam specifications for each discipline on ncees.org/engineering/fe.

Again, the number of questions you will get on the exam changes some, especially thermodynamics and heat transfer. In FE Other Disciplines, thermodynamics and heat transfer are under one subject with 9-14 questions. Whereas FE Mechanical, you get 10-15 in thermodynamics and 7-11 in heat transfer.

Consider your strengths in these topics as you look at which exam to take.

FE Exam Passing Rate for FE Mechanical vs FE Other Disciplines

Now, let’s look at the passing rate information for FE Mechanical vs. FE Other Disciplines.

FE Mechanical passing rate 2021
NCEES Published Pass Rates as of July 2021
FE Other Disciplines passing rates 2021 for civil and mechanical
NCEES Published Pass Rates as of July 2021

For the FE Mechanical, the passing rate is 75%, but for mechanical engineering students who decide to take FE Other Disciplines, the passing rate is 70%. We can’t conclusively say one exam is easier or more difficult from these numbers. But I encourage you to think about your PE as you consider if you are going to take FE Other Disciplines over FE Mechanics.

Consider your PE Exam

Most FE exam takers will consider taking the PE exam one day. This brings me to a crucial point; there is no PE Other Disciplines. Therefore, if you take FE Other Disciplines, many of the topics won’t apply to whatever PE discipline you end up taking. But if you take the FE Civil or FE Mechanical, many of the topics will be in your PE breath section.

So, is the FE Other Disciplines Exam easier?

From the points above, I think we can say that there’s no definitive proof that the FE Other Disciplines is actually easier — just different. In fact, in some cases, students might find it harder.

When deciding which FE you should take, your decision shouldn’t be based on which one is the easiest. No matter what you choose, you have to study and prepare for your exam. Picking a discipline that’s closer to the PE will set you up in a good position for the future.

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