Shaun Ault

Can I use a Calculator on the AP Calculus Exam?

What is the AP Calculus calculator policy? In short, each of the two sections of the test has two parts, one of which requires a calculator and the other does not permit one. In this article you’ll learn more about calculator use on the AP Calculus AB and BC test.

calculus calculator

Having a good calculator that you know how to use makes a huge difference on the AP exams.

When Can I use my Calculator?

Both the AP Calculus AB and BC tests follow the same format.

Section / PartType of questionsNumber of questionsTime LimitCalculator permitted?
IAMultiple Choice3060 minutesNo
IBMultiple Choice1545 minutesYes
IIAFree Response230 minutesYes
IIBFree Response460 minutesNo

As you can see, there are two parts on which a calculator may be used. In fact, the instructions for these parts state:

A graphing calculator is required for some questions on this part of the examination.

It may be possible to work out all of the problems without a calculator. However, certain built-in calculator features can save you valuable time on the test.

AP Calculus Calculator Policy

Generally speaking, any graphing calculator that does not have a computer keyboard layout, touch screens/pads, stylus input, etc. should be OK. Moreover, your calculator may not use Bluetooth or be able to connect to the internet (this rules out cell phones). Personally, I recommend a graphing calculator in the TI line, for example the TI-83, 84, 89, or Nspire.

The newer TI-Nspire CX CAS and related calculators are especially suited for the test. These calculators include every AP Calculus calculator function that you may need on the test.

TI Nspire CX CAS

Photo by Joerg Woerner.

Here is an official list of approved calculators that you should consult before test day.

Know Your Calculator

On the other hand, there’s no use getting the biggest and best calculator out there if you don’t know how to use it. So if you are more familiar with the layout on your basic calculator, then by all means use that on the test instead.

A good AP Calculus calculator does not have to be fancy or expensive.

Using the Graphing Calculator

Certain built-in features of your graphing calculator make some problems easy. For example, you can use the “numerical integral” function (or “fnInt” on older TI models) to instantly solve definite integral problems.

Euler’s Method (an AP Calculus BC topic) can be done directly on the Nspire. However, even though there is no Euler’s Method feature (that I know of) on the older TI-83/84, you may still be able to find and store a program that does Euler’s Method for you.

According to official AP policy, “Calculator memories do not need to be cleared before or after the exam.” This means that you may store as much as you want in the calculator itself, including programs, to help you on the test!

More Information

Here you may peruse the official AP Calculus calculator policy.

Then check out these useful Calculator Strategies for the AP Calculus Exam.

About Shaun Ault

Shaun earned his Ph. D. in mathematics from The Ohio State University in 2008 (Go Bucks!!). He received his BA in Mathematics with a minor in computer science from Oberlin College in 2002. In addition, Shaun earned a B. Mus. from the Oberlin Conservatory in the same year, with a major in music composition. Shaun still loves music -- almost as much as math! -- and he (thinks he) can play piano, guitar, and bass. Shaun has taught and tutored students in mathematics for about a decade, and hopes his experience can help you to succeed!


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