NCEES new "approved calculator" list


Yesterday, NCEES updated the "approved calculator" list on its website.

Bad news: They reduced the number of approved models in order to "reduce confusion among proctors and examinees". Now, the only permitted HP models are the 9S and 33S.

My lobbying effort -- a carefully-written 1-page letter advocating approval of the the 11C, 15C, and 20S -- unfortunately has failed. NCEES went the other way by eliminating all discontinued models, notably the ideally-suited, RPN-based 32S and 32SII.

They will review and revise the list annually, but I suspect that the only models approved under the new policy will be ones that are still in production.



That's real bad news, even though I'm not directly affected. Someone who bought a new HP32SII a year or two ago would have to buy a new calculator.

Who or what funds the NCEES? Who act as a lobby for students and employers? If you want to change things follow the money...

I've not looked at the list but if the trend is true does that also eliminate many of the old TI and Casio calcs? If so collectively the young (and not so young) will be facing a big bill.


Years ago the NCEES was to certify the compentency of practicing engineers and to maintain that level regardless of whether the individual graduated from a presitigous school or what not. Nothing mattered except solid recommendations and how well you did on the exam.

As better tools became available the tests also made use of the extra power you were able to carry into the exam (as well as your references).

Today however the NCEES has evolved into a REAL business to large for the engineering core to really manage. And this core has been diluted by a more reasonable (actually less reasonable, but I am speaking about business policies) business management bunch.

And this bunch hires or provides one or two real professionals whose job is to oversee 10 part-time proctors (exam monitors) to administer the exam. These 10 people have NO idea or clue about what they are looking at. So to make it fair for all (remember, business fair and implementation), they list what is on the retail shelf today that is not a graphics or any out of date RPN or any other old POS. That way the procter can examine from a short list (the shorter the better) and judge whether the examinee is using an APPROVED calculator. Simple and easy.

And that is the easy way out. The calculators on the shelf today for $10-20 are supposed to be powerful enough for their exam. Good luck trying to argue otherwise.

I am hoping to be able to take the next exam. I am and will be ticked off their policies, but I am planning to work around any obsticales that are put between me and passing. I would prefer an Hp48G (which I used to pass my EIT). I would even prefer to use my Hp42s+ more than the 48G, but without real I/O it is always risky to bank on the memory with no fast restore or backup (for units conversions as I really like the units conversions of the 48G, but otherwise, I prefer the 42s). And that is not allowed either.

I have been using my Hp32sii quite a bit as I prefer the older keyboard layout and didn't want to buy another new Hp so quickly (I have the 49G+, actually my second).

Once you are used to a 42s and its extra features (and especially how well it handles matrices and complex numbers), it is tough to settle for an Hp32sii (or Hp33s).

But it is just another challenge. Of course, if I fail by even a single measely 1% point (and especially if I fail by 1%), I will have a different view.

Rant off.


The explanation makes sense, but I find it a very silly attitude from NCEES. Old timers took this exam many years ago with a slide rule, log and trig tables, and used interpolating techniques to calculate trig functions and logs for numerical values not included in the tables. Many other professionals took more recent exams, and passed them with HP versions 35, 45, 11C, 15C which may be better built than today's HP products, but at the same time, are far less powerful than modern calculators, in terms of speed, memory, and mathematical features.

It is simply absurd not to permit older calculators at NCEES-administered exams, and accept only what is available in the market today. I wonder if they would allow slide rules and tables again!


Edited: 18 Nov 2004, 7:20 p.m. after one or more responses were posted


Friends..i´m just a little forum reader with no knowledge about these tests ( in fact i live overseas as you can figure out for my writing )but reading the news ncees rules about calculators i think are not so bad as mostly people say...why?

1.- I don´t want to spent money in other calc....well..i think these tests are by far more important than a 50$ calculator ( i´m sure we spend a lot more money in other silly things)..

2.- I don´t agree with the list because:

2.1 the calcs are not powerfull enough or are not as a graphing the past, the exam had to be scaring just imagine to do it using tables and slide rules...i think the exam must be done under controlled conditions (including calculation gear) and doing the cals list short improved this goal and avoid troubles due to these fact if we need power why don´t bring a laptop with math & engineering software to the exam .???

2.2 why can i not use my hp 11 or 15c or something like this?...

just imagine the ebay market on voyagers calcs if these are included in the list...well i have 2 maybe will be a good idea to sell them a very good price...

my impression is that too many people are complaing about calcs...i would be more concerned about the exam contents...


I understand the rationale for the current NCEES calculator policy. However, I don't like the confusing way that NCEES has implemented this policy; it has caused considerable trouble and expense for RPN users.

Here is a real example, from a user that I met in a different forum:

2002: User buys new HP-48GX. This calculator had been allowed on NCEES exams for many years, and was a very popular choice for these exams. Spends ~ $350 for calculator, memory cards, link cable, and Advanced User’s Guide.

2003: NCEES suddenly, without warning, bans HP48s and HP 49s. User’s HP48 becomes worthless for exam purposes. No other RPN scientific calculators were in production; the HP-33S was not yet available. User wants an RPN calculator, notes that the 42S was not on the NCEES "banned" list. User buys old 42S from eBay for ~$250.

2004: NCEES adds the 42S to the “banned" list. User’s 42S becomes worthless for exam purposes. Still no other RPN scientific calculators in production; the HP-33S was not widely available in time for the April 2004 exam. User still wants an RPN calculator, notes that the 32SII was on the NCEES "approved" list. User buys old 32SII from eBay for ~$200.

