Results of HVAC & Refrigeration PE Exam Survey

October 2017

by Justin Kauwale, P.E.

After every PE exam, I conduct an online survey with as many PE exam test takers that I can find. I primarily use my website, Engineering Pro Guides and Engineer Boards to find test takers to take the survey. The survey provides insight into an estimated passing score, how well test takers do based on experience and number of hours studied, which areas of the exam are difficult or easy. The raw results of the survey are shown on the link below. This link shows a summary of the results without any pivot chart analysis.

Number of Test Takers vs. Number of Survey Results


The survey is only as good as the number of test takers that take the survey. According to the NCEES website, there were 632 first time takers and 164 repeat takers, with a total of 796 HVAC & Refrigeration PE Exam test takers on October 2017. The survey had 51 responses or 6.4% of the total test takers. As you go through the results of the survey, please remember that only a small percentage of the test takers took the survey so you should be careful when assigning authority to the results of the survey.


Pass Rates on Survey vs. NCEES


The pass rates on the survey indicate that 78.4% people surveyed passed the exam and 21.6% failed the exam. The NCEES website indicates that 70% of first time test takers passed the exam and 43% of repeat test takers passed the exam. The overall pass rate was 64.4%.


Estimated Cut Score


The estimated cut score is determined by the highest fail score reported on the survey or on the Engineer Boards forum. The highest fail score was 53. This means that the possible passing score was 54. However, based on emails from other test takers who did not take the survey, the highest fail score reported was 56.

HVAC Survey Cutscore

Pass Rates vs. Years of Experience


The following graph shows the relationship between passing/failing and the number of years of experience. Based on this graph, it appears the majority of people take the exam as soon as they are eligible. The 2 to 3 year eligibility applies to states like California which only require 2 years of experience. The number of failing test takers seem to increase as the years of experience increases. One possible theory is that engineering principles are less likely to be remembered as the number of years between completing college increases. Since roughly 50% of the PE exam tests on principles, failing to remember engineering theory from college makes passing much more difficult. However, it should be noted that the application type problems become easier with an increase of experience years.

HVAC Survey Experience

Pass Rates vs. Hours Studied


The following graph shows the relationship between passing/failing and the number of study hours. Based on this graph, the number of failing test takers reduces with increased study hours, which seems obvious. However, there appears to be a sweet spot at the 101 to 200 hours of studying. The number of passing test takers peaks at the 101 to 200 level and goes down after this point.

HVAC Survey Hours

Weak Areas


On the survey, each person was asked to choose three of their least confident topics. This question provides insight into which of the topics proves to be the most difficult for examinees. On the survey, test takers struggled most with Fluid Mechanics, HVAC Equipment & Components, HVAC Systems & Components and Support Knowledge. The best insight to take from this information is not to be too worried if you struggle in these areas, since others that found these to be their weak areas still passed. However, remember that the difficulty level is relative to each person and that the survey question is what was the ‘most’ difficult. You should still have a good understanding of these topics, but if you want to set yourself apart from other test takers, then you should study these areas more diligently, especially since these topics have a high amount of problems on the exam.

HVAC Survey Weak

Strong Areas


On the survey, each person was asked to choose three of their most confident topics. This question provides insight into which of the topics proves to be the easiest for people. On the survey, test takers did well in Psychrometrics, Thermodynamics, Heat Transfer and Heating/Cooling Loads. The best insight to take from this information is that if you struggle in these areas, then you SHOULD be worried, because people who passed did really well in these areas. You should be confident in these areas, especially since these topics have a high amount of problems on the exam.

HVAC Survey Strong

Recommended References


More insight into the recommended references can be found on the link below. This link shows all the recommended references and which topics and subtopics they apply.

HVAC Survey References

Previous Survey


I do not have analysis on the previous surveys but the previous raw data can be found in this link below. The results are similar to the above but are provided in case you need more data.


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