Trigonometry Functions & Exponentials on a Calculator

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  • 00:00 A Lot More Buttons
  • 00:40 Triangles
  • 1:46 Example of Using…
  • 2:43 Using Exponentials
  • 4:55 Example of Using Exponentials
  • 6:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.

Despite the fact that you've probably used a scientific calculator since middle school, it's really only in high school and college that you learn what all the keys are for. In this lesson, we look at trigonometric functions and exponential keys.

A Lot More Buttons

It's your first day of an advanced math class, and with it comes a new cascade of school supplies. Primary among these is your new calculator. So far, you've really never made use of all that your scientific calculator can do. Every year, it seems that you learn to use a few more buttons. However, your teacher has proclaimed that this is the year in which you learn to use every button on the calculator, hence, the reason that your whole class had to buy the same type of calculator. In this lesson, we'll start by reviewing how to use the most commonly used functions in geometry and trigonometry, but then, move on to using exponential functions and logarithms.


Whether it was in geometry class or as an early glimpse into trigonometry, chances are that you already may have some basic familiarity with the basic trigonometric functions on your calculator. Now, you may notice on your calculator that there are three buttons for trigonometric functions. However, most scientific calculators have additional functions besides the one on the button. These are often labeled in yellow or white, right above a button. Above the trig function keys, there are options for sin^-1, cos^-1, and so on. In other words, there are the inverses available. We can use these inverse functions to solve trigonometric problems exactly like you would expect. To access these secondary functions, you often push another button, such as shift. Also, be sure to take note that a calculator often has settings for both radians and degrees. If you are dealing with angles that are measured in degrees, make sure you calculator is in the correct mode, often abbreviated DEG. Likewise, if you're working with angles measured in radians, make sure your calculator is in radian mode, or RAD.

Example of Using Trigonometric Functions

For example, let's say that you were looking to use your calculator to find the value of x in the following equation: cos(x) = 0.8. To do that, you should take the inverse cosine of both sides. This will cause the cosine on the variable side to cancel out, since it is the inverse of it. On the other side of the equation, it means that you will be taking the inverse cosine of 0.8. But how do you do that on a calculator? It depends on the type of calculator you have, but if you have a calculator that enables you to type long strings in before pressing enter, you press shift, then cosine, then type in the number. On other calculators, type 0.8, and then press shift and cosine. By pressing shift and then cosine, you are finding the inverse cosine. In any event, you should come out with 36.86. Trigonometric functions are easy. After all, you spent much of geometry class learning to use them.

Using Exponentials

Something else that's pretty easy to learn to use on a calculator are the exponential buttons. There are two groups: the simple exponents and the logarithms. First, the exponents. Very likely, you've had to square or cube something. You could just multiply that number by itself two or three times, or you could just use the square or cube button. The square button is the one with x^2, while the cube button has x^3. But what if you need to go bigger than that? Then you use the x^y power button. This lets you raise any number to any other number.

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