The best calculator to use on the SAT test is the one you’re familiar with and is allowed during the test. You can solve all the problems on the SAT Math with Calculator section with a pretty simple calculator, so don’t stress about purchasing the “correct” calculator. The most important thing is to stress about is knowing how to do the math problems that you’ll encounter on the test.
Taking the ACT? Find our ACT calculator recommendation here.
That being said, we highly recommend that you do use a graphing calculator on the SAT test. When used correctly, it can help you solve problems more quickly and bolster your confidence in your answers. And in order to be well prepared on test day, you should also study with the calculator you plan to use on test day, not any old calculator or the calculator on your phone or computer. These calculators may seem interchangeable, but every second counts during the SAT, and you don’t want to spend those precious seconds looking for the log function on your calculator.
When it comes to actually using the calculator, use it for questions you don’t know and not for questions you do know, or you’ll get bogged down inputting numbers into the calculator. If you have the luxury of time at the end of the With Calculator Math section, that’s the time to go back and check all those answers with the calculator.
SAT Calculator Guidelines
The SAT and ACT have different calculator requirements, so if you plan on taking both tests, be sure to check their most recent calculator guidelines before making your purchase. You can find the 2020 SAT calculator guidelines here and the ACT calculator guidelines here.
Calculators Allowed on the SAT:
- Most graphing calculators (find the complete list here)
- All scientific calculators
- All four-function calculators (not recommended)
Calculators NOT Allowed on the SAT:
- Laptops or other computers, tablets, cell phones, or smartphones
- Smartwatches or wearable technology of any kind
- Models that can access the Internet, have wireless, Bluetooth, cellular, audio/video recording and playing, camera, or any other smartphone type feature
- Models that have a computer-style (QWERTY) keypad, pen-input, or stylus
- Models that use electrical outlets, make noise, or have a paper tape
- Calculator function on a mobile phone
- In addition, the use of hardware peripherals such as a stylus with an approved calculator is not permitted. Some models with touch-screen capability are not permitted (e.g., Casio ClassPad)
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Our Calculator Recommendations for the SAT
Hands down, we recommend the TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator without CAS functionality for the SAT. It’s user-friendly, in a competitive price range, and will last you through your college classes. This is the calculator our course creators use and the calculator we recommend to any student who asks. You can also use it on the ACT!
Please note: there is a version of the TI-Nspire CX with CAS functionality. The CAS functionality is allowed on the SAT but not the ACT. Keep this in mind if you are planning to take both tests.
Three more reasons we love the TI-Nspire CX:
- Clean, high-quality, color visuals
- Intuitive menu design and buttons
- Prompts you to fill in functions (LCM, GCF, systems of equations, logs, trig functions)
What about the TI-83 Plus or TI-84 Plus, school staples that you may already be using in the classroom? Those are also high performing, fully-functional calculators that are great for the SAT. And if you’re using one of these models at school, it may be best to use it on the test because you’re familiar with it. Remember, a fancy calculator is no help at all if you don’t know how to use it. But, if you’re in the market for a calculator and you’re not familiar with one already, opt for the better visuals and functionality of the TI-Nspire CX.
We like this calculator so much we’ve even made tutorials to show you how to use it (with more on the way). You can access the tutorials, ‘How to Find the LCM or GCD on the TI-Nspire CX’ and ‘Solving a System of Equations on the TI-Nspire CX’, by enrolling in our free SAT course.
Other Calculator Options
If you can’t get your hands on a TI-Nspire CX, here are a few other calculators we recommend:
A scientific calculator will get you through the test. However, we exclusively recommend graphing calculators for the SAT because of the visuals they provide (you can see the graphs you’re plugging in) and their ease of use.
SAT Math With Calculator vs SAT Math Without Calculator
The best way to think about these two sections is from the perspective of the test maker. The no calculator section is designed to be completed without a calculator. This means that if you are wishing you could use your calculator for some heavy computation, then you have not chosen the best method with which to solve the problem.
One the other hand, this does mean that the pesky test-makers are going to make some questions a little harder by using fractions because, well, we know how most of you feel about fractions.
The reason students struggle with the no calculator section is because the questions require more algebraic manipulation – moving around variables – and require you to understand abstract concepts more deeply. Some might say the no calculator questions are harder. This is not necessarily true, but the questions may make you wonder whether you really understand the material.
Take this practice no calculator question for example:
The sum of a finite arithmetic sequence is x and there are 5 terms in the sequence. Which expression could be used to find the value of the median of the sequence?
D) You can write an expression for the mean but not the median
Do you see how a calculator really wouldn’t help you here? Either you do or do not know that the median is equal to the mean when the difference between each term and the next is a common difference. Thus the mean would be found by dividing the sum of all terms by the number of terms. The sum, in this case, is x and the number of terms is 5. Therefore, the mean and the median can be expressed by x/5.
The moral of the story is that if you have your fundamental arithmetic skills down – including adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions – then you will not wish you had a calculator on the SAT Math Without Calculator section. You may, however, wish you had spent a bit more time practicing.
Tips for Test Day
On test day, bring a backup calculator and/or batteries for your calculator. If your calculator has a rechargeable battery, ensure it is fully charged. It would be incredibly stressful to have your calculator die during the test when you were prepared to use it.
Use the same calculator on test day that you used to study for the test. You’ll be familiar with how it works and it will be an aid, rather than a tool that slows you down.
And as we said earlier, use your calculator for questions you don’t know and not for questions you do know, or you’ll get bogged down inputting numbers into the calculator. The calculator is a tool to help you, but it can’t make up for a lack of studying. If you have the luxury of time at the end of the math section, that’s the time to go back and check all those answers with the calculator.