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Life of Canadian PI by Ethel Clemente Fernandez

Taking the Fundamentals of Engineering exam

by Ethel Clemente-Fernandez 

   Maurice Petallo
Maurice Petallo

The Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam is the first step to becoming a professional licensed engineer in the United States. It is a computer-based exam administered year-round by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). It consists of 110 multiple choice questions to be completed in five hours and 20 minutes.

When Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba (EGM) added the FE exam as a new option to verify academic qualification for applicants who have been assigned five (or fewer) confirmatory exams, it picked up great interest from students and new members of the Filipino Members Chapter (FMC), eliciting different reactions – excitement, worry, regret. Excitement, as this option is seemingly the most time-efficient of all the options available, needing to take and pass one exam only, with three chances of trying. Worry, as this is very new, none of the full members has any experience to share with new members. Regret, mostly for students who are already taking another option, as this would have been an easier choice. But is it?

A few have asked me about this FE exam, but unfortunately, I have very limited knowledge on this subject, since this was not yet offered during my time. So when Maurice Petallo, new chapter member, informed me that he passed the FE exam on his first try, I was more than elated as he would have the distinction of being the “first known” chapter member who have successfully done so.

And so I took the opportunity to get to know more about Maurice, or Mors, as he is fondly called, and his successful passing of the FE exam.

Mors describes himself as someone who has a serious facade, but beneath there is a funny and weird personality.

He’s a UP Diliman alumnus with a degree in Computer Engineering. In the summer of 2015, he immigrated to Winnipeg.

When asked what made him decide to take FE instead of the other available options, he offered a lengthy explanation:

“Before I moved to Canada, I was already looking for options for academic qualifications. At the time, not having any knowledge of FE, I was leaning towards writing the confirmatory exams. However, since I know that my focus upon settling in Canada would be to get a job, taking the confirmatory exams wasn’t a straightforward choice. I was still considering the other available options, especially when I realized reviewing for IELTS, how challenging it was to study while working at the same time. My mom even commented, “Anak, kung sumasakit na ulo mo diyan sa IELTS, paano pa yung sa engineering exam mo pagdating mo sa Canada?”

“I found out about the FE through Claudia Shymko, EGM’s Assessment Officer. Indeed, it was very appealing to take just the one exam to gain academic qualification. It was also through her that I came to know about the existence of the FMC, so I immediately contacted then-president Angelito Apostol, whom had invited me to an upcoming chapter picnic. At the picnic, I even considered taking the Internationally-Educated Engineers’ Qualification (IEEQ) program, as I met FMC members who went into the program and were successful and getting good engineering jobs. After carefully weighing my situation and thorough review of available options, I narrowed down my choices to three options according to my preference: (1) FE, (2) Confirmatory Exams and (3) IEEQ. Eventual turn of events, however, cemented my decision to take FE. I got freelance work through a friend around October of last year, which would mean getting by on living expenses or support my living expenses. Then I got three interviews on job applications, where one offered a full-time job. In December, during FMC’s Christmas party, my name was drawn as recipient of 2016 Bursary Award. All these things solidified my choice to take the FE option. What else can I ask for? When it rains, it pours.”

The core of successfully passing any exam is preparation.

Mors metaphorically described his preparation as “…seeing myself going to an island without any bridge linking to it, no means to reach it, but by swimming and I have yet to learn how to swim…”

Recognizing that no member of the FMC had taken this exam yet and no review centres, he struggled to prepare for this exam. There is a live on-line review course, but it costs over a thousand dollars to access.

“Though study areas were provided, it was not enough for me to know how deep I need to go through the topics. In September 2015, I was blindly studying calculus, which I felt was still leading me nowhere, leaving me more doubtful if I was on the right track. After a few searches on-line, I came across forums, free on-line review sites and other resources about the FE exam in the US and just assumed that it might be the same. While still undecided about purchasing review books, I opted to search on-line for free lecture videos and course materials such as, among others, MIT Open courseware and Khan Academy. Again, I blindly studied whatever topic listed in the FE exam specifications for Electrical and Computer.”

