|NCEES Calc Policy and Foxy Ole' HP|
Message #1 Posted by Todd Stock on 24 Sept 2003, 9:35 a.m.
After writing a lengthy note to the good folks at NCEES re: their recently announced policy, I was invited to spend an hour or so discussing the matter with one of the NCEES staff. I'll summarize the discussion, along with why I'm beginning to reevaluate HP's marketing choices. This discussion is applicable to an HP list - cut to the chase if you want the executive summary.
1. The NCEES policy is evolutionary (more on this later), and based on three factors:
a. The observed ease of removing question numbers and possibly correct answers from Eastern time zone test sites to benefit HI and AK examinees (opinion: not very valid in my opinion - care to guess the number of examinees in either state? Just shifting the exam start time can address the issue)
b. The ease of modifying almost any calc for either longer range IR or RF communications (opinion: this is substantive - there are way too many talented engineers with time on their hands these days...)
c. The perception on the part of some at the NCEES that current engineering grads are more skilled at data entry than in understanding and applying basic engineering principles, and cannot reliably do the calculations necessary without Matrix Editors, Solvers, Equation Libraries, or other automation (opinion: NCEES has to convince a few hundred thousand educators that going back to pen, paper, and basic calc/slide rule is the way to go here - like it or not, no one does FEA or 40 x 40 matrices by hand these days, and few engineers open a table of integrals when MathCad or similar is available...).
2. Long range IR link mods were said to be available for the HP-48, and in at least one other exam setting (not NCEES-administered), RF-capable TI calcs were observed, allowing communications between rooms.
3. NCEES proctors have observed one or more examinees using a set of calcs to record answers for removal from the test setting (e.g., '1D2A3B4A').
4. Computer based testing is not an option under serious consideration, given the security concerns and limitations on just how many variants of the FE and PE exam can be produced that are identical for grading purposes (see PPI's FE/PE FAQ for why this is so). The NCEES rep confirmed what I have suggested in previous notes - video technology and RF links have resulted in at least one licensing activity moving to administer all exams simultaneously (e.g. 2 PM start in NY, 11 AM start in LA, and 6 AM start in Honolulu).
5. Re: video/digital still cameras, NCEES stated that other testing agencies have banned watches, jewelry, head wear/scarves, etc. from test sites (I assume it's in the works for NCEES as well).
Now for my take on things:
The direction that the NCEES is going is toward a nothing-in/nothing-out exam site - nothing else will prevent removal of question numbers and assumed correct responses. In other words, the NCEES would publish a list of calcs available at the exam site, and it would be the responsibility of the examinee to become familiar with the operation of those models.
My assessment is that the NCEES will settle on one non-graphing, scientific calc which can operate in either algebraic or RPN logic modes, thus, ensuring that examinees do the lion's share of number crunching - this will become the provided calc (brush up on doing matrix operations and SLEQ by hand, or practice speed programming).
Given that only HP currently offers a calculator with both RPN and algebraic modes, as well as full support for the math functions that NCEES judges necessary for the FE and PE exams, I think chances are good that TI will have to respond with a serious algebraic/RPN scientific calc similar to the HP-33S or risk seeing the engineering market firmly back in HP's court. Although it will take TI a little time to respond, I can easily see a 2006 exam year where no calcs are taken into or from the site.
Sort of makes you think that HP had a game plan all along for the new dual mode calcs, despite the knuckleheads responsible for the 33S case and keyboard design. FYI - NCEES was told that HP would have the 33S out by Dec, hence it's inclusion in the list of authorized calcs. Does anyone else see the writing on the wall?
My question to the group is that should NCEES announce that they would change policy to a single algebraic/rpn platform for all exams, how long would it take for engineering schools, GRE-Engineering, etc. to follow suit?
DISCLAIMER: This note summarizes an informal conversation with one NCEES rep, and certainly does not represent the stated position of that organization. The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent my employer's, my wife's, or my dog's view of the world.