What Calculators Are Allowed on the ACT

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As soon as students find out about the ACT’s advanced math sections–testing all the way through statistics and trigonometry–the very first question they ask is, “Are you allowed to have a calculator on the ACT?”

Yes, you are allowed a calculator on the ACT, but not just any calculator you want.

Before you get all wound up about whether or not your calculator is permissible, you should stop and consider why calculators are allowed on the ACT, and why you’d want to use one.

Why Are Calculators Allowed on the ACT?

One of the great skills of taking a standardized math test is knowing when to use your calculator and when not to. It’s a primary point of strategy for students to nail down.

The test-maker is always cognizant of the temptation to use a calculator. In fact, students’ perceptions that calculators solve math problems more effectively than the students themselves is used against them in question, design, and presentation.

Don’t be the sort of student whose hand is always resting on the calculator. The ACT rewards mathematical fluency and creative algebraic problem solving, not data entry.

Even as the ACT math is growing, arguably, more advanced to highlight the skills of the most developed math students, the need for a calculator may not be growing in kind.

I’ve written more about those concerns in an article about What Math is on the ACT and What Formulas Are Given on the ACT.

What Calculators Are Allowed on the ACT?

Keep in mind that these “calculator rules” are designed to do a variety of functions:

  1. Help you get through arithmetic that wouldn’t necessarily prove anything about your level of math sophistication, and that would otherwise take up too much time.
  2. Prevent you from using calculator shortcuts (downloadable programs) that remove the need for you, the student, to know how to solve the problem.
  3. Avoid creating scenarios in which students feel they need to purchase a new calculator for the ACT so as not to create additional costs to taking the test.
  4. Prevent cheating by not allowing students to share calculators or have the capability of transmitting answers to one another.
  5. Prevent distractions to other students because of bells, whistles, and gizmos on your calculator.

Itemized List of Calculators That Are Allowed on the ACT

According to the ACT organization, you’re allowed to use any four function, scientific, or graphing calculators–minus the exceptions listed below. If your calculator uses batteries, you’re responsible for bringing spare batteries (or at least ensuring the calculator doesn’t die) because the proctors aren’t allowed to assist you in such circumstances.  

Here are some key details:

  • The TI-Nspire non-CAS model is permitted. This is a common calculator for students, so this model comes up a lot.
  • The Sharp EL 9600 is permitted, even though it has a stylus.
  • Calculators that have letter buttons that are not in QWERTY form are permitted.

Calculators That Are Allowed on the ACT With Modifications

Keep in mind that even though some of these modifications may seem ridiculous at first blush, their intention is purely to help students. No one at the ACT organization wants you to have to go out and buy a new calculator just so you can take this test.

Meanwhile, you can’t have the capacity to cheat or distract other students with your calculator choice.

So, yes you can use a calculator on the ACT…

…that has a printer housing for paper tape–provided the tape is removed.

…that makes noise–provided you have the sound turned off.

…that has a power cord–provided you remove the cord.

…that can hold programs or documents–provided you remove all said programs and documents.

…that has an infrared data port–provided you cover the data port with duct tape or electrical tape.

Calculators That Are Never Allowed on the ACT

Be aware that the proctors are required to dismiss you from the testing center and cancel your scores if you are discovered using a calculator that is not allowed on the ACT.

Once again, no, you may not use a CAS calculator on the ACT.

Here’s a list of models you are not allowed to use on the ACT, organized by brand:

  • Texas Instruments Calculators that Are Not Allowed on the ACT
    TI-89, TI-92, or TI-Nspire CAS
  • Hewlett-Packard Calculators That Are Not Allowed on the ACT
    HP Prime, HP 48GII, All model numbers that begin with HP 40G, HP 49G, or HP 50G
  • Casio Calculators that Are Not Allowed on the ACT
    fx-CP400 (ClassPad 400), ClassPad 300 or ClassPad 330, Algebra fx 2.0, and all model numbers that begin with CFX-9970G

Other Devices that include Calculators that Are Not Allowed on the ACT

Again, you’re not supposed to be able to circumvent the difficulty of the question, cheat inside the test center or later on, or distract other students. To that end, you may not use cell phones, tablets, anything with QWERTY keyboards, laptops, or Blackberries. PDAs, tablets, iPads, and pen-input devices (other than the Sharp EL 9600) are also not allowed.

Use your common sense, and if you’re not sure about your calculator, ask ahead of time. You should always check with the ACT directly about what calculators are allowed on the ACT. You can do so here.

Are Calculators Allowed on the ACT Science Section?

This is an important question, one I get a lot from students.

The Science Test on the ACT involves a lot of relating numbers and figures within data sets. Occasionally students will need to balance equations or choose the meaning of an element of a formula. That being said, there are never real calculations required and calculators are, therefore, not allowed on the ACT Science–nor are they necessary.

For additional ACT test prep materials, refer to The Princeton Review, Kaplan, ACT Online, and others.