The Role of Calculators in the SAT: A Guide for Test-Takers

In the realm of standardized testing, the SAT stands out as a crucial assessment for students seeking admission to colleges and universities in the United States. As students prepare diligently for this exam, one tool that often accompanies them is the trusty calculator. The use of calculators in the SAT exam has become an integral part of the test-taking experience, offering both benefits and considerations for those navigating this important academic milestone.

The Evolution of Calculator Use in the SAT

The College Board, the organization responsible for the SAT, introduced the calculator section to the test in the early 1990s. Since then, calculators have been permitted for certain portions of the exam, with specific guidelines on their usage. Initially, there were concerns that calculators might provide an unfair advantage, but over time, their role has been carefully integrated into the test structure.

When and Where Calculators Come into Play

In the Previous SAT format (Pen Paper Mode), calculators were allowed only for one of the two math sections. But digital SAT allows test takers to use the calculator in both Modules of Maths section. Digital SAT also allows you to use an on screen graphing calculator which is integrated in Maths sections only.

The DESMOS Graphing Calculator

On screen calculator given in the maths section is DESMOS graphing calculator which can be easily accessed online or through an app from Play store (for practice). It’s completely free and helps you with a number of functions (Algebraic, Exponential, logarithmic, Trigonometric etc.) You can easily graph and solve different types of equations (such as Linear or Quadratic) in less than a minutes using the Graphing Calculator.

Benefits of Using Calculators

  1. Efficiency: Calculators enable students to perform complex calculations quickly and accurately, saving valuable time during the test.
  2. Accuracy: With the potential for human error reduced, students can rely on their calculators to provide precise answers.
  3. Graphing: Many calculators allow for graphing functions, which can be particularly helpful for visualizing data and functions.
  4. Problem-Solving: Certain questions on the SAT may require intricate calculations or conversions that are made more manageable with a calculator.

Choosing the Right Calculator

Not all calculators are created equal, and the College Board has guidelines on which types are allowed for the SAT. Permitted calculators include most graphing calculators and scientific calculators. However, there are restrictions, such as:

  • No QWERTY keyboards: Calculators with full keyboards like those on smartphones or computers are not permitted.
  • No CAS (Computer Algebra System) functionality: This includes calculators like the TI-89, which can solve equations symbolically.

Popular options among test-takers include the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE and the Casio fx-9750GII. It’s crucial for students to practice with their chosen calculator before the exam to familiarize themselves with its functions and layout.


Tips for Using Calculators Effectively


  1. Practice, Practice, Practice: Familiarize yourself with your calculator’s functions well before test day. This includes understanding how to input equations, use memory functions, and graph.
  2. Know Calculator Shortcuts: Most calculators have shortcuts for common functions. Knowing these can save precious time during the exam.
  3. Stay Calm and Focused: The calculator is a tool, not a crutch. Use it strategically for calculations that truly require it, but don’t rely on it for every question.
  4. Check Your Work: Even with a calculator, mistakes can happen. Always double-check your answers if time allows.


The use of calculators in the SAT exam has become a standard part of the testing experience, offering students valuable tools to tackle complex mathematical problems efficiently. By understanding the guidelines, choosing an appropriate calculator, and practicing with it beforehand, test-takers can harness the benefits of this technology to boost their performance on test day. As with any tool, the key is to use it wisely and in conjunction with a solid understanding of mathematical concepts. So, when you sit down to take the SAT, let your calculator be your trusted ally in the quest for a successful test score.