PE Exam Retake: Using Your Diagnostic Report

If you failed the PE exam this time around, don’t get discouraged! In the email you received that included your score, you should have also received a diagnostic report. This report indicates what subject areas on the exam you did well or poorly on. Utilizing your diagnostic report gives you a big advantage when trying for your professional engineering license again. In future study sessions, you’ll know exactly what subjects you should be focusing harder on.

If you’re taking a pencil-and-paper exam, your diagnostic report will look like this.

If you’re taking a computer-based test (CBT), your diagnostic report will look like this.

Understanding Your Diagnostic Report


In your report, you’ll notice all subjects from the exam in the ‘Knowledge Area’ column. Each subject corresponds with the number of questions asked related to that subject. The next two columns are your performance in that subject, followed by the average score of passing examinees. The average examinee is indicated by a dashed line, and your score is indicated by a solid line.

For example, in the ‘Mass & Energy Balances & Thermodynamics: Mass Balances’ subject, the sample examinee got three questions correct out of nine. Compared to the average passing examinee, this sample tester did not do so well. For the next exam, he or she will probably study harder for Mass & Energy Balances & Thermodynamics, Mass Transfer, Kinetics: Reaction Rate, and Plant Design & Operation: Process Control.

Computer-based tests

Out of all of the PE disciplines, only two exams are computer-based (nuclear and chemical exams). The example diagnostic report above shows examples of an FE exam and uses similar scoring methods as the pencil-and-paper report. You’ll notice there is a column for knowledge area and number of questions asked, and the comparison of your performance to the average of the passing examinee. However, on this report, your performance is ranked on a scale of 0 to 15. The scaled score adjusts for any minor differences in difficulty across the different exam forms.

Like the pencil-and-paper report, you are able to see where you fall compared to the average passing examinee to determine your focus for future study sessions.


Using your diagnostic report as a study tool will give you an edge for passing the PE exam and get you that much closer to receiving your professional engineering license. For more study tips, check out our blog on how to improve your study sessions. Good luck!

Post PE Exam: What to Expect

After months and months of studying, you finally took your PE exam. Whether you felt awesome or just not sure after the exam, you’ll have to do a bit of waiting before you find out your score and next steps towards licensure. There are some important differences between the computer-based exams and pencil-and-paper exams when it comes to the waiting period, scoring procedures, and next steps after you pass or fail.

Computer-based exams

Typically, results for computer-based exams are determined much faster than pencil-and-paper exams; they are usually available seven to 10 days after you take the exam. An email will be sent out with instructions to view your results. Your exam results are reported as pass or fail, with your score being based on the number of correct answers you selected. The good news is your score is not affected by incorrect answers. After the number of correct answers are tallied, your score is then converted to a scaled score, this adjusts for any minor differences in difficulty across the different exam forms. Your scaled score represents your ability level and is compared to the minimum ability level for that particular exam. Since every exam differs, there is no predetermined passing score.

Pencil-and-paper exams

A majority of the PE exams are pencil-and-paper exams. The results of these\ exams typically take about eight to 10 weeks to be sent out, depending on the licensing board you selected during the registration process. The process for scoring and releasing results for pencil-and-paper exams are similar to computer-based tests (CBT) in many ways. However, there are also some key differences. You should receive an email with instructions for viewing your results, which will be reported as pass or fail, and you are not penalized for incorrect answers.

Unlike CBTs, there is a rigorous process for scoring exams. Each exam undergoes extensive statistical analysis to determine the minimum level of performance required for a passing score. All answer sheets are scanned and a psychometric analysis is performed on a sample of answer sheets to identify any questions with unusual statistics. These questions are then flagged for review by licensed engineers or surveyors. They also take into consideration examinee comments about specific exam questions. If there is an error in a question, credit may be given for more than one answer. When all of the reviews are complete, the answer keys are changed as necessary, and it is time for exam scoring. Answer sheets are typically machine-graded, but there is a percentage of answer sheets that are manually scored and compared to the machine score to ensure accuracy. For a fee, you may request that your exam be manually verified.

If you pass your exam, congratulations! The next steps you should be taking after passing the exam are highlighted in our blog post here.

If you do not pass your exam, don’t be discouraged! For CBTs, NCEES policy allows examinees to attempt an exam one time per testing window and no more than three times in a 12-month period. For pencil-and-paper exams, the number of times you are allowed to take an exam varies by licensing board. View the policy of your specific licensing board here. In the email you receive with your test results, you will also receive a diagnostic report showing your performance for each of the major topics covered on the exam. The next time you take the exam, you’ll be able to crush those hard topics!

If you’re in the waiting period to get your PE exam results, take a deep breath! You’ve studied and gave the exam your best. Whether you pass or fail, you’re now equipped with your next steps to go forth and crush it.

Your Day-of PE Exam Checklist

As the fall 2018 PE exam date crawls near, you may be doing some last minute cramming and starting to think about what you should have with you on exam day. We’ve mentioned this before – the PE exam rules for what you can and cannot have are very strict, so it’s important to spend some time familiarizing yourself with them before exam day. To make things a little easier, here is a checklist you can print out the night before exam day so you have everything you need:

  • Government-issued ID, valid passport, or military ID
  • Printed copy of your exam authorization
  • One calculator
    • Casio fx-115 and fx-991
    • HP 33s and HP 35s
    • TI-30X and TI-36X
  • Non-smart wristwatch
  • Glasses (but leave the case at home)
  • Two straightedges
    • Ruler
    • Protractor
    • Triangle
    • Scale
  • Bound reference materials with no loose papers
  • Earplugs
  • Non-electronic handheld magnifying glass
  • Protein bars, pretzels, candy, or other small snacks
  • Non-alcoholic beverages, such as water, soda, or Gatorade
  • Leave cell phone, tablets, and smartwatches at home or in the car
  • Don’t wear hats or hoods unless it’s for a religious reason
  • Don’t worry about pens, pencils, or erasers

Remember, rules for the PE exam are very strict and are taken very seriously. Preparing what you can and cannot bring the night before will ensure you are in compliance with regulations, making check-in and the exam itself easier. Looking for some more information related to the PE exam? You can check out all our most recent PE exam resources and blogs here.

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