Policies do vary — from test to test to test — so it’s imperative that you are sure about exactly which calculator you may bring and use on your Test Date. For a very quick summary, here’s really all that you need to know:
For the ACT, any of these current models are fine:
- TI-83 Plus
- TI-84 Plus
- TI-84 Plus CE
- TI-NSpire CX
These calculators are quite spiffy, especially the last two on the list! Well worth the investment, I would say.
Any of these older models, if you happen to have one, are also accepted, and will do the job for you:
Although these older models are allowed, I would seriously recommend using something other than one of these. Borrow one from a friend. Or from me!
However, do not plan on using any of the following models on the ACT, as they are not allowed, and attempted use will get you tossed:
- TI-NSpire CX CAS
The College Board, however, is a lot more forgiving. On the SAT you can use anything listed above, except for the TI-92.
Ditto, for the SAT Subject Tests in Mathematics. Level 1 or Level 2.
But now, for the brave, and for the curious, here’s a closer view. As a starting place, let’s have a look at the Official Policy Statements.
Here is the ACT Calculator Policy.
And here is the SAT Calculator Policy.
And now, let’s look at some calculators!
What I’m currently using, and what I really love is the TI 84 Plus CE Graphing Calculator.
There’s a lot to like about this calculator. First of all, it is really jazzy looking. It’s sleek and slim and light, and, well, those things do appeal to me!
Plus, there are some awesome color choices! There is Measure Mint, Count on Coral, Bionic Blue, Galaxy Grey, and Raspberry Pi. Plus White, Black, and Gold. I have the Black one, but I am hoping to lose it so that I can get one in Gold. The Gold is pretty awesome!
Also, it is rechargeable, so you never have to worry about batteries. You can just plug it in to your laptop, USB Type-A to USB Mini-A. I’ve owned it for about a year, and I think I’ve only charged it about four times.
Most important, this calculator is accepted for use on the ACT, the SAT, and the SAT Subject Tests in Mathematics (Level 1 and Level 2).
I see this one for sale all the time at Office Depot, Staples, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and so on. Pretty easy to find, I think. Best prices I’ve seen are in the $115 to $120 range.
Next, here is the TI-89 Titanium.
This calculator is big, and it’s clunky, and the worst thing about it is that it’s banned from the ACT.
Also, it’s a little harder to come by. I don’t see that a lot of places have these in stock, and typically, they are a bit pricier, too, running about $150 to $160.
Those would be a couple of reasons not to get it, right there. But, it does have a number of advantages, too.
If you are taking the SAT Subject Test, particularly Mathematics Level 2, this is well worth it. I usually can find about three or four problems on the Math Level 2 that I CAN do with my TI-89, but that I CANNOT do with my TI-84 Plus. Four problems would mean approximately the difference between scoring a 720 and scoring a 760.
If you would like to see some of the technical specifications on the calculators listed above, Texas Instruments has quite a bit of useful information here.
This site will give you a lot of the mumbo-jumbo about RAM and ROM, and that sort of nonsense.
Finally, here’s a nice one.
This is the TI-92.
What can you do with this? Well, for one thing, you can’t use it on any test that I know of. Another thing is that it is approximately the size of the Fiat 500, and so it would be quite hard to carry around with you. Right there are a couple of good reasons not to buy one.
On the other hand, it does allow you to graph in three dimensions, so it would be a great tool for you to use if you were someone like Galen Erso, and you were designing a Death Star, or something along those lines.
Things we wish we didn’t know…
Here’s a little bit of some double talk from the ACT about Calculator Use:
“A calculator may be used on the Math test, as long as it is not prohibited. Students are required to know if their calculator is permitted. Any calculator is permitted, as long as it is not prohibited.”
That all seems pretty clear, right?
(These instructions were most probably written by George Orwell.)
But thankfully, these instructions were revised, just a few months ago. The corrected and current version is linked, above.