Mors eventually purchased textbooks and Professional Publications, Inc. (PPI) and NCEES sample exams to further aid him in his studies.

It is not uncommon for new immigrants to experience depression and homesickness – Mors is not an exception. Now that he had plenty of material to aid him in his self-study, thoughts of his parents, family, friends, and his great career back in the Philippines triggered the feelings of being alone in a new country.

Mors managed to get through. He said, “If you would like to be an engineer in Canada, a goal and discipline is what you need to have. A goal will keep you moving forward. I have to believe that after this, a better future is waiting. I prayed much harder than I’d ever prayed in my life. The FE option is not like IEEQ where you are able to meet people regularly just to have someone to talk with. That is why I was thankful to my new found family in FMC.”

With a full-time job that came in January 2016, Mors had yet to deal with another challenge. He had to be strategic and incorporate careful planning between his work and self-study schedules, not to mention he had no car at the time and had to take an almost two-hour bus ride. He said, “Now that I have a job, I have to perform well so I sometimes opted to extend an hour of work to learn more of the technology, as it’s different from what I was doing before. I had to catch up fast and make huge adjustments.”

With frequent trips to the library, multiple practice exams and repetitive readings for five months, Mors decided he was ready for the exam.

However, it took him another two months to enlist for the exam in May, as he needs to re-learn some topics from the early months of his review that had slipped from his memory. “I had to read some of the topics over and over again. As far as I can remember, I read the entire book at least three times and some of the topics I went through five times or even more. I put a lot of effort on circuit-analysis and tried to practice solving problems available for free on-line. I even answered the free diagnostic exams at least twice. I knew I wouldn’t be ready without good practice even if I was already familiar with the topics.”

Two weeks before his exam, as he was already getting good scores from his practice tests, Mors’ confidence had greatly increased knowing that he can sit in the exam fully prepared. But still, he did not stop preparing – he continued to practice and maintain the momentum.

He recalled, “On weekends, weeks before my exam, all I did was answer test problems in front of my laptop repeatedly. Repetition is the mother of all skills.”

When asked how would he describe the actual exam, he said, “It’s not easy but it is also not too difficult. After all, the name says ‘fundamentals.’ Maybe it is easier for recent graduates, since the concepts are still fresh in their minds, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not possible for someone who has been out of school for years to successfully pass the exam.”

Oh, and by the way, what’s more nerve-wracking than taking the exam? The day you get the result!

“I was on lunch break, when I checked my personal e-mail and saw that my exam result was available. My heart skipped a beat and I had to drink water. I logged in to my NCEES account and as I typed my password, I covered my eyes with my left hand while my right hand held the phone. I slowly peeked through my hands to see the word, ‘Passed!’ That day, the best thing ever happened to me. I am not exaggerating. I couldn’t contain my happiness. I went to the washroom, locked it, and I did the loudest whisper that a man can do saying, “Yes!” like 10 times. After that, I tearfully called my mom in the Philippines to break the good news.”

Mors’ personal advice to those considering to take the FE exam: “Do not enlist for the exam even if you’re already approved by Engineers Geoscientists Manitoba. Try to study first as much as you can and try to determine your phase in studying. Create a schedule and set the target date when you want to finish all the topics in the exam specification. Add at least one whole month of just practicing to solve. The month after that is a good time to schedule your exam date. That was my personal strategy. I simply didn’t want to chase my schedule but instead, self-study at my own phase. If you schedule immediately, you might be rushing into things and if something unexpected happens along the way, you will end up taking the exam less prepared. Study and practice solving as many problems as you can. The FE exam option is already like a shortcut. Don’t try to make a shortcut in a shortcut by not studying.”

With perseverance, hard work, drive and focus, Mors earned his Engineer-In-Training (EIT) designation three days before celebrating his first anniversary in Winnipeg. Indeed an incredible feat that’s one for the record books!

Ethel Clemente-Fernandez is a professional engineer registered in the province of Manitoba. She is an active member of the Filipino Members Chapter - Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba (FMC-APEGM)