2005: NCEES bans 32SII. Haven’t heard from User recently, and don’t know if he passed the exams in 2004. But his 32SII has become worthless for exam purposes. If User still wants an RPN calculator for the 2005 exams, he will need to spend another ~$60 for a 33S.

Edited: 18 Nov 2004, 10:13 p.m. after one or more responses were posted


Hi Norris,

I feel for the person you described. I had a similar situation with income and taxes a few years ago. Over a 5 year period my gross income due to cost of living increases went up by $2,000 but my take home pay due to taxes went down by $3,000. There was not only more money coming out of the pay check for taxes, but I was having to pay more in at the end of the year. That was not fun.

I do not agree with the NCEES rules. I think you should be able to use what you have learned on and know how to use best. I've never taken any of the tests, I'm a drafter and CAD/GIS Operator. When I was taking engineering classes in the early 80's most everyone used the biggest baddest calc you could afford. That was either an TI 55, TI 58/59 HP 15C or an HP 41C/V/X. It was your responsibility to know how your calc worked and how to operate it.

I think some of the blame needs to be put on the schools. If the NCEES is to be the Lord & Master of the calc list, then the schools should use them as the standard and not allow any calcs but what is on the list to be used in class. I also think the lower classes and schools should take note as well. If your career coarse classes, like engineering, architecture, surveying, etc., can't use anything other than an HP33s or TI30s then other classes like calculus, chemistry, geometry, etc. can't either. My nephew is in the 9th grade and he was told he had to have a TI83+ for his math classes. When I was in 9th grade we had just been allowed to use calcs to check our answers. I feel that a graphing calc is too much for a 13/14 year old to use for trig, algebra, and geometry in junior high and high school.

I just think if you can only take the test calc X,Y or Z then you should not be able to use anything other than those in class.

Now after you have passed that tests and get out in the work force you can use whatever you want. At that point it becomes a different story.


It really isn't that simple.

I use a 48G at work because I can quickly punch in a working eq for Lighting calculations, single and three phase voltage drops (with my wire sizes stored as named variables) etc. This could all be done with Excel also, but if I am doing a review at another office, I don't want to lug my PC over there (I hate even using the 48G and have actually set up an Hp17Bii for this as well).

And I take courses for a Master's degree as well. None of the calculators allowed by the NCEES are all that good for my needs. Yet my company likes its engineers to have a PE. My own preferences are to get/use the best, NCEES wants me to use 2nd string equipment. I view it as just a challenge to overcome.

But it still goes against conventional wisdom to buy 2nd rate tools to do a first rate job. That is really my gripe with the NCEES. The best craftsmen try to use the best tools. The NCEES exam wants us to use the 5&10 store tools to work on our exam. A true craftsman will still do well, its just that the better tools make the job that much easier.


<< I think some of the blame needs to be put on the schools. >>

Most engineers in the US, around 80%, are not licensed. If you exclude civil engineers, the figure probably exceeds 90%. Why should schools enforce NCEES requirements for calculators when most of their engineering graduates will never take an NCEES licensing exam?

<< Now after you have passed that tests and get out in the work force you can use whatever you want. At that point it becomes a different story. >>

No, it doesn't. Most people take NCEES exams after they become working professionals, not as students. Some people do take the Engineer-in-Training or Land Surveyor-in-Training exams as college seniors, but even if you do, that's only the beginning. You still can't take the Professional Engineering or Professional Land Surveyor exams until you have at least a few years of acceptable work experience. People routinely take both the "In-Training" and "Professional" exams after they have been out of school for many years.

Edited: 18 Nov 2004, 5:38 p.m.


NCEES is an organization sponsored by the 50 US state licensing boards for engineers and land surveyors (plus the boards for other jurisdictions under US administration, like DC and Puerto Rico).

Most state boards apparently support the current NCEES policy, so it would be difficult to change. Some state boards, notably California's, are known to be opposed. The California Board currently has an unusual dual policy on calculators: they enforce the NCEES calculator policy on the national NCEES exams, but they continue to allow any non-QWERTY calculator on California-specific, non-NCEES exams.

The complete list of NCEES-approved calculators includes the following:

Hewlett-Packard: 9S, 33S

Casio: FX-115MS, FX-115MS Plus

Texas Instruments: TI-30X IIS, TI-30X IIB, TI-36X

Many formerly acceptable Casio and TI models have been banned. On the other hand, most of the approved models (with the obvious exception of the 33S) are priced at just $10-$20, so the costs of calculator replacement are not extreme.

It would be tough if you just spent $200+ on a 32SII, 11C, or 15C for use on an NCEES exam. On the other hand, NCEES has been signalling this move for months, so it should come as no surprise. Possibly the market value of such older models will now drop.

Edited: 18 Nov 2004, 2:02 p.m.



I notice the NCEES didn't state a policy regarding slide rules. I wonder if they're still OK? :-)

Fortunately, I passed my civil exam more than 20 years ago. I used my HP-41CV + survey pac + structures pac and I had my HP-34C for backup. Oh…I also had my Concise/Sama & Etani pocket circular slide rule just in case.

I think the NCEES policy is generally correct, but the impelementation is seriously flawed. Those boys obviously need a calculator expert on their staff.



Hi Fred,


Those boys obviously need a calculator expert on their staff.

Isn't that an oxymoron today? The more we learn, the less expert we become.....;^)

Best regards,


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