When it comes to calculator usage, the SAT and ACT do NOT have the same rules, unfortunately. If you, or your student, are getting ready for the ACT then it’s important to know what is and is not allowed.
For your reference, here is the latest ACT calculator list; pay close attention because not following these rules can get you kicked out by the staff on test day.
For more information and strategies on how to succeed on the ACT, be sure to check out our various ACT classes available year round.
ACT Calculators You Can’t Use
It’s important to know first what you can’t use first when it comes to the ACT; thankfully, ACT itself has made it clear through its policies listed below.
Here are all the different models that are explicitly prohibited:
- Any calculator with a “built-in or downloaded computer algebra system functionality” including the following brands and models:
- Texas Instruments:
- All calculator model numbers beginning with TI-89 or TI-92
- TI-Nspire CAS (NOTE: The TI-Nspire IS permitted as long as it is NOT marked as CAS, so double-check carefully to be sure)
- HP Prime
- HP 48GII
- All model numbers beginning with HP 40G, HP 49G, or HP 50G
- ClassPad 400
- ClassPad 300 or ClassPad 330
- Algebra fx 2.0
- Model numbers that begin with CFX-9970G
- Texas Instruments:
- Handheld and laptop computers
- Tablets, Electronic writing pads, or pen-input devices
- Calculators with built-in cell phones or other electronic communication devices
- Calculators with a built-in QWERTY keyboard
Those are the current rules on calculators and devices you cannot use under any circumstances on test day whatsoever. However, just because you don’t bring one of those units in, it doesn’t mean you are in the clear just yet.
ACT Calculator Modifications
When it comes to calculators that you can use (which we will get to soon), ACT has very clear guidelines about modifications that need to be made first.
Here’s the list of required modifications for allowed calculators you need to review:
- If your calculator can hold files or documents: all documents and programs that have computer algebra system functionality within them must be removed first
- If your calculator has paper tape: remove the device’s tape
- If your calculator makes a sound: make sure the sound is turned off before usage
- If your calculator has an infrared data port: cover the data port with a heavy opaque material like duct tape or electrician’s tape. Examples include the HP 38G, HP 39G, and HP 48G
- If your calculator has a power cord: make sure to remove the power cord beforehand
As long as your calculator fits those criteria, then you should be free to use it on test day but always remember that the staff will be checking your device. We know that this is a ton of rules to remember but it’s important because ACT takes this matter seriously.
ACT Calculator Test Day Rules
Now that you have an idea of what not to bring on test day, here are some more rules to remember when you actually show up to your ACT testing center.
As a test taker, according to ACT policy, you are responsible for the following actions:
- First and foremost, bring a permitted calculator.
- Second, it is your responsibility to make sure it is permitted by ACT by calling or checking their website.
- Third, make sure your calculator is working correctly and sufficiently powered.
- Fourth, you are allowed to bring a backup calculator with you if your main one fails, but it must also be an approved model.
Another overlooked rule to remember is that calculators are only allowed to be used on the ACT Math test. Remember that point, because in spite of there being some calculations to make in the Science section, only break out the calculator during the Math test. Obviously, sharing calculators is also not permitted.
If, as a test taker, you are found to be using a prohibited calculator then the staff administering the test is required to dismiss you from that exam then and there. Why? Because according to the ACT’s testing policy, the staff is explicitly responsible for checking your calculator and if it’s not allowed, they are required to confiscate it and can void your test too.
At best, you will end up having to do every problem by hand and, at worst, your test is completely voided and you’re kicked out of the testing center. Now that we’ve discussed what you can’t use, let’s start to look at what you are allowed to bring on test day.
ACT Calculators You Can Use (Finally)
After going over everything you can’t use or do, let’s talk about what you can bring along on test day. More importantly, you’ll be surprised by what you will and will not need, in order to succeed.
First things first, the ACT’s calculator policy states that test-takers are allowed to use “…any 4-function, scientific, or graphing calculator, as long as it is not on the prohibited list and it is modified, if needed”. That’s it; let’s break that rule down then further so it actually helps you prepare.
