Computer-Based PE Exam Coming this Fall

Original article (membership needed) by Lauren Schroedter for IISE

This year, the professional engineering industrial and systems exam will be switching from a pencil-and-paper exam to computer-based testing, also known as CBT. The exam will still be offered one day per year in October.

With the switch to CBT, the exam will now be conducted at Pearson VUE test centers, providing more uniformity in the testing conditions and giving candidates hundreds of locations to choose from in the U.S.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), the nonprofit organization that provides PE exams, began the conversion to computer-based testing in 2011. The first CBT exams, fundamentals of engineering and fundamentals of surveying, were offered in 2014. PE exams for chemical engineering and nuclear engineering were offered as CBT for the first time in 2018 and other PE exams are following suit. It is anticipated that all professional engineering exams will be converted by 2024.

The topics that will be covered on the CBT PE industrial and systems exam have been released on the NCEES website,, under the Industrial and Systems Engineering Exam Specification. You can download the specification free of charge. A practice exam compiled by the exam developer is available for a fee.

Examinees will have an appointment time of 9.5 hours that includes time to sign the nondisclosure agreement (2 minutes), complete a tutorial (8 minutes), take the exam (8.5 hours) and a scheduled break (50 minutes).

All examinees will be provided an onscreen searchable PDF reference handbook for use during the exam; no outside reference materials may be brought into the testing center. Examinees will have a 24-inch monitor for use during the exam to allow sufficient space for the reference handbook and the exam. An approved calculator may be brought into the testing center for use during the exam. The reference handbook can be obtained prior to the exam as a PDF download from a free MyNCEES account.

The exam still includes 85 questions. In addition to multiple-choice format questions, new question formats will include:

  • Multiple correct, allowing examinees to select multiple answers
  • Point and click, requiring examinees to click on part of a graphic to answer
  • Drag and drop, requiring examinees to click on and drag items to match, sort, rank or label
  • Fill in the blank, providing a space for examinees to enter a response to the question

As with the traditional multiple-choice tests, answers will be scored as correct or incorrect; no partial credit will be given. With the conversion to computer-based testing, exam results will be available much quicker, typically within seven to 10 days.

Candidates interested in taking the exam will need to be registered with NCEES and approved by their state board before they can reserve a seat at a test center. Seats may be reserved up to a year in advance. The next date the PE industrial and systems engineering exam will be offered is Oct. 22, 2020; registration is currently open for this exam.

Want to learn more? NCEES has put together a variety of resources for potential exam takers, including a video series about the exam-day experience. You can find a link to these videos and other exam-related information at

If you’re already an ISE PE, you can volunteer with NCEES to help with the transition to CBT through

Lauren Schroedter | IISE

About Lauren Schroedter

Lauren Schroedter is a registered professional engineer in Washington and Oregon and currently serves as the railway discipline manager at Hanson Professional Services Inc. She is an IISE member and volunteers with NCEES.