I am a Professional Engineer registered in California, working from Kiev, Ukraine. I specialize in steel building construction.
When selecting a calculator for the PE exam, it's important to choose wisely. Not every scientific calculator is created equally. After reviewing all 16 allowable calculators, I narrowed it down to four.
Top Four Calculators for the PE Exam
- Texas Instruments TI-36X Pro
- Casio FX-115 ES Plus
- Hewlett Packard HP 35s
- Texas Instruments TI-30XS Multiview
The factors considered and the reasoning behind my final choice are fairly solid. I personally prefer the style and feel of one of the other four. But, my overall recommendation for PE examinees is the TI-36X Pro.
Top Choice: Texas Instruments TI-36X Pro
The primary reason for choosing the TI-36X Pro over the other contenders is the availability of free instructional video that comes with it.
The reasoning is this: You can have the best functionality in the world available at your fingertips; however, if you do not know how to use its capabilities, you are at a disadvantage. Each calculator is unique: even models in the same series or brand line differ from predecessors in important ways.
Instruction on the model you will use is a valuable plus in choosing the best engineering calculator for the PE exam.
Another Reason to Recommend the TI-36X Pro
Most recent engineering graduates are familiar with TI-89s and TI-90s. They are comfortable with the navigational functionality of TI's menus.
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 means hours saved to work problems.
If not for the availability of both free and pay for use instructional video to augment the TI-36X Pro, and the familiarity many have with TI functionality, I would recommend the FX-115 ES Plus.
In many other ways, the two models are similar. But, the TI-36X Pro seems to the best engineering calculator for the 2015 NCEES PE exams (from what is available from Texas Instruments and allowed in the exam room).
Runner-Up: Casio FX-115 ES Plus
My own first choice, based on personal preference, is the Casio FX-115 ES Plus.
I prefer the satin metal finish. The two orange keys break up the visual field and provide a reference point for locating function keys. For engineers and exam takers, looking left and right to papers and then to the calculator, quickly locating the desired keys on the calculator is a requirement.
The FX-115 ES Plus has a menu similar to the TI-36X Pro, which TI developed in order to compete with Casio's FX-115 line of scientific calculators.
One important caveat: This Casio is of light-weight construction, like a TI. On even ground against the TI in this regard, it yields some comparative favor to the HPs, which are heavier, and to the FX-115W, which is heavy. Additionally, HPs and the FX-115W both are very sturdy. The 115W is flat so it doesn't move around when the keys are furiously mashed and pecked during timed exams. But, the FX-115 ES Plus has four small protuberances, one near each corner. This makes it less stable—especially when working on top of a collection of books and papers.
For California examinees, the degree-minute-second key will come in handy on the Civil Surveying Exam.
Best Texas Instruments Scientific Calculator for the PE Exam?
TI-30XS Multiview vs. TI-36X Pro
The primary advantage of the TI-30XS Multiview is integrated into the model's name—it has four lines of display. You can scroll through previous entries, see the equation you input, and modify data to derive new answers. It is a CAS calculator, solves derivatives, and solves calculus problems (with definite results).
The TI-36XS Pro does all those things, even the four lines of visual text on the display.
The TI-36X Pro is a kind of hybrid TI-30XS meets FX-115. The offspring is not a monster, though. It is an excellent tool and my recommendation over all other TI models on the NCEES list of permitted calculators.
TI-36X Pro vs. HP 35s
The primary difference between these two calculators is the mode of entry. HP is, of course, a Reverse Polish Notation entry calculator. I learned calculators on my father's HP collection, so, this is very natural to me.
Years of surveying and using an HP-48, and my HP-38 in college have taught me RPN like second nature. I now use a Casio desk calculator (an FX-115), and there are some advantages to using an RPN.
Something I like about HP calculators is their attention to the detail of feel. The best factor, of course, is the diverse functionality available in the HP 35s.
On Amazon, after hundreds of reviews, the TI-36X has 4.6 of 5 stars. The HP 35s has a 4.1 score out of 5. Though we can't determine exactly what makes the average TI review 10 percent higher than the average rating for HP, we can understand that the TI-36X Pro has a distinct edge over the HP 35s.
Further Resources: PE Exam
- PE Exam Materials - Pass the PE like a Pro
If you found this discussion of NCEES approved calculators valuable, read many more similar discussions compiled into this book. A valuable tool for engineering examinees.
- Professional Engineer's Exam- Tips and Resources: 300-Hour PE Exam Study Plan
A plan to study 300 hours in either 4 or 5 months in order to prepare for the Principles and Practice exam for professional engineering licensure.
Help an Engineer Out...
If you prefer another scientific calculator that wasn't discussed above, please post a comment at the bottom of this article. Share with others the model you use and the advantages it delivers. Thank you!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2013 Steel Engineer
JamieSheppard on September 14, 2020:
To pass the exam, you can use professional help from the best educators. There is an educational resource https://ca.edubirdie.com/algebra-help that can assist you while you preparing for your exams. In fact, it is very important to be completely ready for the exam and don't have any gaps in your knowledge.
Sandon Rogers on March 05, 2019:
The HP 33 and 35 are both programmable and the programs are very simple to write and solve multiple problems in multiple ways for when the PE exam has a problem you can program the calculator to solve it no matter how they ask the question.
In order to solve most all engineering PE exam problems they must give you 2 pieces of the problem and in most cases there will be some know variable as well. By writing the program to utilize the numbers provided and use any required variables. The problem can be solved multiple ways.
I have written programs for the geometric design portions, hydolrology, hydraulics, and multiple transportation problem areas as well as a couple of others.
The programs actually ask you for the information that is required to solve a given problem, all you do is provide the info requested and the program runs automatically, giving out several different pieces of data, ie. flow in cfs, wetted perimeter, channel flows, frouid numbers. Jumps, verticals curves and station, horizontal curves. They can be found at resincva.com for review
Ron on August 10, 2016:
The price, features and algebraic entry that is identical to Ti's graphics calculators makes the Ti-36 pro a more popular and wise choice for the majority of PE and other calculator users who are not allowed a graphing calculator. It has ALL the functions and features of the Hp 35s aside from an RPN mode and real programming. It makes up for this with a $20 price and a damn good solver that can function as a poor man's programming tool.
Advantages of the Hp 35s are that it IS programmable, not just a solver and a dual entry RPN or algebraic entry selection. The keyboard is designed for an RPN user though ie awkward to use this as an algebraic calculator. At $50 it is over 2x the cost of the Ti-36 pro.