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PE Exam Calculators

Updated on October 24, 2018

Three Brands of PE Exam Calculators

The NCEES approved calculator list includes units from just three manufacturers. These three brands are Hewlett Packard, Casio, and Texas Instruments.

Combined, the three offer a total of 16 calculators which meet requirements of the NCEES approved calculator list. These 16, and no others, are permitted for use during the PE exam.

However, not all the allowed models are worthy considerations for your exam date. Below, each of the models are listed. They are grouped by brand.


Only Two HP Engineering Calculators are Permitted on the Professional Engineering Exam

Exactly two of the calculators made by Hewlett Packard qualify for use on the PE exam. They are the HP 33s and the HP 35s. (Note: This is not plural. The 's' is part of the official nomenclature.)

Unlike the Casio and Texas Instruments calculator lines, other calculators with 33s or 35s in their nomenclatures are not permitted. (... because there are none.)

The FX-115 W S-V.A.P.M. is a solar calculator, and is one the NCEES exam calculator list.
The FX-115 W S-V.A.P.M. is a solar calculator, and is one the NCEES exam calculator list. | Source

Choose the Best TWO Calculators

During the exam, you are permitted to have just one calculator on the desk. Each examinee is encouraged to bring a back-up calculator.

You don't want your calculator to fail you when a battery dies. So, a spare calculator is reasonable and allowed.

That brings in one of the factors to consider when selecting your tools. Should you bring a battery cell powered calculator or a solar one? The obvious advantage is eliminating the possibility of a battery failure during your exam.

Consider making one of your calculators solar or combination solar and battery.

Increase Function Capacity by Selecting Complimentary Calculators

Choose two calculators which compliment each other. For example, choose a programmable calculator as your primary unit, and purchase a solar calculator as a reserve.

I saw one young lady with an identical model- still in it's shoplifting-resistant packaging- in the backpack she used to tote her reference books into the exam. This is a clever idea to save a few bucks.

But, is it a fair trade-off for the advantage of having two calculators with the exact same abilities?

One last factor in favor of a second, different calculator: As you practice with both, you will learn one is easier to use. Keypad layouts, sizes, and which functions are primary or alternate vary from calculator to calculator. More on that in the discussion of calculators with favorable attributes.

Programmable HP Engineering Calculators

Programmable Calculators

You can pass the PE exam without a programmable calculator. Most people do.

However, every advantage is worth consideration. If you are close to your examination date, you might want to consider whether the time investment required to program a calculator, and learn how to access and correctly use the equations is worth it.

The second factor you need to consider is programmability. If you can get a programmable calculator and program it early in your study process, it can be a great advantage. Finding the equations to input will be easy. There are books to buy on Amazon. And, the Civil Engineering Reference Manual is full of equations.

Both HP options, the HP 33s and the HP 35s, are programmable.

Compare prices on Amazon. Amazon sells calculators direct. But, third party sellers also have listings. These can be less expensive. If you plan to take advantage of programming, consider purchasing a list of equations as well.

Useful Equations for HP 35s or HP 33s Calculator for the Civil PE Exam
Useful Equations for HP 35s or HP 33s Calculator for the Civil PE Exam

Both the HP 35 and the HP 33s are programmable. This book lists equations for the NCEES professional engineering and fundamentals of engineering exams.


A Geotechnical Practice PE Exam Problem Solved with the HP 35s

Which HP Calculator is Better for the PE Exam?

Which do you think is the better model to take into the PE exam?

See results

Texas Instruments Calculators Allowed for the PE Exam

Typical Price
TI-36X Pro
4-line display, multiview, Calculus, battery AND solar
TI-36X Solar
value, slide case, fraction format
TI-30XA Solar
+solar -fraction format
TI-30Xa SE
Adapted for overhead use
TI-30XS Multiview
menus, 2-lines, scientific notation, review
battery, 2-lines
solar, 2-lines

Best PE Exam Calculators

Which Texas Instruments Calculator do you Think is Best for the PE Exam?

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Best TI Calculators for the PE Exam

After reviewing the functions of each of the eight TI calculators allowed on the PE exam, it became clear most are not contenders. The following options did not make the cut:

  1. (TI-30Xa SE) It's a tool for teachers of grades 7-12.
  2. (TI-30X IIB) It's inexpensive because it has few functions. B = battery.
  3. (TI-30X IIS) Disqualified same as it's battery cousin. S = solar.

There are a few acceptable household models, and then there are just three true options:

  1. TI-30XS Multiview
  2. TI-36X Pro
  3. TI-36X Solar

TI-36X Pro

Texas Instruments TI36XPRO TI-36X Pro Scientific Calculator, 16-Digit LCD
Texas Instruments TI36XPRO TI-36X Pro Scientific Calculator, 16-Digit LCD

The TI-36X Pro currently ties the Casio fx-115 ES Plus in reviewer ratings on Amazon. Both have a 4.6 star of 5 stars average. But, the Casio has 283 reviews and the TI has 330. However, when one considers the massive marketing campaign of Texas Instruments to the academic world, the fact that Casio has such a close margin of users says something. Still, if you know TI calculators, this will save you time in familiarization.


Consider Availability of Video Instruction

The first two considerations I listed were solar/battery and programmability.

