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HP Forum Archive 13

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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.

Re: NCEES Calc Policy and Foxy Ole' HP
Message #2 Posted by Paul Brogger on 24 Sept 2003, 10:20 a.m.,
in response to message #1 by Todd Stock

At the risk of adding to someone's paranoia surrounding this, wouldn't a calculator with multiple registers (or array capabilities) enable the kind of answer encoding alluded to under 3 (above)?

In fact, my little SPECTRA SSC-200 has 27 memories, and if it is/were allowed, I could store as many as 10x27 answers using a positional encoding with decimal digits. Using Octal, I should be able to encode even more (if, that is, I could get its Base-n functions to actually work?!?!?).

Of course, this assumes I know the correct answers.

So, even without an alpha capability, any calculator with multiple registers may be used to carry at least some answers out of the test site.

(How many questions are there typically on these tests?)

Re: NCEES Calc Policy and Foxy Ole' HP
Message #3 Posted by Dave Shaffer on 24 Sept 2003, 11:18 a.m.,
in response to message #1 by Todd Stock

A few comments (aimed at NCEES, I guess):

re: "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')"

This looks like a case of an overly technical approach to a VERY simple problem: if somebody is going to export answers (let alone the questions), why not WRITE THEM DOWN SOMEWHERE??!!?? I am not an engineer, and am unfamiliar with the entire testing protocol, but from the discussions herein, it seems that you can bring in whatever printed matter (books) you want. All you have to do is write down the answers somewhere in one of your books. Presumably all material is subject to inspection at exit, but with enough books and a simple encoding scheme, you could write down anything and there is little likelihood they'd find it anyway amongst the 1000's of pages.

If the system switches to providing its own calculators, then there is no reason (other than the expense of providing the calcs) not to have ANY kind available. They could offer a variety of your favorite HP and TI (and anything else), on-site. You might have to request your favorite in advance. To prevent various on-site cheating installation, they could a) glue shut all access ports; b) cover all IR ports; c) even wrap the whole thing in aluminum foil (to prevent RF transmission (although (a) should pretty well negate attempts at this)).

Re: NCEES Calc Policy and Foxy Ole' HP
Message #4 Posted by Todd Stock on 24 Sept 2003, 11:44 a.m.,
in response to message #3 by Dave Shaffer

Your arguments are mine - it's pretty much impossible to prevent some types of cheating without providing the calc, closely proctoring the exams, and timing start/finish to avoid the issues with East Coast versus AK/HI.

Personally, I think the states should make it a felony rap to cheat, make examples out of those few individuals that do cheat (and are caught), and put the main effort int addressing the other 99.99% of the folks being tested who just want to punch the ticket.

The interesting part of the discussion for me was the potential impact on calcs in engineering programs - the rest of this is pretty academic for those not sitting for an exam anytime soon. I'm not certain how much NCEES policy drives engineering program decisions, but if I were a first year civil/mechanical and knew that only certain calcs were allowed on my licensing exam, I'm not certain that I'd have a good reason to acquire "banned" machines.

Re: NCEES Calc Policy and Foxy Ole' HP
Message #5 Posted by CME750 on 24 Sept 2003, 1:37 p.m.,
in response to message #4 by Todd Stock

I don't see the new NCEES policy as a win for HP. It's true that the new policy may drive up sales of the forthcoming 33S. Even people with no previous interest in HP calculators are looking hard at the 33S, because it is currently the only algebraic programmable with an explicit "seal of approval" from NCEES.

Unfortunately, the NCEES policy is going to *cripple* sales of the much more expensive 48GXII and the 49G+. Like it or not, the calculator has long since been supplanted in the engineering workplace by the PC. But the proficient "calculator power user" still had a significant advantage in one situation: the NCEES licensing exams. Now even that advantage has evaporated.

Many people (including me) bought the 48GX or the 49G specifically for use on the EIT or PE exams. That market has just disappeared. My 48GX is great, and it certainly helped me through the EIT exam -- but I no longer use it for PE exam preparation, since the 48GX will be banned when I take the exam next year.

I may very well buy a 33S to supplement my 32SII. But much as I like my 48GX, I would not buy any 48 or 49 series calculator if I was starting the NCEES exam process today.

Re: NCEES Calc Policy and Foxy Ole' HP
Message #6 Posted by CME750 on 24 Sept 2003, 2:19 p.m.,
in response to message #3 by Dave Shaffer

NCEES has policies which are supposed to prevent people from copying down the exam questions or answers:

(1) The EIT/LSIT exams are *not* open-book. Once you are in the exam room, you are issued a reference manual and an exam booklet, but you have to return them (with all the pages intact) when you leave. You are not allowed to write on anything else. If there is an extra sheet of paper on your desk, you can be disqualified.

(2) For the PE/PLS exams, you are allowed to bring books in and out. But any notes that you write in your books prior to the exam *must* be in ink. You are not allowed to bring any writing implements into the exam room. Once you are in, you are issued a mechanical pencil, which can only be used on the exam booklet. You can be disqualified if (a) you are caught writing with the pencil in your books, or (b) anything written in pencil is found in your books.

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