The National Professional Practise Exam (NPPE) is a requirement (read rite of passage) for anyone hoping to obtain an engineering or geoscience license in Canada (except Quebec, lucky folks). For most provinces, the exam contains 110 multiple-choice questions covering professionalism, ethics, law and membership regulation to be completed within two and a half hours. It is offered 5 times each year, primarily online. I am based in Ontario, so my experience is based on Professional Engineers of Ontario (PEO) licensing.
I knew about this exam and the necessary details about the licensing process since my first year of undergrad at the University of Waterloo. I knew that we needed to apply to be an engineer in training (EIT) after graduation, how my co-ops could contribute to the required work experience and, of course, the NPPE. Many details are fuzzy at this point (it was over ten years ago), but one thing that stuck out to me was that we could not refer to ourselves as engineers just because we had an engineering degree.
After undergrad, I decided to pursue a master’s degree, so I put off applying for the EIT; those annual fees could wait. By the time I started my doctorate, I had started thinking more seriously about the licensing process. I talked to my colleagues in graduate school and practising engineers who were part of a mentorship program I joined. I received lots of advice and accumulated tons of study material, which was outdated since the PEO had switched from essay-style examinations to multiple choice (thank heavens). One piece of advice that I found and still find helpful is to start documenting your experience early. PEO has a work experience template on their website. I used this template at the end of my co-ops and got my supervisors’ signatures before I became an EIT. If you do this each work term or periodically during your early career, you do not have to chase old supervisors down after you have moved on or they have. As an EIT, PEO also offers an annual review of your work experience to ensure that you are on the right track to getting licensed.
Once I applied to become an EIT, I received emails welcoming me and letting me know some of the EIT advantages, like discounted insurance and my eligibility to take the NPPE. My welcome email noted that I had to pass the NPPE within two years of the next available date. Thankfully, they send reminders to all eligible applicants within two months of each exam so that you can register and start preparing.
I decided to hold off on taking the exam until I had finished my Ph.D. defence, but I did make plans with a friend who is part of our IWA chapter to take the exam together. This was helpful because we made sure that neither of us missed emails about the exam, shared study materials, encouraged each other during the study periods and held each other accountable. Shoutout to Amr!
As I said, most of my previously accumulated materials were not very useful either because they were outdated or overwhelming. So figuring out how to study was our first challenge. There seems to be an online course for everything these days, so we figured there must be one for the NPPE. After searching the internet, we found that there were lots! We started with a cheap $20 one on Udemy, which I do not recommend. After 1 week or so of going through that course and feeling completely underprepared, Amr found Practise PPE Exams. It is a little pricey but cheaper than buying the recommended textbooks (minimum of $100 per textbook), a huge time saver (since you do not have to read 800 pages) and aside from study material which consists of videos, helpful links and mind maps, you also get 500 practice questions! For context, my email from PEO suggested this site which offers 100 questions for $95 (and no actual study materials). One of the reasons why I recommend the Practise PPE Exams course is because the style of the practice questions was very similar to the actual exam.
I completed the course within 2 weeks, finishing the last questions on the day of my exam. Before the exam, I received emails about registering, selecting a time slot, and completing a computer system compatibility check. Since the exam was virtual, the administering body used virtual proctoring software, so your camera and mic had to be turned on. You also could not use a secondary screen and had to pan your camera around the room before starting the exam. My proctor also checked my driver’s license and logged into my computer remotely to ensure no screen recording was enabled. When I compare this to virtual exams at my previous university during COVID, I have to say the NPPE was not playing around.
After checking my answers, the exam took about one and a half hours to complete. You had the option to bookmark questions, which I used for fifteen questions that I was not sure about. I went back when I was done to reread and think deeper about those questions. Once I submitted it, I did a little celebratory dance and called my buddy up to see how it went for him. Three weeks after we took the exam, we received congratulatory emails saying that we had passed and to send in our 48-month experience record by a specific date (or expected date of experience completion).
Needless to say, we did it, and you can do it too! The biggest thing is not passing the exam; most people pass. The challenge is studying efficiently; an excellent online course can be handy for this. While I completed the course in two weeks, I do recommend starting earlier so that you have time to check out the additional links for a more comprehensive understanding of the material.
That was my experience in a nutshell. If you have written this exam before, feel free to share your tips in the comment section. If you have not, I hope my tips are helpful. Good luck!
Frances Amoye, PhD, EIT