Looking to take the ACT this year? With only three test dates left in 2023, you’re probably studying right now (if not, start thinking about it). Of course, while studying is key, you’ll also need to know some important ACT specific policies – including the calculator policy.
The ACT takes this policy seriously. In fact, using a non-approved calculator (the TI-89) is the most common reason students get dismissed from their tests. Don’t become part of this statistic! Keep reading for all the need-to-know guidelines on ACT approved calculators.
(If you’ve stumbled on the wrong article and you’re actually looking for the calculator policy for the SAT, don’t worry! Here is our guide to the SAT’s calculator policy.)
ACT Calculator Policy 2023
The ACT encourages students to use approved calculators. Using one will save you time and help you be more accurate. However, the test is designed to be solved without a device. Among other things, this means you’re responsible for bringing your own calculator. If you forget, you’re on your own.
If you do remember your approved calculator (hooray!), pay close attention. Even when it comes to allowed devices, the ACT has some pretty specific rules and regulations.
Some calculators may only be used after modification. The ACT requires these modifications just to make sure no one’s getting an unfair advantage, or being a distraction to other test-takers.
- If your device can hold files or documents, remove anything with computer algebra system (CAS) functionality (i.e. it can solve algebraic operations involving variables).
- If your device has paper tape, remove the tape.
- If your device emits sound, disable or turn off sound.
- If your device has an infrared data port (i.e. a light), cover it with something thick and opaque – like duct tape or electrician’s tape
- If your device has a power cord, remove the cord.
Note that these regulations also differ from SAT guidelines – meaning the calculator you or a sibling may have used for the SAT might not be approved, or may require some alterations. If you’re looking for SAT guidelines, check this post instead.
Where It’s Allowed
You probably know that the ACT consists of four multiple-choice tests (five if you opt for an additional writing portion). ACT approved calculator use is only permitted during the math test. You won’t get to use a calculator for the science portion.
To give you some pointers on optimal calculator use, let’s break down the math portion into its three smaller sections.
|Number of Questions
|1. Basic algebra, linear equations and functions
|2. Intermediate algebra and coordinate geometry
|3. Geometry and trigonometry
- Avoid using a calculator in the first section. Using a device for these simpler questions will likely slow you down. Mental math will probably be faster here than plugging numbers into a calculator.
- Use your calculator as needed for the last two sections. A device is particularly useful for geometry and trigonometry, where you’ll need to solve for area, circumference, and other basic functions.
What Type Of Calculator Is Allowed On The ACT?
Ok, ok. I know we just covered a lot of information. It might seem like a lot of red tape, but understanding these rules are well-worth the worst-case scenario: getting dismissed from your test. Plus, now that you know the policy, we can finally start talking about approved calculator types!
The ACT says students 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.” While the official policy is pretty general, if you don’t know calculator terms, you might not fully understand it.
A four-function calculator is your most basic calculator. It performs simple(r) functions like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, square roots, and percentage. A scientific calculator does all that, plus a little extra (exponents, parentheses, etc). Both are fine to use on the ACT, so long as they don’t have CAS functionality.
As the name suggests, a graphing calculator can plot coordinates and graph functions. You might find a graphing calculator’s increased functionality helpful; again, just be sure to double check it doesn’t have CAS.
Even if you’re not able to get a fancy graphing calculator, you don’t need one to succeed. Whatever you’re comfortable using at home or in school – as long as it’s approved, of course – should be good enough to help you through the ACT math section.
List Of ACT Approved Calculators
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of ACT approved makes and models. If your calculator made the list below, congrats! You’re clear to use it on the ACT. Note that certain models come in CAS and non-CAS versions; only non-CAS makes are ACT approved.
|TI-30 (including multiview)
TI-84 Plus CE
TI-Nspire (excluding CAS models)
Casio 9750 GII
Casio 9860 GII
ACT Prohibited Calculators
The ACT specifically prohibits a number of common calculators. We’ll run through the list of everything the ACT bans from the test room. Unless you want to be dismissed from the test, do not bring these models with you!
The majority of Texas Instrument calculators are safe, although a few are explicitly prohibited.
- Model numbers beginning with TI-89 or Ti-92
- TI-Nspire CAS
Note that non-CAS TI-Nspire calculators are permitted. If you plan on using this model, double check that it doesn’t come with CAS functionality. If you’re not sure, search your model up online.
You may have heard that, as a general rule of thumb, older calculators are safe for the ACT. Do not listen to this advice! While many of these HP calculators have long since been discontinued, they are still banned from the ACT.
- HP Prime
- Model numbers beginning with HP 40G, HP 49G, or HP 50G
- fx-CP400 (ClassPad 400)
- ClassPad 300 or ClassPad 330
- Algebra fx 2.0
- Model numbers beginning with CFX-9970G
With so many different calculators on the market, just because we haven’t explicitly listed a calculator here, does not mean it’s allowed on the ACT math section. In addition to the above banned models, the ACT also forbids any calculators with QWERTY format letter keys.
For obvious reasons, students are also not allowed to use calculators found in cell phones, tablets, and laptops. Calculators with any sort of built-in communication are similarly banned.
ACT Calculator Recommendations
Now you know everything you need to know about ACT calculator policies! To wrap everything up, I have a few recommendations for prospective test takers and their calculators (for more general ACT tips, check out this post).
- Don’t shell out money for a new expensive calculator. If you aren’t familiar with how to use a fancy graphing calculator, buying and using one will cost you – rather than save you – precious time. Cheaper alternatives (like the TI-30) will cost you less than $20 dollars, are simple and intuitive to use, and is really all you’ll need for ACT math.
- Practice with your calculator. For similar reasons as tip #1, you need to know your calculator to use it most effectively on the test. Don’t leave this to the last minute – practice with your calculator!
- Charge your calculator and/or bring extra batteries. Having a calculator will do nothing for you if it isn’t charged!
- Strategize where to use your calculator. Especially on simpler algebraic questions, using a device might slow you down more than just working through the equation. It might be comforting to reach for the calculator all the time, but understand that this might cost you time. On the other hand, using it to backsolve (plug answer choices into the original question) is typically faster than by hand.
Can You Have A More Than One Calculator?
For our last ACT guideline and tip, know that the ACT allows you to bring more than one calculator. While you can only have one one your desk at a time, the ACT allows you to swap whenever you want.
This means you should bring a backup calculator to take your ACT. Even if something catastrophic doesn’t happen to your first calculator, having a backup will give you a little extra security and peace of mind.
Be Ready For The ACT With SoFlo Tutors
Now you know which calculators are allowed on the ACT, practice using one with SoFlo tutors. SoFlo’s Ivy League tutors can guide future test-takers through ACT preparation and studying, with our students improving 110 points after just 10 sessions!
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can You Use A Calculator On The ACT?
While ACT questions are solvable without a calculator, you can use an approved calculator on the ACT. Calculator use is only permitted during the math section of the test.
What Calculators Are Allowed On The ACT?
The ACT allows any 4-function, scientific, or graphic calculator, so long as it isn’t on the prohibited list and is modified as needed.
What Calculators Are Prohibited For ACT?
The ACT forbids any calculators with CAS functionality – meaning the calculator can solve and simplify algebraic equations. In addition to explicitly prohibited models, calculators with alphanumeric keyboards are also banned.
About The Author
Lauren Richards is a sophomore studying narrative at the University of Southern California. She scored a 1510 on the SAT, and in her free time, she enjoys snorkeling, hiking, and all things outdoors.