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Using Your Calculator on the ACT Math

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  • 0:01 Calculators & the ACT
  • 0:55 Calculator Rules
  • 2:36 Calculator Strategy
  • 4:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

Your calculator is there to help, but it can't do everything for you! Learn what kinds of calculators are allowed on the ACT and how to use them on the math test in this lesson.

Calculators & the ACT

The ACT Math test is a 60-minute, 60-question multiple-choice test of high school math skills. The test covers topics from addition and subtraction all the way up to geometry, trig, and algebra. In theory, you could do every problem on the test without ever touching a calculator, but it's a very handy way to save yourself some time on the arithmetic.

On the other hand, it's just as important to know when not to use it. The calculator is an assistant for your brain, not a replacement for it. In this lesson, you'll get some pointers on making sure your calculator is approved for use on the ACT in the first place and how to use it strategically once you're in the test.

Calculator Rules

To make sure you don't get into any trouble on test day, here are all the rules about calculators:

You're only allowed a calculator on the math test. It's not clear why you'd need a calculator anywhere else, but if your grand strategy for the reading test was some super complex algebraic expression, sorry, you're out of luck.

You must have a permitted calculator. The ACT's website has a comprehensive list of permitted and prohibited calculators, but here's the short version: the calculator cannot be able to do algebra, it can't have a QWERTY keyboard, and it can't be the calculator on your phone. If it makes noises, you have to turn the noises off. Most prohibited calculators on the list aren't very popular, but it's worth noting that TI-89s and TI-92s are prohibited. TI-89s, especially, are a very common problem - if you've got one, you'll need to find another calculator for the test.

You are responsible for your own calculator. The proctor does not have batteries or a backup calculator for you, and it's your problem to deal with if the calculator breaks. You're allowed to bring spare batteries and a spare calculator if you like, and it's a good idea to take advantage of that. This should go without saying, but you're also not allowed to share calculators with anyone during the test.

Calculator Strategy

Once you're clear on the rules, it's time to start with the strategy:

Use a calculator you know. Even if your favorite calculator is a prohibited type, don't just swing by the store on your way to the test and grab a totally strange machine. Instead, pick up your new calculator a few weeks in advance so you can play around with it and get to know how it works. You're pressed for time on the math test in the first place; you don't want to waste any of it fiddling with your calculator.

Don't rely on your calculator in place of test prep or math skills. The test writers design the problems to make sure you won't be able to just plug them in and go - if you could, you wouldn't be allowed a calculator in the first place! To answer a question correctly, you'll still have to understand the concepts. The calculator just saves you from dealing with a bunch of irritating arithmetic, like multiplying or dividing big numbers by hand.

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