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Pittsburgh's Civil Engineering News Blog

NCEES and the Conversion to Computer Based Testing

16 Oct 2014 12:08 PM | Djuna Gulliver

Presented by David Widmer, PLS, NCEES President 2014-2015

Over 50 students and professionals gathered in the University of Pittsburgh O’Hara Student Center for a presentation on the new computer based testing procedures for the FE and PE exams.  NCEES President David H. Widmer, PLS gave an overview of the new exam, and discussed what prompted this change.

The traditional pencil/paper based exam has been plagued by security issues.  David shared a story of discovering one girl with a jeans jacket full of recording devices taking the exam in Puerto Rico.  That jacket is now on display at the NCEES Headquarters in Clemson, SC.  The new computer based exam is expected to have less issues as security has been enhanced.

The FE exam was transitioned to computer based testing at the beginning of 2014.  This change allows people to sit for the exam up to once each 2 month cycle and to take the test on any day of the week, depending on location of the Pearson Vue Testing Center. There is currently a maximum of 3 takings per year.  Additionally, the new FE exam is shorter than the original – down to about 110 questions and 6 ½ hours.  Results are provided the Wednesday following the week the exam was taken.  David shared statistics showing that there has been good distribution of when people sign up for the test, taking advantage of the new system.  He also showed that the pass rates for the computer based test have been comparable to those of the pencil/paper based exam. 

The PE exam is expected to be converted to computer based testing in 2016, with a staged implementation plan – not all disciplines will be done at once and civil is expected to be one of the later exam topics to be changed over.  The biggest change for the PE exam will be the use of a virtual library.  Instead of bringing references with you to the exam, you’ll be using a searchable database provided at the testing site. 

David also spoke to the licensed professionals in the room about opportunities to get involved with NCEES and exam development.  There is a constant need for exam testers to help write and test questions as they are developed.  If anyone is interested in getting involved they should contact David Widmer at

For more information of YMF activities contact YMF President Linda Kaplan at  

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