About the FS Exam

Fundamentals of Surveying Exam

The Fundamentals of Surveying Exam is governed by NCEES and generally administered as the first step to becoming a Professional Land Surveyor.

Whether you a soon-to-be graduating college undergraduate or a technician for several decades, it’s important to understand the FS exam requirements before attempting any exam.

The education and experience requirements to take the  Fundamentals of Surveying Exam vary so be sure to check-out our page for your home state.

The FS Exam consists of 110 questions and the entire examination time takes 6 hours, with 40 minutes dedicated to breaks and completing other testing requirements. 

The FS Exam covers a wide range of knowledge-based topics. Examinees are expected to have a deep understanding of surveying mathematics, theory, and application. All mathematics on the FS Exam uses the US Customary System of Units (USCS).

You can take this exam at anytime throughout the year at an NCEES-approved Pearson Vue Testing Center

For your convenience, we have provided the FS Exam section specifications below. Examinees should note that the FS Exam is currently being updated, the new exam’s effective date is July 1st, 2020

Not sure where to start or wondering if a career as a professional surveyor is right for you? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation call with Dr. Tony Nettleman, he is more than happy to discuss the FS Exam and what a career is like as a professionally licensed surveyor.

The Fundamentals of Surveying exam is the shortest of the NCEES surveying exams.

The FS is listed on the NCEES website has 6 hours, but that number is deceiving.

Factoring in the 40 minutes of breaks and tutorials, the student only has 5 hours and 20 minutes (320 minutes) to answer both the morning and afternoon section of the exam.

The FS Exam consists of 110 questions. 320 minutes divided by 110 questions yields 2.90 minutes per person. That may seem like a long time, but try computing a traverse is under three minutes!

Another interesting fact is that the student can split his time anyway he chooses. Since the morning section contains many math questions, and the afternoon section typically is weighted more towards definitions and legal, you may choose to spend more time on the morning section and less time on the afternoon section.


The Morning Section vs Afternoon Sections

The two sections – morning and afternoon – of the Fundamentals of Surveying exam are not created equal! 

You will find different types of questions – in different numbers – on each section!

Typically, the morning section of the FS exam contains many computations-style questions including pure math, pure statistics, and survey math/computations. This is the toughest part of the exam for the majority of the applicants.

Alternatively, the afternoon section of the Fundamentals of Surveying exam contains a few computational questions, but is typically heavily laden with survey definitions, legal aspects, and water boundary questions.

Should you split your 320 minutes equally between the two sections, or spend more time in the morning? That is a decision you will have to make yourself.


FS Exam Categories (Taken From the CBT Exam Specifications Effective July 1st, 2020)

