The GRE offers a simple on-screen calculator for use during the quantitative section. However, you need to practice using this calculator before taking the exam or you’ll risk making simple errors in calculation. You can take a look at the GRE calculator online by going to the official GRE website. But you can actually use the GRE calculator online through Magoosh.
How we designed our GRE Calculator online
At Magoosh, we take some liberties with the design of our GRE prep product. We add color and spacing that is different than the official practice material from ETS, the makers of the GRE. We make these changes to create a great visual experience for our students, and we like to add a little personality to what we build. However, we don’t take liberties with core GRE tools, such as the current GRE calculator, which ETS added to the exam in 2010.
Back in 2010, our team spent several days researching and testing the new official ETS GRE calculator prior to building our own. In our GRE prep tool, we wanted to provide students with an accurate simulation of the calculator on the real exam. During our testing and research, we uncovered one major feature (some may say limitation…) of the ETS calculator – a student cannot exceed the number 99,999,999. Here’s an excerpt directly from the ETS website:
Rest assured, we built this “feature” into the Magoosh GRE calculator. We also discovered and built several other features into our Magoosh GRE calculator, two of which I found very interesting:
- A student can’t nest parentheses such as
3 * (5 - (1 + 2))using the calculator.
- When a student adds multiple numbers into memory (M), the calculator sums them.
The nesting of parenthesis is something you should be very aware of as you approach GRE problems. Putting a parenthesis within another parenthesis can be very useful in answering GRE Quantitative questions. But if you use this kind of math operation in GRE Quant, you’ll need to do so without using the test calculator.
The M function is something you should check very carefully on unofficial versions of the GRE calculator. Not every third-party GRE practice platform has memory functions that work like the one on the real exam. This brings me to the next section of this post…
Comparing Magoosh’s GRE Calculator to other GRE Calculators
On some third-party GRE prep calculators, the memory buttons work differently than they would on the exam itself. Kaplan has had issues with the M functions in the past, although the current Kaplan GRE calculator is in line with the one on the real GRE. Manhattan GRE, although it used to have a memory function that worked differently than the real GRE calculator, has since updated its calculator to match the GRE (hurray!).
To see if a test prep company’s GRE calculator works like the real one from ETS, press the following series of buttons:
9, M+, 6, x, 3, +, MR, =
On the ETS calculator and the calculators from Magoosh and Kaplan, the result of this sequence is 27. However, if you key in these buttons on the Manhattan GRE calculator, you’ll get 297. In spite of this issue, Manhattan GRE really does offer some of the best unofficial GRE Quant materials out there. Magoosh still recommends the Manhattan books for GRE math prep.
Both the Kaplan and Manhattan calculators do beat the Magoosh one in aesthetic similarity to ETS’s (see the screenshots below). We like to add personality to our product, possibly to a fault?
I know that everyone makes mistakes. In fact, at Magoosh, we’ve made several of our own. As our customers know, we also respond very quickly to remedy the situation, and I hope Kaplan, GRE, and the other companies out there in our field do the same.
Using Magoosh’s GRE Calculator online: A practice problem
Here’s a link to a GRE question on Magoosh where you can try out the calculator: Appleton and Berryville. This particular problem has a difficulty level of “hard” on our GRE practice platform.
I was tempted to to give you an easier problem, so that you could just focus on playing with the calculator, without having to worry too much about problem solving. But I decided a more difficult question would be better. Why? This brings me to my final point about using the GRE calculator….
Use the GRE calculator sparingly!
If you’re not a math person, you might find yourself breathing a sigh of relief when you hear that the GRE has an onscreen calculator. But not so fast! The GRE really is designed to punish you if you rely too much on the calculator.
You see, most GRE math problems appear– at a glance– to be sophisticated, multi-step problems. But in nearly every problem, there are shortcuts you can take to solve the problem more quickly. GRE problems tend to require far fewer steps than you might initially expect.
If you do unnecessary steps, you’ll waste precious time on the exam. And you’ll open yourself up to more mistakes; the more steps you take before you get to the final answer, the more errors you can make. And even if you do those unnecessary steps with a calculator, you’ll probably still spend more time than you would if you just took some shortcuts. Not to mention that it can be even easier to make a mistake with a calculator than without one. Even if your thinking is correct, it’s easier to mistype a number than to mis-write one.
On hard problems like the example I gave above, calculator use may be appropriate. But you should avoid the GRE calculator whenever possible, instead using faster shortcuts, mental math, and estimation. Magoosh offers a wealth of advice and tutorials to help you make good calculations and use your calculator strategically. You can find help with this and other aspects of the GRE here on the blog and in our GRE Premium video lessons.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in July 2011 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.