Will a Calculator Help Me in the SAT?

There are a lot of misconceptions about using a calculator during the SAT. Students often wonder, is it better to use a really high-tech calculator? Or will my simple scientific calculator do the job? Will a calculator really improve my SAT score? The first important thing to note is that every mathematics question on the SAT can be solved without a calculator. So if you are unfamiliar with using a calculator during math tests, don’t try to force the issue during the SAT. Just solve those math problems the same way you’ve been doing them. Additionally, although using a calculator will not improve your SAT score, using a calculator may be helpful for some questions and also help you check your solutions more quickly.



[Continue reading to find out about using calculators during the SAT…]

First, let me debunk two common myths regarding using your calculator in the SAT!

1. Myth: Using a calculator on the SAT will slow you down and isn’t helpful.

Truth: This myth comes from people who are unfamiliar with using a calculator, usually a graphing one. If you have not been regularly practicing math problems using a calculator but attempt the SAT math section with a calculator in hand, it is very well likely that the calculator usage will slow you down and will not be helpful. The trick to using a calculator well is practice, practice and more practice!

2. Myth: Using a calculator will improve your SAT score.

Truth: Using a calculator will not improve your SAT score, no matter what calculator advertisements might tell you. As mentioned above, without practice, having a fancy calculator won’t help you understand how to solve the math problems. Additionally, the SAT math section is meant to test your problem solving skills and mathematical reasoning abilities. Thus, all of the SAT math question can be solved without the use of a calculator! Moreover, you don’t need a calculator to store useful math formulas because every formula you would need on the SAT is provided for you in a box at the top of the section.


  •             Calculators with QWERTY (typewriter-like) keypads
  •             Calculators that contain electronic dictionaries
  •             Calculators with paper tape or printers
  •             Calculators that “talk” or make noise
  •             Calculators that require an electrical outlet
  •             Cell-phone calculators
  •             Pocket organizers or personal digital assistants
  •             Handheld minicomputers, PowerBooks, or laptop computers
  •             Electronic writing pads or pen-input and stylus-driven devices (the Sharp 9600-EL can be used without the stylus)

(Referred from SAT College Board Policy on calculators)


TI-84 Plus and TI-89

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 10.30.38 pm

The TI-84 Plus offers advanced graphing, statistics, and scientific functions. Its sibling, the TI-89, offers a wide slew of symbolic math functions, calculus tools, and the ability to graph in 3D. These two calculators are generally recommended as they are powerful calculators that can also be used for high school math. The TI-84 is slightly easier to learn than the TI-89 but does not have as many calculus functions.

However, a simple scientific calculator would suffice for the SAT. Many other calculators, such as models by HP, still prove highly useful during the SAT.


  • Students should bring a calculator with which they are familiar and comfortable. Their degree of familiarity with the operation of a calculator may affect how well they do on the test.
  • Students should bring extra batteries and, if possible, a backup.
calculator—test center staff do not have batteries or extra calculators.
  • Students are not required to clear the memory on their calculators before testing.
  • Students are not permitted to share their calculators. Students who use their calculators to share or exchange information during the test are dismissed and their scores are canceled.
  • Students using a calculator with a large (characters one inch or more high) or raised display that might be visible to other test-takers are seated at the discretion of the test supervisor.

About the author: Shimin Ooi is a junior in Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs department. She has a strong interest in economic and health policy and has recently returned from a semester of study at Hertford College, Oxford. In high school, her extensive research on standardized tests helped her achieve a near perfect SAT score and perfect scores on each of her SAT Subject tests. Through these blog posts, she hopes to help others achieve test-taking success as well!

One thought on “Will a Calculator Help Me in the SAT?

  1. Johne888

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