There’s a lot to think about before ACT test day—how you’ll get to the test center, what snacks to bring, what to wear. As you’re preparing, you may wonder: what calculators are allowed on the ACT? In this post, we’ll look at ACT calculator policy to help you determine what devices you can bring with you into the testing room!
The ACT Calculator Policy
To understand what calculators are allowed on the ACT, it helps to understand when calculators are allowed on the ACT: it’s only for the Math section. Understandably, a lot of students believe they’re permitted in Science, too—but they’re not!
And on test day, the proctor will check your calculator before you start doing those problems. Find out more about the official calculator policy on the ACT.
What Calculators Are Allowed on the ACT?
There are way too many ACT permitted calculators to give a 100% definitive list of what calculators are allowed on the ACT. However, you can use some general guidelines to see if your calculator fits the bill. Here’s some basic information that should answer calculator questions for 95% of readers:
- Have a basic four-function calculator? You’re good to go.
- Have a TI-83+/84? You’re good to go, but continue reading.
- Anything else? Continue reading.
For those of you with TI-83+/84 calculators, there’s a big ‘wait a minute’ before going into the testing room. ACT forbids you from having any programs installed on your calculator. Though some of you might have put Tetris on your calculator for a little clandestine fun during your math teacher’s lectures, your proctor may verify that your APPS bank is empty before allowing you to test. So if you have any high scores (or anything else) on there, back them up now.
There are also some calculators that you can use, but only in certain ways or with specific modifications. Here’s the rundown:
- You can use calculators capable of holding programs or documents if you take out all documents and remove any programs with Computer Algebra System (CAS).
- You can use calculators with paper tape if you remove the tape.
- You can use calculators that make noise if you mute them.
- You can use calculators with infrared data ports if you cover the port with duct or electrician’s tape (think: Hewlett-Packard HP 38G, 39G, and 48G series).
- You can use calculators that come with cords if you take out the cord.
According to the ACT, here are a few questionable cases that are actually OK for use on test day:
- TI-Nspire non-CAS
- Sharp EL 9600
- Calculators with non-QWERTY keyboards
What Calculators Aren’t Allowed on the ACT?
The ACT is a lot more specific about the exact calculators that you CAN’T use on the test. Overall, these are:
- Anything with Computer Algebra System (CAS)
- Calculators with QWERTY letter keyboard
- Calculators with programs or files downloaded
- Computers, including handheld and laptop computers
- Cell phone and other device-based calculators
As of the writing of this article, these included:
- Texas Instruments calculators with model numbers starting with TI-89 or TI-92, TI-Nspire CAS (though the TI-Nspire non-CAS is OK);
- Hewlett Packard calculators with model numbers starting with HP 40G, HP 49G, or HP 50G; HP 48GII, and HP Prime;
- Casio models beginning with CFX-9970G; fx-CP400 (ClassPad 400); ClassPad 300 or ClassPad 330; Algebra fx 2.0.
How to Use Your ACT Calculator to Your Advantage
So now you know which calculators you can use on test day and when you can use them. However, just because you can use a calculator for each math problem—should you? Magoosh’s ACT expert addresses the best way to use your calculator on the ACT in this video. Take a look, then read on for more calculator guidelines!
With those points in mind, here are our best tips for using your calculator on the ACT.
- Be Critical About When and How to Use Your Calculator
One crucial part of calculator use on the ACT is that no question requires you to use a calculator. Technically, they are all solvable without one. And using a calculator might actually slow you down! Avoid this by writing down your steps and circling those where you’ll use your calculator—this will also keep mistakes from cascading!
- Practice with Your Calculator Before Test Day
Don’t get a calculator right before the test that you don’t know how to use! This will slow you down and cause more stress—and that’s the last thing you want to be thinking about when tackling ACT problems.
- Use the Graphing Function
Some great news about what calculators are allowed on the ACT: graphing calculators are allowed! Don’t go wild with the graphing function, but when you’re working on coordinate geometry problems or algebra problems that ask you to find the x-intercept, put it to use! One caveat: if you don’t have a graphing calculator or you’re not sure how to use it, it’s better to go with a non-graphing calculator that you are familiar with.
- Use Your Calculator to Backsolve
Backsolving is the technique in which you plug answer choices into a problem stem containing variables. This sounds time-consuming, because you do have to do the same problem multiple times—but backsolving with your calculator can eliminate this time crunch!
- Bring a Backup Calculator
The golden rule for ACT calculators is the same as the medical oath: first, do no harm. The most important thing is that the calculator doesn’t cause you stress. With that in mind, avoid a broken calculator/dead battery on test day by bringing backups along with you, just in case.
Any Other ACT-Permitted Calculator Advice?
Once you know that your calculator is permitted, be sure to use it exclusively when you take practice ACT Math Tests or do practice problems. Doing this will make you more comfortable with your calculator. Also, make sure to bring some extra batteries on test day. Unlike your phone, most calculators will not warn you about low batteries until they stop working altogether.
That’s all for now, Magooshers. Best of luck on your calculations!