Before you get all wound up about finding out what calculators are allowed on the SAT, make sure you understand why it matters.
You probably know by now that the SAT includes two math sections, one called “No Calculator” and one called “Calculator.” Obviously the No Calculator test is designed to see how much math facility students have without relying on a machine; in other words, do students have the arithmetic and number relationship background necessary to reflect strong algebraic thought?
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The No Calculator section recently included a question that rewarded students who knew square numbers beyond 12 x 12. If the College Board is checking to see if you can quickly discover that a number is actually the square of, say, 17, it is reinforcing that you are expected to show a deep understanding of arithmetic to be successful on the SAT.
It may seem like the Calculator section circumvents all that. It can feel like this section, which comes after the No Calculator section, intends to say, “Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s see what you can do with a calculator!”
…but that assumption is entirely wrong.
Just because you’re allowed to use a calculator on the SAT doesn’t mean you should use a calculator, and that’s the central idea behind the Calculator test. In other words, you are allowed to use a calculator to solve quadratic equations, but does that mean taking the time to enter values into your calculator is the right choice?
It may be the wrong choice to turn to your calculator when it would actually be faster to work through the problem by hand. Here are some examples to help you think about this:
If you want to understand more about the math, check out my post about What Math Is on the SAT.
Now that you know you should use your calculator judiciously on the SAT, let’s look at what you’re allowed to take to the test.
First of all, use your common sense: the calculator restrictions are designed to do three things:
That means if you bring a calculator with 1” buttons on it, you’ll likely be seated by yourself so that the person next to you can’t watch you perform your calculations. You also can’t bring in something that has a plug, not only because it’s annoying, but because it’s not the College Board’s job to make sure you have an outlet you can access.
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The detailed list is below, but the bottom line is that you can bring in most graphing calculators, any scientific calculator, and any four-function calculator.
You’ll probably want to make sure you have a scientific calculator rather than a four-function, and a graphing calculator can be great for double-checking quadratics or higher-degree functions.
You can’t share a calculator with someone else, obviously.
You can’t bring a laptop. You can’t use your flip phone or smartphone calculator, an iPad, or other stylus-based tablets. You can’t use your Apple Watch. Use your common sense: no Bluetooth, nothing that records video, nothing that has a QWERTY keyboard. These are calculators that are allowed on the SAT, not machines more advanced than you’d need to operate a data-gathering satellite in space.
In other words, you don’t need to go out and buy yourself some crazy calculator for the SAT.
If you’re one of those kids who does have a particularly high-end calculator, you can verify that your model is permitted on the list below.
This list is borrowed directly from the College Board’s official calculators that are allowed on the SAT.
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*The use of the stylus is not permitted.