What is your favorite scientific calculator

Pocket calculator on the SAT: Tips from experts

Pocket computers are allowed on the AT, and if you don't use them properly, you can lag far behind. The AT experts Fred Zhang and Allen Cheng discuss which tips and strategies


Calculators are allowed on the SAT, and if you don't use them properly, you can fall far behind. SAT experts Fred Zhang and Allen Cheng discuss which tips and strategies were helpful for them in order to achieve perfect results.

Introduction to calculators on the SAT

All: How important are pocket calculators to the SAT?

Fred: I would say they are from medium importance on the SAT Math section. It is imperative to have the correct calculator strategy. On the one hand, most of the math (even calculator!) Work interprets the problem - a calculator can't do this for you. On the other hand, not using a calculator or using the wrong calculator strategy can really mess you up.

All: Exactly. Calculators can't shape your day, but they can definitely break your day. To get a good SAT Math score, you need to avoid mistakes, which is what you need to do if your goal is to go to a top engineering school, for example. Here are our top tips.

Tip 1: bring a calculator with you

The College Board's official calculator policy states that you don't need a calculator to use the SAT. They say this because the college board needs to make the SAT available to people of all income levels. The reality is that a calculator and the right calculator is an absolute must.

We have passed ACT, SAT, GRE, MCAT and a whole range of standardized tests and class tests. Whenever calculators were allowed, 9 out of 10 cases were of significant help. If you need to multiply 2392 x 323, it will faster and more accurate to do this on a calculator. Bring your calculator!

Tip 2: Always check the entry line

What is an input line? There's a line at the top of the calculator that shows you what you typed:

Many scientific calculators, like the Casio fx-300MS (Fred's personal favorite for the SAT), have an entry line, as do the Ti-83, Ti-84, and Ti-89.

Fred:Always look at this to double-check before hitting Enter. It takes less than a second to look at it, and that's how often I've caught myself typing (425 + 25) instead of (424 + 25) or reversing a decimal place. A couple of such mistakes in the math section can cost you up to 50-100 points! Because of the double check, I almost never managed to make a calculation error.

All: Absolutely. My favorite SAT calculator is the Ti-89, and I keep checking the entry line. If you are a top scorer this is crucial to avoid careless mistakes. If you're not a highscorer, you can check the order of operations and match the equation on paper.

Fred: Oh, and implicit in all of this is that you should Stay away from calculators that don't have an entry line. This 4-function calculator (adds, subtracts, multiplies, only divides) in the closet? No way. Some scientific calculators don't have an entry line - using one would put you at a great disadvantage.

Tip 3: Familiarize yourself with your computer

All: What would you say was your worst calculator experience?

Fred: Oh, by far, in school when I had to use one, I wasn't used to it. I would look for the "sine" symbol. I would find it, but then I realize I have to press another button at the same time to activate it. And to top it off, halfway through the quiz I found that the calculator's angular unit was set in radians instead of degrees, so my answers were all wrong.

By the way, do you know how to swim or ride a bike? If so, then you know the importance of being familiar with an activity. The familiarity of the calculator is no different.

If you want to get the most out of your calculator you must, must, Got to Use one that you are used to. One that you've ideally been using for 20 hours or more. You have vague muscle memory about where the buttons are, what settings there are, and so on. Remember that: The worst computer is an unknown computer. A well-known scientific calculator is far better than an unknown Ti-89.

How do you get familiar with a calculator? Pick one that you like, then use it for tests, homework, and everything else. If possible, do not borrow other people for class work and do not use the class calculator. Familiarize yourself with a model of calculator.

Tip 4: Know when to put the computer down

All: Is there such a thing as Believe in the calculator too much? Put too much trust in her?

Fred: Oh absolutely. During my career I've seen so many students believe that the right calculator will magically solve all of their math problems. These students go to the trouble of starting their Ti-84, navigating through a series of menus to find a powerful cubic equation solver. Slowly and carefully type in the equation, hit enter and you will get a rounded answer like converting .588 back to 10/17.

All: I've seen these in my day, and the kicker is that the math problem on the calculator would take 2 minutes. If you just think about the problem creatively, you will get it in 15 seconds.

Fred: Over-users of calculators are sure to suffer from typing errors on the calculator and the conversion of rounded numbers to fractions.

Be sure to use a calculator if:

  • You feel that you have to use a very complicated program to solve it.
  • You know the answer is a fraction like 5/13, but the calculator only prints decimal equivalents.
  • When you need to use a large number of keystrokes or menu navigation to get to your answer. More keystrokes means more chance of errors.
  • Our golden rule: I.If what you're trying to do with your graphing calculator CANNOT be done on a scientific calculator, you are probably using your calculator too often.

In fact, I'd say that you should really only use the calculator to perform combinations of the four basic functions like (425 + 25) / 3 - (42 * 4) / 3.

You should use calculators:

  • To improve the accuracy of 4-function calculations (but be careful what you enter!).
  • Accelerates complex 4-function calculations (entering 3823 * 84 is much faster than entering it manually).
  • For minimal other purposes.

Bonus Questions and Answers: What is your favorite SAT calculator and why?

Fred: Definitely the Casio fx-300MS. I have so many reasons to love this calculator (and they don't pay me to say this):

  • It has an opening line and we talked about the importance of that.
  • It's a relatively simple calculator, meaning all teachers have it use it for exams that calculators allow You can practice a lot with this calculator.
  • Also, since this is a simple calculator, you will never be tempted to start the cubic equation solver discussed earlier, which is often not optimal.

The only downside is that if you find you need to use a graphing calculator feature and found it helpful, it is not available. But personally I have never found such an "obligatory" graphing calculator function, at least not for the SAT.

All: I like the Ti-89 the most. It is one of the most powerful calculators accepted on the SAT. Why do i love it

  • It has a lot more features than most other calculators (and is also more expensive).
  • It gives you fractional answers and "streamlined" format: so if the answer is 10/17, you get that instead of a decimal mess like 0.5882352 (which allows you to match it).
  • I find the equation solver pretty helpful. Solving 3x + 4y = 6, 9x + 2y = -10 is kind of a manual pain, and you can easily type this into the Ti-89. But typing it in correctly doesn't take much less effort than solving it on paper, so I can go both ways. It is definitely not a "mandatory function".

Key Calculator Actionables

Again, the most important lesson in using the calculator is how to have a calculator in the first place. Second, the key is to review all entries. Third, you need to become familiar with the calculator. And finally, you mainly use it for four functions and just a little more.

What does it mean what you should be doing?

  • Master a calculator.
  • Bring a backup to test or at least backup batteries.

What do we do? Not recommend?

  • Spend hours loading complicated programs into this Ti-84.
  • Rely on the advanced features of every computer.
  • Obsessed with the calculator as a golden ticket for your 800.

Now that you know these tips, you can hit the SAT Math section!

What's next?

Not sure what score to aim for on the SAT? Read our guide to learn how to get your SAT Target Score!

Need more help? Preparing for the SAT Math section? We are here to help! Check out our ultimate SAT Math Guide for everything you need to know to improve this section of the SAT.

Are you hoping for a top SAT math score? Read our guide, written by the perfect scorer, on how to get an 800 on SAT Math.