NCEES calculator update


The October 2006 issue of Licensure Exchange makes it clear that NCEES is considering a plan to issue calculators to engineers and surveyors taking licensing exams. This is a major market for the HP 33S, so if NCEES standardizes on some other model, 33S sales would take a substantial hit.

However, the good news is that NCEES rejected a plan to purchase cheap calculators, and is apparently considering four different models, possibly including the 33S.

p. 11: An exam security audit in August included a recommendation to "provide calculators at exam sites"

p. 4: In September, delegates at the Annual Meeting "defeated a motion to add $25 to the cost of each exam to pay for supplying calculators to all examinees at each exam site. After delegates voiced concern about the specific model chosen by the Board, the proposal failed."

p. 5: The delegates also "Approved a motion to purchase 50 each of the 4 calculators on the 2007 approved list so that the exam development committees can use the calculators when creating exam questions and determine if one of the calculators might meet the requirements for a calculator that NCEES could provide for future exam administrations."

It is not clear which $25 model was rejected, but at that price it was presumably not the 33S. It is also not clear whether the 33S is one of the "4 calculators on the 2007 approved list". The current 2006 list includes 10 models, including the HP 9S, 30S, and 33S, but apparently the list will be shortened for 2007.

The 33S is one of the more popular NCEES exam calculators, and is the only one with RPN, so it seems likely that it will make the 2007 list. However, we won't know for sure until the 2007 calculator list is announced, probably in November.

Edited: 29 Sept 2006, 9:27 p.m.


Hi Norris,

can you give me an idea how many people apply for a NCEES exam per year? AFAIK NCEES is exclusively for USA, so it will be nice to be able to estimate the overall importance measured by the number of people involved.

Thanks in advance,


can you give me an idea how many people apply for a NCEES exam per year?

According to the August 2006 issue of Licensure Exchange, a total of 72,266 FE, PE, FS, and PS exams were administered in 2005-06. However, the number of 33S sales to examinees is only a fraction of the total, for several reasons:

- The total represents two different exam sessions (October 2005 and April 2006), so it is inflated by repeat takers.

- The total represents both the first-stage FE and FS exams, and the second-stage PE and PS exams. But most people taking the PE or PS exam will reuse the same calculator that they previously bought for the FE or FS exam. It's more realistic to consider the number of FE and FS exams alone, which was 44,568 for 2005-2006.

- The 33S is only one of 10 currently-approved NCEES calculators, although it is one of the most popular choices.

Given these factors, I would guess the number of 33S calculators bought for NCEES exams at something like 10,000 - 20,000 per year.

I would also assume that this is a substantial fraction of all 33S sales. For example, since the 33S is not widely available in stores, probably many sales are at If you look up the "33S calculator" page at Amazon, you'll see plenty of evidence for the NCEES connection. For example, Amazon currently is offering a "Better Together" offer for the 33S with an FE exam software book; Amazon's "Customers who bought this item also bought:" list includes four NCEES exam books; and several of the customer reviewers indicate that they bought the 33S for use on NCEES exams.

AFAIK NCEES is exclusively for USA

Correct. Technically, I believe some NCEES exams are offered in Canada and Japan for individuals seeking US licensure, but I expect the number of non-US examinees is not significant.

Edited: 30 Sept 2006, 12:46 p.m.


Another possible consequence of the proposed NCEES policy change: it would likely kill the 33S exam software industry, no matter which model (or models) NCEES decides to issue.

If NCEES standardizes on some other calculator, then there obviously won't be much demand for 33S exam software.

But even if NCEES standardizes on the 33S, it still won't be practical to use such software. Presumably the official NCEES calculators would be issued in the exam room immediately before the test (like the official NCEES pencils), and so there wouldn't be any opportunity to load software.

The 33S exam software vendors (e.g. PPI, Chotkeh, Software by D'Zign, HP33SSurveyor, and NewCalc) must be watching this issue closely.


Perhaps you would select your calculator prior to the exam with your application. There would be an appropriate added cost of your exam depending upon your calculator selection ie $20 for a Ti or Casio, $50 for the Hp. Then when you went to take your exam, you would be given YOUR new calculator for the exam. The cost of the calculator isn't a lot in comparison to the exam costs.

But as you stated, any calculator program such as this will effectively kill the software business associated with these exams. But I don't believe these programs are all that neccessary either, more like a security blanket to some.

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