PSAT math can be intimidating, so it would be nice to be able to have some computerized help. But can you use a calculator on the PSAT? Yes, you can, though only on the second of the two Math sections on the PSAT. But what kind of calculator can you use, and when does it make sense to use a calculator on the PSAT?
Read on for the complete list of approved calculators for PSAT test day and our top tips for using your calculator effectively.
Can You Use a Calculator on the PSAT?
Like the SAT, the PSAT has four sections: Reading, Writing, Math (No Calculator), and Math (Calculator). The No Calculator Math section is 25 minutes long, and has 17 questions, while the Calculator section is 45 minutes long and has 11 questions. As the name suggests, the only time during the PSAT where you can use your calculator is on thefinal Calculator math section.
According to College Board, most questions on the Calculator Math section can be answered without using a calculator, but a calculator could be useful on some questions. Translated from the College Board's cautious official language: you absolutely should use a calculator when it’s called for to make your life easier, but don’t over-complicate questions by using a calculator when it would be quicker to solve by hand.
For example, it’s faster (and presents lower chances of error) to use your calculator to multiply 34 x 174. However, it’s much faster to solve an equation like 3x + 4y = 17, 4x + 8y = 26 by hand than to use your graphing calculator to do it.
Approved Calculators for PSAT Test Day
The College Board allows three types of calculators on the PSAT: four-function calculators, scientific calculators, and graphing calculators.
Four-function calculators are so-called because they can basically just do four things: add, subtract, multiply, and divide. Although you could theoretically use just a four-function calculator on the PSAT, it's not recommended, most likely because four-function calculators usually lack useful features like parentheses and entry lines.
The only advantages of four-function calculators are that they tend to be relatively inexpensive and take up less space. But honestly, the disadvantages of not being able to see what you just entered into the calculator far outweigh the benefits.
All scientific calculators are permitted for use on the PSAT. A scientific calculator has all the features of a four-function calculator plus a few other useful things. Key functions included in all scientific calculators are parentheses, pi, and trigonometric functions, as can be seen below:
Parentheses in particular are great because you can use them to make sure your calculations happen in the right order. For example, ((15 x 19) – (13/2)) /100 is a whole lot easier to enter in all at once with parentheses, instead of having to break it up into its individual parts and then re-use the parts; every extra calculation entry you do introduces the chance of more error.
The final type of calculator you can bring to the PSAT is a graphing calculator. Graphing calculators are great because they will definitely have features like entry lines as well as everything a scientific calculator has. They can also be helpful in visualizing solutions to linear equations – for instance, if you want to find out where the two equations cross, you can just look at the graph to get the coordinates
The only problem with graphing calculators is that their multifunctionality can trick students into using them when not using a calculator would be faster. Avoid this trap by using a graphing calculator as you take practice tests and challenging yourself to question each time you use the calculator if it’s really necessary, or if it’s taking up more time than it’s saving.
Unlike with scientific calculators, not all models of graphing calculator are allowed under the PSAT calculator rules. Below is a chart of acceptable PSAT graphing calculators, sorted by brand.
|Casio||Hewlett-Packard||Radio Shack||Sharp||Texas Instruments||Other Brands|
|FX-6000 series||HP-9G||EC-4033||EL-5200||TI-73||Datexx DS-883|
|FX-6200 series||HP-28 series||EC-4034||EL-9200 series||TI-80||Micronta|
|FX-6300 series||HP-38G||EC-4037||EL-9300 series||TI-81||Smart2|
|FX-6500 series||HP-39 series||EL-9600 series (stylus not permitted)||TI-82|
|FX-7000 series||HP-40 series||EL-9900 series||TI-83/TI-83 Plus|
|FX-7300 series||HP-48 series||TI-83 Plus Silver|
|FX-7400 series||HP-49 series||TI-84 Plus/TI-84 Plus T|
|FX-7500 series||HP-50 series||TI-84 Plus CE/TI-84 Plus CE-T|
|TI-84 Plus Silver|
|FX-7800 series||TI-84 Plus C Silver|
|FX-8800 series||TI-89 Titanium|
|FX-9700 series||TI-Nspire/TI-Nspire CX|
|FX-9750 series||TI-Nspire CAS/TI-Nspire CX CAS|
|FX-9860 series||TI-Nspire CM-C/TI-Nspire CM-C CAS|
|CFX-9800 series||TI-Nspire CX-C CAS|
|FX 1.0 series|
|Algebra FX 2.0 series|
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Avoid These PSAT Calculators
Some calculators, like TI-92 Plus or Voyage 200, are banned from the PSAT because they violate College Board PSAT calculator guidelines. Most of these guidelines are common sense, like that you can’t use a calculator that makes noise or a calculator that can access the Internet. A few of the other qualifications, though, are less obvious, like the fact that you can’t use a calculator that requires an electrical outlet.
