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SAT Test Calculator Use

Why yes, we do encourage you to bring your favorite calculator to the SAT exam…

The SAT allows you to use a calculator for part of the exam, but don’t go and get too excited just yet. If it made your life too easy, then everyone would be scoring high on the math section, right?

But use it sparingly

If you begin relying on your calculator for any more than 1 out of every 5 questions, then you are doing something wrong. The SAT math questions are largely designed not to require a calculator.

Familiarity is key

Practice with the calculator you plan to take to the test. And don’t forget to make sure it has good batteries!

Look for factoring and other shortcuts

sat calculator

Get comfortable with your SAT calculator by using it during practice.

A calculator isn’t infallible and it’s pretty easy to hit a wrong key in the stress of the moment. Hence, you should take advantage of opportunities to factor equations and where “guesstimation” works well. If a problem seems too long or tedious, stop and reexamine it. You probably missed a shortcut somewhere.

Keep in mind that every question is written for a very specific purpose and to test a very particular academic skill. (As crazy as this must seem to you right now.) If you are given any seemingly extraneous pieces of data, look at them carefully. They probably contain a clue to make the long math equation much more manageable — and efficient from a time standpoint.

Never use the calculator until after you have read the question

If you rely heavily on a calculator you are more likely to misread the question. Many of the incorrect answer choices are there to penalize you for not following directions. Trust us on this. You should note this as you work through practice questions in your SAT preparations.

Times to use the calculator

You can and should use it selectively to check your work and if you should happen to draw a blank during the middle of the test and forget, for example, what 8 + 4 equals.

Things that can (and likely will go wrong) if you rely too heavily on Mr. Calculator

You can hit a wrong key. Most calculators have small keys that are easy to incorrectly hit. Even if you bring a larger calculator with a larger keypad, which we recommend, how many times have you hit the key incorrectly? Have you ever dialed a wrong phone number?

(On a personal note, this writer once calculated the car tax on a $35,000 car to be $71,000 at a dealership during some car haggling when the salesman so kindly lent me his crappy, flimsy little calculator. Fortunately, I caught the mistake and got the correct answer on the next attempt. I also paid less than invoice, but that will be the subject of some other website. Yeah right!)

You become overconfident. Calculators can not reason. Therefore it may spit out a number that you would never come up with on your own. You know the average of 20, 25, 33, 78, and 81 can NOT be 233. Your calculator doesn’t though. And if you get lulled into a mistakenly believing that your calculator will ace the test for you, you may not catch such mistakes.

You can’t go back and check the intermediate steps when you use a calculator.
(Not coincidentally, calculators with print capabilities are banned during the test.)

Click here to learn more about what calculators you can and can’t use during the SAT test.