The best calculator to use on the ACT test is the one you’re familiar with and is allowed during the test. You can solve all the problems on the ACT math section without a 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.
That being said, we highly recommend that you do use a calculator on the ACT 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 ACT, 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 math section, that’s the time to go back and check all those answers with the calculator.
ACT Calculator Guidelines
The ACT has stricter calculator regulations than the SAT, 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 2021 ACT calculator guidelines here and the SAT calculator guidelines here.
The ACT does not require a calculator, but allows you to use one on the math section of the test (you will not be able to use it on the science section). You can bring any calculator that does NOT have computer algebra system (CAS) functionality. A CAS calculator can solve problems algebraically, which would defeat the purpose of many of the ACT questions.
The ACT has provided a complete list of calculators you CANNOT USE on the test:
Don’t Use These Calculators:
The following types of calculators are prohibited:
Calculators with built-in or downloaded computer algebra system functionality, including:
Handheld, tablet, or laptop computers (including PDAs)
Electronic writing pads or pen-input devices
- Note: The Sharp EL 9600 is permitted.
Calculators built into cell phones or any other electronic communication devices
Calculators with QWERTY format letter keys
- This does not apply to calculators that are provided in a secure test delivery platform.
- Letter keys not in QWERTY format are permitted.
Our Calculator Recommendations for the ACT
Hands down, we recommend the TI-Nspire CX graphing calculator for the ACT. 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.
Three 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)
TI-83 Plus or TI-84 Plus for the ACT
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 ACT. 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 ACT course.
Please note: there is a version of the TI-Nspire CX with CAS functionality. DO NOT buy this calculator for the ACT – it is NOT ALLOWED on the ACT.
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Other Acceptable Calculators for the ACT
If you can’t get your hands on a TI-Nspire CX, here are a few other calculators we recommend:
- TI-83 Plus
- TI-84 Plus
- TI-84 Plus CE
A scientific calculator will get you through the test. However, we exclusively recommend graphing calculators for the ACT because of the visuals they provide (you can see the graphs you’re plugging in) and their ease of use.
Calculator 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. 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.