  • Surveying Processes and Methods  –  16-24 Questions
    1. Instrumentation (e.g., GNSS/GPS, levels, total stations, robotic total stations, scanners, UAS)
    2. GNSS/GPS Surveys (e.g., static, kinematic, OPUS, real-time networks)
    3. Control Surveys (e.g., horizontal, vertical, network design, accuracy standards)
    4. Cadastral (e.g., Public Land Survey System [PLSS], boundary, metes and bounds, land title)
    5. Topographic Surveys
    6. Construction Surveys (e.g., layout, as-built, quantity)
    7. Land Development (e.g., subdivision design/platting, land use, environmental, flood plains, wetlands)
    8. Field Record Keeping and Documentation (e.g., procedures, field books,
      raw data files)
  • Mapping Processes and Methods  –  14-21 Questions
    1. Basic Mapping Concepts (e.g., scaling, symbols, features, legend, contours, cartography)
    2. Types of Maps (e.g., plan and profile, cross section, plat, record of survey, ALTA, topographic, planimetric)
    3. CAD (e.g., 2-D, 3-D, building information modeling [BIM])
    4. GIS (e.g., feature collection, map projections, coordinate systems, metadata, database design and management, spatial data analysis, GIS applications)
    5. Digital Terrain Model (e.g., machine control, triangulated irregular network [TIN], digital surface model, digital elevation model) 
    6. Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (e.g., close range, conventional,softcopy, ground control, quality control, flight planning, project planning, UAS, drone, LiDAR, satellite, digital image analysis and processing)
  • Boundary Law and Real Property Principles  –  19-29 Questions
    1. Public Records and Descriptions (e.g., land descriptions, mineral rights, ownership rights, weighting evidence)
    2. Common Law Principles (e.g., controlling elements, unwritten rights, adverse possession)
    3. Easements (e.g., granted, implied/prescriptive)
    4. Simultaneous and Sequential conveyances
    5. Metes and Bounds
    6. PLSS
    7. Water Law (e.g., riparian, littoral rights, watermarks/levels)
    8. Sources of Law (e.g., federal/state/local, administrative, common, citations, legal research)
    9. Encumbrances (e.g., restrictive covenants, mortgages, liens)J. Real property law (e.g., deeds, chains of title)
  • Surveying Principles  –  13-20 Questions
    1. Basic Surveying (e.g., horizontal surveys, vertical surveys, understanding of historical methods and instruments, route surveying, magnetic declination)
    2. Geodesy (e.g., spherical trigonometry, geometric, physical, geodetic coordinates, orthometric corrections, convergence, geodetic reductions, gravity modeling, geoid modeling)
    3. Applied Geodesy (e.g., datums and datum conversions, latitude/longitude, coordinate transformations, state plane coordinate system [SPCS], map projections, control networks, reduction of observations, deflection of vertical, satellite coordinate systems)
  • Survey Computations and Computer Applications  – 17-26 Questions
    1. Coordinate Geometry
    2. Traverse Closure and Adjustments
    3. Leveling (e.g., differential, trigonometric, reciprocal, precise)
    4. Least Squares Adjustments
    5. Area
    6. Horizontal Curves
    7. Vertical Curves
    8. Volume (e.g., mass diagrams, earthwork)
    9. Spreadsheets
    10. Slopes and Grades
  • Business Concepts  –  11-17 Questions
    1. Project Planning (e.g., resource management, scheduling, cost estimation, tracking)
    2. Safety (e.g., signage, basic first aid, safety equipment)
    3. Liabilities (e.g., negligence, employee behavior, errors and omissions)
    4. Contracts (e.g., basic elements, scope of work, specifications)
    5. Supervision (e.g., survey team leadership, personnel management)
    6. Project Documentation and Record Management
    7. Ethics
    8. Communication (e.g., written communication, oral communication, alternate forms of communication, conflict resolution)
  • Applied Mathematics and Statistics  –  10-15 Questions
    1. College Mathematics (e.g., trigonometry, analytical geometry and calculus, linear algebra and matrix theory)
    2. Probability and Statistics (e.g., mean, median, mode, hypothesis testing, normal distribution, linear regression)
    3. Measurement Science (e.g., error analysis, error propagation, positional tolerance, positional accuracy, random/systematic/blunder errors, unit conversions)
    4. Quantitative Reasoning (e.g., critical thinking, data analysis and validation, blunder detection, data quality, redundancy)

About our FS Exam Prep Materials

Are you interested in becoming a professionally licensed surveyor? Your career path begins with the Fundamentals of Surveying Exam, and your first step is to pass this difficult exam. Wouldn’t it be great to pass the FS Exam on the first try and get licensed as quickly as possible? Our FS Exam prep material is designed to do just that. Most of our past students have passed on their first try using our Fundamentals of Surveying Exam prep material and online courses.

We offer Pre-Programmed HP-35 Calculators loaded with 15+ land surveying programs that make the FS Exam math sections a breeze. These calculators are approved for use during the exam and they seriously cut down on time needed to perform calculations. We also provide a user manual as well as plenty of videos on how to use your calculator efficiently and effectively.

Our FS Full-Length Practice Exam workbook was designed based on NCEES specifications and also Dr. Tony Nettleman’s 20 years of experience as a PLS. This full-length practice exam will give you ample practice for what to expect on the day of the exam.

NLC Prep’s Online FS Prep Course Bundle was designed by Dr. Nettleman to best present and explain each FS Exam section material for the student. It includes quizzes, videos, explanations, and other FS Exam tips and tricks to ensure you make a passing score on your first try. Dr. Nettleman is so sure of NLC Prep’s FS Online Course Bundle, he guarantees it with the NLC Pass Guarantee. Students who do not pass their land survey exam on the first try will be able to access the online course for an additional year, receive coaching from Dr. Nettleman, and receive 24 credit hours of additional lessons in the area of needed improvement. The FS Exam Online Course Bundle is updated for the new Fundamentals of Surveying Exam this June.

You can also maximize your test day potential with the FS Exam Combo. Our FS Exam Combo includes the Pre-Programmed HP-35 calculator, FS Exam Practice Book, the FS Exam Online Course Bundle, Boundaries and Landmarks: A Practical Manual by A.C. Mulford (1912), and the ACSM/NSPS Definitions of Surveying and Associated Terms (2005). The FS Exam Combo is, without-a-doubt, the best tool for passing your exam; not to mention it is also the best value, combining all three of our most popular FS Exam test products into one bundle.

Are you interested in taking the Fundamentals of Surveying Exam and becoming a licensed professional surveyor? Consider taking our FS Exam Online Course Bundle or using our other FS Exam Test Prep material.

Not sure where to start or wondering if a career as a professional surveyor is right for you? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation call with Dr. Tony Nettleman, he is more than happy to discuss the FS Exam and what a career is like as a professionally licensed surveyor.