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The Best Calculator for the FE Exam

Robert A. Avila, PE, MCE has helped hundreds of rising engineers pass the FE and PE exams.

Four Best NCEES-Approved Calculators for the FE Exam

There are a total of 16 calculators approved by NCEES for the FE exam. I weighed several factors before reducing the 16 approved calculators to the four below. I considered ease of use, visual arrangement of keypad, quality of the user's manual, and availability of video instruction. I also considered user reviews on Amazon. The top four scientific calculators competing for the #1 position:

  • Hewlett Packard: HP 35s
  • Casio: fx-115 ES Plus
  • TI-30XS Multiview (Texas Instruments)
  • TI-36X Pro (Texas Instruments)

Which Is the Best NCEES-Approved Calculator?

After all these considerations, I chose the Casio fx-115 ES Plus. Find out why below.

Note: Under the Pearson VUE testing center rules, you cannot take your calculator cover with you into the exam.

Note: Under the Pearson VUE testing center rules, you cannot take your calculator cover with you into the exam.

Why Is the Casio fx-115 ES Plus the Best?

  • Free instructional videos. The primary reason for choosing this model over the other contenders is the availability of free instructional videos for the Casio fx-115 ES Plus. If you don't go into battle knowing how to use your sword properly, you have a disadvantage. The calculator is your weapon, and the exam is the thing you want to conquer.
  • Mechanics. The Casio is very lightweight. It is supported on four small nodules. This means it feels unstable when mashing the keys during a quick calc. The fx-115 has a flat cover and back; it is stable.
  • The user's guide. The user's guide explains the multi-line display, how the input and results are displayed, and how to perform the functions of the calculator. The first pages show how to change modes, and how to set up the calculator. Before reading this guide, I had no idea a user could set the number of significant figures to be displayed (see page 10). Here is a direct link for the Casio fx-115 ES Plus Guide.

Note: Pearson VUE administers the new CBT format for the FE exam. Under Pearson rules, calculator covers are not permitted into the testing center. Each testing center provides a locker for your backpack, calculator cover, lunch, water bottle, or whatever you want to store. Or, just leave the cover at home or in your car on your test date.

FE Exam Calculator Prices

Note: The Amazon cost assumes you will make additional purchases to achieve $35. After $35, shipping is free on Amazon (or if you have Amazon Prime, you get free 2-day shipping.) Amazon's policy is: If you sell it on Amazon, it can't be cheaper elsew

CalculatorAmazon CostAmazon 3rd Party

Casio fx-115 ES Plus

$16

$12

TI 36 X Pro

$19

$12

HP 35s

$43

$42

TI-36X Pro vs. Casio fx-115 ES Plus

Many engineering graduates know how to use TI-89s and TI-90s. They are comfortable with the navigational layout of TI's menu system.

Because they already know it, most examinees will have an accelerated learning curve to adapt from a TI-89 to a TI-36X Pro. This time discount will save a few hours which can be applied in working practice tests and reviewing problems.

The functionality of the Casio fx-115 is similar to the TI 36X. This is because Texas Instruments developed the TI-36X Pro to compete in the marketplace with Casio's fx-115 ES Plus.

Two reasons I recommend the Casio fx-115 ES Plus are availability of free and pay for use instructional video and the visually perfect algebraic method entry. The ES Plus also has an option to use V.A.P.M. (visually perfect algebraic method.) With V.A.P.M., you enter data as it is written.

The fx-115 is a solar powered unit. This means the fear of battery death is eliminated. Texas Instruments also make the TI-36X Solar. So, if you decide to purchase a solar calculator, you can still go with TI.

Although the two models are similar in many ways, the 115 ES Plus edges out the TI-36X Pro.

Best TI Calculator for the FE Exam?

Data Entry Styles

Traditional vs. V.A.P.M. methods for calculators: V.A.P.M. follows the order of speech. How you say it is how you enter it. Thought flow is more natural.

ProblemTraditionalV.A.P.M.

sin (90) = ?

[9][0][sin][=]

[sin] [9][0][=]

cos (90) = ?

[9][0][cos][=]

[cos][9][0][=]

HP Calculators for the FE Exam

The Hewlett Packard HP 35s is the better of the two options available from HP. Both the 35s and the HP 33s are on the NCEES approved calculator list for the FE exam.

Both are programmable. Both have books available for sale on Amazon which include equations for the FE exam to enter into your calculator.

Many people choose this option when they have prepared extensively in advance. Others need less time to review (e.g. college seniors), so the they have time to learn how to utilize the equations and the HP.

Free Tutorial for the Casio fx-115 ES Plus

Which is the Best Calculator for the FE Exam, Overall?

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Comments

Jj on March 19, 2018:

The HP35S is by far the best, complex numbers, solve, rpn make this calculator the best for engineer. No doubt.

Lindsey on October 08, 2017:

Are the calcs allowed for the entire time frame of the exam? Like even in the math portions, we can still do the matrix in our cals basically?

Taric25 on October 03, 2016:

You forgot to mention that the only one of these calculators that will solve simultaneous equations that contain complex numbers is the HP 35s. The TI and Casio do not allow imaginary numbers in a matrix. This is crucial for solving problems from differential equations and circuit theory. It would take an extraordinarily long time to do this out by hand on the exam, even with assistance from the TI or Casio. The HP allows this natively.

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