If your calculator meets any of the following criteria, you cannot use it on the PSAT:
- It’s part of a portable/handheld computer, laptop, electronic writing pad, or pocket organizer. Shockingly, you can't use your computer while taking the PSAT.
- It has QWERTY (i.e., typewriter) keypads as part of hardware or software (e.g., TI-92 Plus, Voyage 200). You also can’t use any “hardware peripherals” with an otherwise approved calculator (e.g. an external keyboard or LCD screen)
- It has pen-input/stylus/touch-screen capability (e.g., Palm, PDAs, Casio ClassPad)
- It has wireless or Bluetooth capability
- It paper tapes
- It can "talk" (terrifying) or make noise
- It requires an electrical outlet
- It can access the Internet
- It has cell phone capability or audio/video recording capability. No using your cellphone calculator on the PSAT!
- It has a digital audio/video player
- It has a camera or scanning capability
No external view screens allowed on your PSAT calculator! (Joe Haupt/Flickr)
4 PSAT Calculator Tips
Now that you know what your options are for approved calculators for PSAT testing, let's go through a few key tips to help you use your calculator effectively on test day.
Tip 1: Bring an Approved Calculator to the Test
It’s better to have a calculator you can use and end up not needing it than to need a calculator and not have one. The same thing goes for making sure it’s an approved calculator; there’s no point in bringing a calculator with you that you can’t use.
Tip 2: Be Familiar With Your Calculator
One of the main reasons to use a calculator is that it enhances your speed and accuracy on the test. If you’re using a calculator you’ve never used before, you’ll be slower and more prone to errors, no matter how fancy the calculator is.
Avoid test-day peril by using the calculator you plan to use on the PSAT for your everyday schoolwork and homework as much as possible. That way, when PSAT time comes, you’ll be comfortable with your calculator.
Tip 3: Check the Calculator's Entry Line
When you’re doing calculations during the test, it can be easy to get caught up in the rush to finish the test in time and accidentally hit "8" instead of "5," or "x" instead of "-". To limit the impact of these errors on you, double check the entry line before hitting “enter” to make sure you haven’t entered in the wrong number or operation.
Double-checking the entry line is particularly important if you’re not using a graphing calculator that keeps a running log of all the calculations you’ve done.
Tip 4: Know When Not to Use Your Calculator
Especially if you have a graphing calculator, it can seem like the easier thing to do is to let the calculator work for you. Meticulously entering in an equation into the calculator and getting it to solve it for you, however, can take way more time than just doing it by hand would. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the calculator at all; rather, use it as a supplement to your skills, rather than as a replacement.
Be warned, you shouldn't rely on calculator apps to do the hard work for you. PSAT proctors have the right to inspect your calculator and delete all programmed apps on there, and if you’d grown accustomed to using apps to solve problems, you’ll be in hot water.
Hot water: beautiful to watch spewing from a geyser, less beautiful to be in.
Now that you've gotten your calculator figured out, what's left to do? Only to learn what a perfect PSAT score is and how to get it, naturally.
Ready to get into the details of what you'll be tested on when you take the PSAT? We discuss what's covered (and what's not) in our complete guide to the PSAT.
Find out when you can take the PSAT with our up-to-date PSAT test dates article.
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Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.