First, a 4-function calculator is your basic, everyday model that you first probably used in elementary school and now have built into your cell phone or tablet without thinking about it. Once again, do not use the calculator installed on your phone. As soon as you do, expect a test administrator to immediately snatch it away. Spend the money to buy a regular 4-function unit, if you believe that’s all you’ll need on test day.
Now let’s say that you want a device that has a little more power but is still easy to use fast. Then, consider bringing a normal scientific calculator. Costing normally around $10, scientific calculators contain everything that a 4-function unit has plus some more features as well.
Typical features include a larger screen that can include text and additional functions. Again, most problems won’t require those extra features, but there may be one or two where they come in handy. Remember though that if your scientific calculator has a computer algebra system within it, it’ll be taken away on test day.
Let’s move onto graphing calculators next because this is the area where you’re most likely to get into trouble. A general rule of thumb is that older graphing calculators won’t cause much trouble. In contrast, the SAT is pretty loose with what you can use in general, allowing most of the current and popular models like the TI-89.
However, anything with the aforementioned computer algebra system included will be taken away, whether it’s a recent or older model. One of the most common calculators that get students into trouble is the aforementioned TI-89.
Understand this important point, you don’t have to use a graphing calculator on the ACT. Let’s repeat that point – you don’t HAVE to use a graphing calculator. In fact, you don’t have to use a calculator at all, in theory. The problems are designed such that you should be capable of working out all of the calculations by hand.
However, to help finish the test fast by cutting down work time, most students bring calculators with them. Otherwise, if you are stuck trying to figure out every problem calculation by hand, you will not finish all of the questions in time.
Also, keep in mind that if you are working on a problem and it doesn’t seem possible to solve it at all without a calculator, then you’ve either misread or misunderstood the question. The ACT is a standardized test, which means it has to be fair across the board.
It is not allowed to include calculator-dependent problems, because if a student can’t buy or borrow one they’re at a distinct disadvantage. What’s more important is that the calculator you use has the basic functions that you need in order to solve the presented problems. If you think that you need something fancy or overpowered to succeed, you’re wrong.
Final Thoughts And Takeaways
Let’s wrap things up with a few important takeaways that will save you time and stress.
A couple of takeaways that will help you on test day:
Familiarity Saves Time – Bring a calculator that you’ve worked with and practiced with before on test day. Why? Because you’ll know exactly what buttons to push and when. Don’t bring something with you that’s brand-new and have to figure out where the function you need is while time is ticking.
Sharpen Your Math Skills – Use the calculator to save time; don’t use the calculator to be smarter than you. Work on the skills and formulas you’ll need to have mentally ready to use on test day.
Focused test prep, like what Prep Expert offers, will help you identify the information you need to have, figure out your strengths and weaknesses in those sections, and practice both fixing weaknesses and sharpening strengths.
If you haven’t done so already, take a moment to check out what we have to offer regarding both ACT and SAT prep, including how to handle those dreaded Math sections.
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ACT Calculator FAQ
What kinds of calculators are allowed on the ACT?
The ACT’s calculator policy states that test-takers are allowed to use any 4-function, scientific, or graphing calculator, as long as it is not on the prohibited list and it is modified if needed.
What kinds of calculators are prohibited?
Any calculator with a built-in or downloaded computer algebra system functionality, Handheld and laptop computers, Tablets, Electronic writing pads, pen-input devices, Calculators with built-in cell phones or other electronic communication devices, Calculators with a built-in QWERTY keyboard.
Can I use a graphing calculator on the ACT?
A general rule of thumb is that older graphing calculators won’t cause much trouble. However, anything with a computer algebra system included will be taken away. One of the most common calculators that get students into trouble is the TI-89.
What happens if I use a prohibited calculator on test day?
If, as a test taker, you are found to be using a prohibited calculator then the staff administering the test is required to dismiss you from that exam then and there.