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SAT Calculator Tips and Tricks

Many students let out a sigh of relief once they complete the No Calculator Math section of the SAT and get to move on to the Calculator-Active portion of the test. However, if you’ve ever taken a practice test, you might know that just because the SAT allows you a calculator for this section, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the all-clear. Proper SAT calculator usage is tricky: many students find that while they were itching for a calculator on the No-Calc section, they use their calculation machine much less frequently than expected on the Calc section. Once you know what to expect on the SAT math sections, read on for tried and true SAT calculator tips and tricks.

SAT Calculator Tips

Let’s start off with the things you absolutely want to use your calculator for:

  • DO use your calculator for annoying arithmetic.
    • This test section will throw some big numbers at you. No need to act a hero and try to do the work in your head or on your paper; that’s what the previous section was for!
  • DO use your calculator to graph things.
    • This is one of the biggest calculator tricks to this section. Though you may know how to find intersections, minimums, and maximums of functions by hand, a graphing calculator will simplify and speed up this process for you.
  • DO know how and when to use parentheses.
    • As a tutor, I can’t say this enough. Your calculator follows the order of operations (PEMDAS). It does not know what you’re thinking. That means that if you type in -5², you will get -125. If what you were looking for was the square of negative five, you’ll need to type in (-5)².
  • DO use your calculator to check your work.

SAT Calculator Usage to Avoid

And here are some things you don’t want to use your calculator for:

  • DON’T use your calculator for every little calculation.
    • I know you can do 9 x 5 in your head.
  • DON’T use your calculator in place of your paper.
    • Do your calculations in the calculator, but put your math on the paper. In other words, write your work down. This will save you time and effort, especially if you make a mistake and have to find it later on.
  • DON’T type in exceedingly long number sequences at once.
    • Break your calculations up. Not only is it easier to make a mistake if you’re typing a novel into your calculator, but also doing calculations step by step will help you catch mistakes (like squaring a negative number and getting a negative answer in return).
  • DON’T rely on your calculator for every little thing.
    • This is especially important when considering the test as a whole. If you can only work with exponents and radicals using your calculator, you’re going to be at a loss when these questions come up on the No Calculator section.

Some Final Thoughts on SAT Calculator Tips and Tricks

The most important thing to remember is that the calculator is a tool at your disposal. Make sure you know how to use it! I’ve seen many students excited about the complicated features their calculators possess. It’s great that your calculator has a percent feature, but do you know how and when to use it? Not every percent question is the same, and if you don’t know when and why that feature works, you’re likely going to make more mistakes than it’s worth.

Beyond SAT Calculator Usage

Now that you’re an expert on SAT calculator tips and tricks, make sure your calculator is SAT-approved. If you’re looking for more help on the SAT, check out our self-directed and one-on-one SAT prep options today!

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