What are SAT-approved Calculators? + 10 Expert Calculator Tips

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Calculators–they’re an excellent tool to help you zoom through tests as well as complete small calculations in everyday life. And let’s face it, our hearts sink a bit whenever a teacher states that they’re not allowed on an exam. But never fear! Thankfully, in certain sections of the SAT, a calculator is fair game.

 

During the SAT Math section, the College Board allows test takers to use a calculator to solve some of the problems. While most problems on the SAT can be solved using scratch work and some mental math, a calculator can be a helpful tool to speed up your calculations and check your work on test day. Though they should never become a crutch, calculators can help to minimize silly errors and boost your confidence as you work through this section of the test.

 

That being said, the College Board has some very specific rules on what kinds of calculators are  allowed during the exam. Wondering which SAT-approved calculator is best for the exam and how should you use it to optimize your performance? For detailed answers to these questions and more, read on.

 

What Calculators Does CollegeBoard Allow on the SAT?

 

The CollegeBoard only allows certain types of calculators inside the testing room. However, they do not supply calculators to students nor do they provide batteries should your calculator stop working during the test.

 

The CollegeBoard has an entire page on its website that lists the common calculators which students are permitted to use on the SAT Math section. As a general rule, however, all SAT-approved calculators must meet the following criteria:

 

  • Characters on the calculator must be smaller than one inch.
  • No raised displays. (if you bring in a calculator with a raised display, you may be re-seated in the testing room accordingly)
  • Battery-operated. No power cords will be allowed.
  • Must be handheld. Calculators that are too large may not be used.
  • Your phone or laptop cannot serve as your calculator. If your device has access to the internet, it’s not allowed.
  • Your calculator cannot use a stylus.

 

Most graphing calculators and all scientific/four-function calculators are generally acceptable for the exam. However, the CollegeBoard does not recommend that students use a four-function calculator on the exam as these do not have all the functions that you may need on the SAT, such as exponents, logarithms, and others.

 

Scientific vs. Graphing: What Is The Best Calculator To Use On The SAT?

 

There isn’t a perfect answer to this question. As long as your calculator meets the CollegeBoard’s requirements and you are comfortable using it, it will work fine on the math section of the SAT. However, we at CollegeVine recommend that you work with a calculator that meets these specifications:

 

  • Your calculator ought to have a display where you can see what equations you are typing out/asking the calculator to compute. This minimizes silly calculator errors.
  • Your calculator should be able to work with both fractions and decimals.
  • Your calculator should have, at a minimum, some of the more complex functions like exponents, logarithms, natural logs.

 

Some students may wonder whether they need something as complex as a graphing calculator on the exam or whether a simpler, cheaper, scientific calculator will do. At the end of the day, you won’t need many of the complex functions that graphing calculators allow, so a scientific calculator will usually work just fine.

 

Ultimately, you’ll want to use whichever calculator you are most comfortable with. While it’s great to have a calculator with complex capabilities, this functionality will be useless on exam day if you don’t know how to use it.

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10 Expert Calculator Tips

 

Once you’ve selected your calculator, you’ll need to be able to use it to your advantage on the SAT. And yes, there is such a thing as being disadvantaged by your calculator. Here are 10 expert tips to help you optimize your calculator use on the SAT Math Section:

 

 

#1. Practice Using Your Calculator in an SAT Setting

 

When you’re doing your practice tests, always use the calculator that you’re going to use on the real exam. That way, you can get comfortable with using your calculator for the types of functions and problems you will need to solve during the actual test.

 

 

#2. Don’t Rely on Your Calculator

 

Many students use their calculator as a crutch, computing even the most simple calculations with the calculator. While it’s good to check your mental math, relying too heavily on your calculator can actually slow you down. Thus, only use the calculator when you know you need to. Otherwise, trust that your math abilities are up to par. Completing practice exams can help build your confidence and improve your judgement prior to test day.

 

 

#3. Always Have a Backup

 

Always bring a fresh pair of batteries for your calculator on test day. Alternatively, you can also bring a backup calculator to exam. If you choose to bring a second calculator, make sure that you are equally comfortable using this backup and that it meets the CollegeBoard’s criteria. Don’t be caught without a calculator just because yours ran out of battery.

 

 

#4. Always Double Check What You’re Typing Into Your Calculator

 

Sometimes, students know the right equation and logic to solve a problem, but they will key in a wrong number and get the whole problem wrong. Don’t fall prey to this! Always double check your calculator display to make sure you are asking the calculator to solve exactly what you want it to solve.

 

 

#5. Beware of Rounding

 

If a problem has multiple steps and you round your answer during each step, you may end up with an incorrect answer though your method was correct. Calculators are a great tool because they will give you as exact an answer as possible. Use exact numbers as often as possible.

 

 

#6. Remember Order of Operations

 

Almost all calculators operate according to the Order of Operations (does the acronym PEMDAS ring a bell?). When you’re inputting a complex calculation, make sure that you place parentheses where necessary so that your calculator knows the order in which it is supposed to calculate. Otherwise, you may get a very different answer despite having the right equation.

 

 

#7. Know How To Do Some Basic Calculator Operations

 

In addition to the basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, you should know how to do some other transformations using your calculator. For example, you’ll want to be able to convert a decimal into a fraction using your calculator. You should also know how to take an exponent, a logarithm, a natural logarithm, and how to get a remainder. All of these functions may very well crop up on the SAT.

 

 

#8. Have The Basic Formulas Memorized

 

Yes, CollegeBoard provides some basic formulas on the actual test, however, you shouldn’t rely on this sheet. It’s best if you memorize some basic formulas to avoid wasting time flipping through pages on test day. Some formulas to memorize are the area and volume formulas for standard shapes, the unit circle, the Pythagorean theorem, the quadratic formula, and any others that you think could be useful.

 

 

#9. The Graphing Feature Could Be Helpful

 

Most graphing calculators, unlike scientific calculators, have a graphing function that allows a student to visualize a function and find its minimums, maximums, and intercepts. While it is certainly possible to find these points without using the graphing function, if you have a graphing calculator, it may be worth getting comfortable with that capability to save you some time during the test.

 

 

#10. Scratch Work is Sometimes More Valuable than Calculator Outputs

 

This may take more time, but it is helpful to write down your equations and your method of solving a problem, even if you’re going to do all the calculations in your calculator. This way, if you have time to go back and check your answers, you can do so quickly because you will already have your logic written out. Plus, writing things out can help you reason through the problem and keep your thinking organized.

 

For More Information

 

Want some more test prep help with the SAT Math section? Check out some of our other posts as you prepare for the big day:

 

30 SAT Math Formulas You Need To Know

15 Hardest SAT Math Questions

Ultimate Guide To The New SAT Math Test

 

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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Sadhvi is a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley, double majoring in Business Administration and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!