SE exam

The SE exam tests your ability to competently practice structural engineering. It is specifically designed for engineers who practice in jurisdictions that may license structural engineers separately from other professional engineers. Using a separate vertical and lateral component, this 16-hour exam tests your ability to safely design buildings or bridges, particularly in areas of high seismicity and high wind.

SE exam 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.

Friday morning breadth—vertical forces (with design standards for 2015 exams)
Friday afternoon depth—vertical forces (with design standards for 2015 exams)
Saturday morning breadth—lateral forces (with design standards for 2015 exams)
Saturday afternoon depth—lateral forces (with design standards for 2015 exams)

A two-day exam with separate, 8-hour components

The 16-hour SE exam was first offered in April 2011, replacing the separate Structural I and II exams. The current 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 Friday and focuses on gravity loads and lateral earth pressures. The 8-hour Lateral Forces (Wind/Earthquake) component is offered only on Saturday and focuses on wind/earthquake loads.

Each component of the SE exam has a breadth (morning) module and a depth (afternoon) module. Examinees must take the breadth module of each component and one of the two depth modules in each component.

Breadth modules (morning sessions): These modules contain questions covering a comprehensive range of structural engineering topics. All questions are multiple-choice.

Depth modules (afternoon sessions): These modules focus more closely on a single area of practice in structural engineering. Examinees must choose either buildings or bridges. Examinees must work the same topic area on both components. That is, if buildings is the topic area chosen in the Vertical Forces component, then buildings must be the topic area chosen in the Lateral Forces component. All questions are constructed response (essay).

What is required to pass?

Licensure candidates are not required to obtain acceptable results on both 8-hour components of the SE exam during a single exam administration. They 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. However, they must obtain acceptable results on both 8-hour components within a five-year period in order to pass the SE exam.

Reference materials

The SE exam is an open-book exam. You are allowed to bring reference materials to the exam, provided they are bound and remain bound during the exam. Loose paper may be bound with ring binders, brads, plastic snap binders, spiral-bound notebooks, and screw posts—but not with staples. Sticky notes and flags are permitted only when they remain attached to book pages.


The morning sections of both components, which consist of multiple-choice items, are machine graded. A percentage of answer sheets are manually verified to ensure accuracy. The afternoon sections of both components consist of 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.

Reporting scores

SE exam results are typically released to the licensing boards 10–12 weeks after the exam. Depending on your state, you will be notified of your exam result either online through your My NCEES account or via postal mail from your state licensing board.

Each candidate will receive a component result for the component(s) attempted. The result will reflect the candidate’s performance on both the morning and afternoon sections; the candidate’s combined performance on both sections must demonstrate minimum competency.

Candidates who do not attain an acceptable result on a component will receive diagnostic reports for the morning and afternoon sections of that component. These diagnostic reports will indicate subject areas of relative strength and weakness.

Learn more about how NCEES exams are scored.

SE pass rates by component

The following pass rates from the April 2015 exam administration reflect the percentage of examinees who attained acceptable results by component. To pass the SE exam, acceptable results must be attained on both components.

Exam First-time takers Repeat takers
Volume Pass Rate Volume Pass Rate
SE Lateral Forces Bridges 53 23% 41 41%
SE Lateral Forces Buildings 251 43% 184 32%
SE Vertical Forces Bridges 72 60% 14 50%
SE Vertical Forces Buildings 304 53% 187 34%