Until 1994 you couldn’t use a calculator on the SAT. The test was designed to be taken without a calculator and top students have made it a point to take the test without one. That will change in March of 2016. With the addition of precalculus problems, a scientific calculator will become necessary so that the test-taker can find the Arctangent of 3.2 or the natural log of 17. This has been true for the ACT for years.
Which calculator will serve you best on your college entrance exam? If you are a top math student, you probably already own a scientific calculator. As long as your calculator will find sines, cosines and their inverses, as well as logarthms and natural logarithms, you should be fine. Don’t try out a new brand of calculator on the test. Use the one you are familiar with.
Using a familiar calculator is even more important if you are not a top math student. However, if you have plenty of time before your test, it might be worth your while to get familiar with a better calculator. It might even be to your advantage to take more than one.
Texas Instruments has had a near monopoly on the school calculator market with their TI-83, TI-84, and TI-NSpire calculators. (Note that the TI-NSpire CAS model is not approved for the test.) Most schools have classroom sets of one of these models and some require all students in certain math classes to rent or purchase one of these calculators. While these are versatile little machines, they aren’t as efficient for certain functions. If you struggle to finish in time, you might want to supplement with a different model.
A student recently introduced me to the CASIO fx-991ES. I was impressed by how intuitive it was to use. It takes fewer key-strokes to use certain key functions, and there are fewer instances in which you have to remember which menu to use. Its only drawback is that it is not a graphing calculator. However, at under $20, it is an affordable addition to your test-taking arsenal.
You can order one here: