Preparing for the mechanical pe exam can be difficult. Not only are you tasked with WHAT to study but you’re also trying to figure out HOW you should study for the test. I’ve covered reference materials and practice questions for the mechanical pe on other pages of this site. Today, I’d like to focus on the topic of calculators.
Which calculator should/can you use? Well, if it were up to me I’d use my trusty ol’ TI-85. Sadly though, NCEES will not allow this type of calculator into the exam. Choosing the calculator you use will be influence by several factors. There are some imposed restrictions by NCEES, different models have different prices, some have more bells and whistles, and some will have user interfaces that are easier for you to pick up.
The very first place you should look when deciding what calculator to use is the approved calculator list from NCEES. You can find the approved 2012 list of calculators here. This list is updated periodically so you should always make sure you’re working off of the most recent list available. Once you review the list of calculators you’ll see that this year’s approved list has three manufacturers. It should be noted that if during the exam the test proctors discover you using a calculator which is NOT on the approved list, they will not only confiscate this calculator, leaving you to fend for yourself for the rest of the exam, but they will probably dismiss you from the exam right there. Not only would you miss out on taking the mechanical pe exam but your chances at siting for another exam will be limited since this instance would be on your record.
I’m going to attempt to briefly describe the calculators on this list. PLEASE NOTE: I have not used the majority of these calculators. I’m trying to give you an easy comparison between the specifications of the calculators. Your final decision should be based on what calculator meets your needs.
HP-33s This calculator has a two line display making it a little easier for you to enter in information. It can be programmed and can solve equations and integrate. The company PPI actually offers a companion book called Essential Equations for the Mechanical PE Exam Using the HP 33s. One thing to keep in mind for this calculator is that there is no solar power option. Therefore, remember to pick up some spare batteries (CR2032 style last time I checked).
HP-35s This calculator is pretty similar to the 33s. Despite the “higher” model number over the 33s, this calculator is typically cheaper.
Casio FX-115ES Similar to the HP-33s/35s this calculator come preloaded with functions and also has the ability to store your own input. Some other differences are that it has metric unit conversions, scientific constants, and vector capability. This calculator is also solar powered with a battery backup.
Casio FX-115MS-Plus This calculator is similar to the FX-115ES but lacks the ability to do the unit conversions, matrix, and vector calculations. One more drawback to this calculator is that the manual has been described as lacking in detail. I found a teacher who put up an online user guide for this calculator. You can find it at http://faculty.ccc.edu/jnadas/graduate/CASIO.fx115ms.HTM.
TI-30X IIS Similar to the HP and Casio calculators mentioned earlier, this calculator has a two line display. It is also dual powered between solar and battery. One difference I noted was that it can only store up to 5 variables. The HP and Casio calculators seem to be a bit higher powered.
TI-30XA This is the simplest calculator of the list (and is actually the one I used on the exam). Nothing fancy here, mainly the basic trig functions with the ability to enter values in degrees, radians, or grads. I think the most exotic thing this calculator can do is convert between polar and rectangular coordinates. One thing you should steer clear of if you purchase this calculator is the “school version” calculators. High schools that use this style of calculator for testing will disable some of the functions. Don’t buy any used calculators that are “school versions”.
TI-36X Pro This calculator is similar to the Casio FX-115ES. It can perform integrals, vector/matrices, 18 metric conversions, and statistics. This calculator also allows you to enter in data to the 2 line display in a manner that displays fractions like they do in text books. This calculator is also battery powered with a solar assist.
One of the main things you need to keep in mind when determining which calculator to use on the mechanical pe exam is how much will the extra bells and whistles really help you. You will need to be very familiar with the calculator’s operation to use these functions effectively. You will waste precious time fumbling with the calculator’s buttons if you’re not comfortable with the interface. A good question to ask yourself is, are the extra functions making it easier for me to perform the calculations over what I could do with just paper and pencil. As I explained earlier, I used the simplest calculator available when I passed the exam.
Another thing to remember is to not switch calculators at the last moment before the test. If someone you’re studying with just showed you what awesome functions are available on the Casio FX-115ES while you’re using the simple TI-30XA think twice before you go out and buy yourself a new calculator. The cost difference between the two calculators is negligible when you factor in your comfort level. You need a high level of familiarity with whatever calculator you’re using. You should use the exact calculator during your studies as you will during the exam. Don’t change last minute only to discover that you have no idea how to use the new calculator’s extra functions. Try to choose the calculator you use early on in your studies.
I’d love to hear other reader’s experiences with the calculators they’ve used on the mechanical pe exam. What are your thoughts?
January 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Mechanical pe exam | No comment