Calculators on the SAT: What Will You Choose?

Think you need a fancy calculator to do well on the SAT? Think again.

Most advanced math classes recommend (or even require!) fancy-schmancy calculators—and maybe that's why so many of us spend upwards of $150 on these eye-catching devices. But, as the folks at the College Board will remind you, "Every problem on the SAT can be solved without a calculator." Don't believe them? Here's why (and how) you can and should save a few bucks with your SAT calculator.

1. Buttons, buttons everywhere

As the coolness (and cost) of calculators goes up, so does, it seems, the number of buttons, which makes some TIs complex and confusing. Spend your time more wisely and study the SAT, not the calculator manual. When you're shopping for an SAT calculator, find one that you know how to use. It should be intuitive and fairly easy to understand. If you're not sure how it works, you're probably better off digging up the scientific calculator from freshman year—it'll save you time, money, and effort, and you'll probably get the same grade because . . .

2. SAT problems aren't calculator-able

I hate to disappoint you, but most SAT problems aren't punch-and-go. That means you don't just plug in a bunch of numbers and get an answer. Typically, you'll need to figure something out first. Hence the emphasis on critical thinking rather than memorization. Also, if your calculator is on the acceptable list, that means the College Board doesn't think it'll give you an advantage. (Hint: this means you shouldn't expect it to, either.) Really, the only thing you might, potentially, maybe want to use your calculator for is graphing, since that's often sloppy or hard to do by hand.

3. "But . . . but . . . my calculator helps me!"

Really? Although some calculators have "superpowers," with commands like nSolve, many of us are better off writing things out by hand than we are putting them into a calculator. For example, with problems like 6(5*4)/3, it's probably easy enough for you to get 40, but entering all those operations and parentheses into your calculator isn't quite as easy as it sounds, especially with the time limits on the SAT. So relax, show your work, and avoid typos.

So stick to the basics! Pull out your graphing calculator from Algebra 2, make sure you're capable of entering the basic operations and graphing functions and using parentheses properly, and you'll be good to go. That, and some time with Testive’s SAT Prep, of course.

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About Tom Rose

Tom Rose

Tom Rose is career educator and technologist. He has been a professional test preparation tutor since 2007 and is the Co-founder of Testive, the company that makes SAT Habit. At Testive, Tom developed the company core algorithms and leads the product development team.

Tom is a National Science Foundation Teaching Fellow and led the Duke Smart Homes Program where students designed, built, and lived in an environmentally friendly dorm. He received the highest-ever teaching rating in the history of the engineering school.

Tom received a Bachelor in Engineering from the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and an M.B.A. from MIT


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