Updated specifications for civil engineer professional practice exams will eliminate a common breadth of knowledge section to allow more emphasis on discipline-specific expertise. The change is set to take effect next April in this key step to gain a state professional engineer's license.

The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) is making the change to better reflect the knowledge that professionals working in the field say is needed to gain a state license to practice in each of five current civil engineering exam disciplines—construction, geotechnical, structural, transportation and water resources and environment—according to Jason Gamble, the non-profit group's chief officer of examinations. 

He says surveys of engineers working across the industry in the private and public sectors, and academia, indicated that practitioners have become more specialists than generalists—making the common section with questions from all five disciplines no longer necessary. 

The exams will remain closed-book and computer-based, still with 80 total questions and lasting a total of nine hours including the optional break, says NCEES. The updated specifications adjust the potential number of questions for many knowledge areas. 

“It’s about what the practitioners in the field are saying should be tested on for people to practice competently,” Gamble says. As developer of the PE Civil exams, NCEES generally updates specifications every five to seven years, he adds. 

The latest updating process, which began in 2019. involved two steps. First, NCEES formed a panel of experts from each engineering discipline to work with a psychometrician, or testing expert, to create a survey sent to industry practitioners to gauge the importance of different topics to practice competently. A second NCEES committee then reviewed the collected data and created a content outline, which an in-house team used to write questions.

NCEES has exam specifications and prep materials for both the current and upcoming PE Civil exams on its website