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SE exam

The Structural Engineering (SE) exam tests for a minimum level of competency in structural engineering. It is designed for engineers who practice in jurisdictions that license structural engineers separately from other professional engineers. This 16-hour exam uses separate vertical and lateral components to test your ability to safely design buildings or bridges, especially in areas of high seismicity and high wind.

Prepare for your exam by

  • Reviewing the SE exam specifications and design standards
  • Knowing how the SE exam is offered and knowing the pass requirements
  • Reading the reference materials
  • Understanding scoring and reporting
  • Viewing the most up-to-date SE exam pass rates

Familiarize yourself with your state licensing board’s unique registration procedures before registering for an SE exam. Special accommodations are available for examinees who meet certain eligibility criteria and sufficiently document their request.

Specifications and design standards

Exam specifications and design standards are posted 6 months before the exam administration. Updates to April exams are posted in November, and updates to October exams are posted in May. The information below all contains design standards for the 2018 exam.

Information and pass requirements

The SE exam is a breadth and depth exam offered in two components on successive days. The 8-hour Vertical Forces (Gravity/Other) and Incidental Lateral component is offered only on a Friday. It focuses on gravity loads and lateral earth pressures.

The 8-hour Lateral Forces (Wind/Earthquake) component is offered only on a Saturday. It focuses on wind and earthquake loads.

The breadth modules are in the morning sessions. These modules contain questions covering a comprehensive range of structural engineering topics. All questions are multiple-choice.

The depth modules are in the afternoon sessions. These modules focus on a single area of practice in structural engineering. You will choose either buildings or bridges. You must work the same topic area on both components. All questions are constructed response (essay).

You are not required to obtain acceptable results on both 8-hour components of the SE exam in a single exam administration. You can sit for and obtain acceptable results on one component, and then sit for and obtain acceptable results on the second component at a later date. You must obtain acceptable results on both 8-hour components within a five year period in order to pass the SE exam.

Exam fees

The cost to take the SE exam varies from state to state (or foreign location). Depending on where you register, fees may be paid directly to NCEES, a state licensing board, or a designee of the board. Visit the engineering licensure section, and select your exam location for more information about your registration fees and payees. You may be prompted to contact your state licensing board (or foreign entity) directly.

Reference materials

The SE exam is an open-book exam. You are allowed to bring bound reference materials to the exam, but the materials must remain bound during the exam. Loose paper may be bound with

  • ring binders,
  • brads,
  • plastic snap binders,
  • spiral-bound notebooks,
  • and screw posts.

No staples are permitted. Sticky notes and flags are permitted only when they remain attached to bound pages. More information is available in the NCEES Examinee Guide.

Scoring and reporting

The morning sections of both components are machine graded. A percentage of answer sheets are manually verified to ensure accuracy. The afternoon sections of both components contain constructed response (essay) items. These responses are graded by teams of subject-matter experts using an agreed upon solution and scoring plan. Each response is graded by two subject-matter experts. A third expert is used when needed.

SE exams are generally released to the licensing boards 10-12 weeks after the exam. Depending on your state, you will be notified of your exam results either online through your MyNCEES account or via postal mail from your state licensing board.

You will receive a component result for the component(s) attempted. The result will reflect your performance on both the morning and afternoon sections. Your combined performance on both sections much demonstrate minimum competency.

If you do not attain acceptable results on a component, you will receive a diagnostic report for the morning and afternoon sections of that component. These diagnostic reports will indicate subject areas of relative strength and weakness.

Learn more about the exam scoring process.

Pass rates

The following pass rates are from the October 2017 exam administration and reflect the percentage of examinees who attained acceptable results by component. To pass the SE exam, acceptable results must be attained on both components.

ExamFirst-time takers Repeat takers 
VolumePass rateVolumePass rate
SE Lateral Forces Bridges5125%5439%
SE Lateral Forces Buildings28531%22728%
SE Vertical Forces Bridges5958%1612%
SE Vertical Forces Buildings30148%18537%