Consideration #3: availability of free instructional videos and/or professional video instruction for sale. Here is an example of a YouTube video on how to use the TI-36X Pro. The creator of the video teaches how to perform a linear interpolation.


The FX-115 series of engineering calculators for the PE exam

Casio produces six engineering calculators permitted on the NCEES principles and practice exam. They are:

  • FX-115 ES
  • FX-115 ES Plus
  • FX-115 MS
  • FX-115 MS Standard
  • FX-115 MS-SR
  • FX-115 W S-V.P.A.M. (= Visually Perfect Algebraic Method)

Which FX-115 Calculator is Best for the PE Exam?

Which of the available versions is the best FX-115 Model to take the Principles and Practice Exam?

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Casio FX-115 Calculators for the PE Exam

Typical Price
FX-115 ES
Calculus, equation solver
FX-115 ES Plus
Calculus, equation solver
FX-115 MS
CAS, calculus, multi-line, engineering
FX-115 MS Standard
279 built-in functions, 2-line, 6 memories
FX-115 MS Plus-SR
calculus, equation solver
FX-115 W S-V.A.P.M.
solar, slide cover, in-display correction

How to Use the fx-115 ES Plus

Which is the Best Casio fx-115 Calculator for the PE Exam?

Just as with the Texas Instruments lines, the Casio fx-115 line has a few models you can disqualify from consideration:

  • (fx-115W S-V.A.P.M.) It's out of production and lacks the valuable functions available with it's cousins in the fx-115 model line.
  • (ES, MS, and MS Standard) These are earlier versions of the two Plus models. Why get less when you can get more?

The two Casio models for serious consideration are then:

  • fx-115 ES Plus
  • fx-115 MS Plus-SR

Weight/sturdiness: I own two Casio fx-115 models. I have both the V.A.P.M. and the ES Plus. I prefer using the V.A.P.M. The reason is this: The V.A.P.M. has all the functions I use day to day (as well as everything I needed on exam day), and it is sturdy. The V.A.P.M. has a flat case. The ES Plus, however, comes with 4 small protuberances, one in each corner. This can make it wobbly. When mashing the keys on a quick calculation, it makes a plasticky banging noise against my wood desktop. thqunk thqunk thqunk... I prefer the heavier, flat model without added movement and noise. It is only a personal experience of use issue, and not one of functionality.

Disclaimer: I purchased the V.A.P.M. model, cheap, on eBay, and passed the structural NCEES exam on the first try. My leading criteria at the time was cost. However, other models seem to offer advantages in functionality.

Consideration #4: Can it Solve Calculus Problems?

Some love calculus and derivatives. These problems on the FE exam or PE exam are basically free points. Others freeze when they see these kinds of problems. They scraped through calculus.

Others are so far out of college, calculus is a vague memory.

So, the ability to solve calculus problems is a big plus. You must, of course, take the time to learn how to use this function correctly. Most of these, including the TI-36X Pro, only solve definite integrals that give numerical answers.

These models solve calculus:

  • HP 33s
  • HP 35s
  • TI-30XS Multiview
  • TI-36X Pro
  • TI-36X Solar
  • fx-115ES
  • fx-115ES Plus
  • fx-115W S-V.P.A.M.

PE Exam Calculator Recommendation #5

The fifth factor in choosing a good calculator, for any purpose, is the availability of a user's manual or guidebook. You need instruction to utilize the full functionality of your purchase.

So, in addition to videos, you will need the manufacturer's instruction manual. Videos are limited. Manuals, on the contrary, can be expected to be all-inclusive.

Below are links to manuals for the calculators I consider to be viable options for your consideration:

Ranking and Average User Rating on Amazon

Amazon Sales Rank
Amazon User Rating (/5.0)
TI-30XS Multiview
TI-36X Pro
Casio fx-115 ES Plus
Casio fx-115 ES
Casio fx-115 MS Standard
TI-36X Solar
HP 33s
HP 35s

Winning Combo?

You will need to make your own assessment in choosing two calculators. Will you choose two identical units, or two complementary ones?

However, here is my suggestion for two calculators which will compliment each other nicely. Each offers some functions the other doesn't offer.

  • HP 35s
  • fx-115 ES Plus

Best Three Calculators for the PE Exam

After reviewing all these calculators, eliminating a few of the TI's and a half the Casio models, I've realized:

There is one clear choice from each brand.

  • HP 35s
  • TI 36X Pro
  • fx-115 ES Plus

The TI 36X Multiview also earns an honorable mention. So, when making your decision on which to purchase, these three (four?) are the ones to really consider. Don't be afraid to spend a few extra dollars for the one you prefer.

Calculators are an operating expense for any job that requires an office, and certainly for engineers. For most engineers, that amounts to about a 22% discount in tax savings.

Check the links below for Must-have PE exam study materials. There is a link to a page of the top-rated, most current review books and materials. The sooner you buy, the sooner it ships.

Share on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon... links in upper right margin.
Share on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon... links in upper right margin. | Source

Share and Share Alike

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Share this great resource with your examinee and engineering friends. Later, when you have a need, you'll find the information coming from a friend.

May you have a great success as an engineer and member of the human race.


© 2013 Steel Engineer


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