At AURA, students and parents alike often ask us questions about the role of the graphing calculator and its direct effect on the SAT score.
To use a calculator or not completely depends on the kind of student you are, is Math your forte? Are you a confident test taker? Do tests in general make you nervous? Are you the person who wants to type something but ends up typing something else?
Well, here is our advice. Having a graphing calculator instead of a generic scientific calculator is not much of an advantage. It takes longer to hit the necessary keystrokes for most mathematical operations and we bet you could do the same calculations much faster in your head or by hand. What you need to remember is, most questions are designed so as to be resistant to calculator use.
The Graphing calculator as the name suggests are able to graph functions – students just need to plug the function into the program. In tests like the SAT plotting points manually and creating a graph takes up valuable time and is not advisable.
That said, for test-takers, a graphing calculator with a computer algebra system (such as a TI-84+/89) (College Board Official Calculator Policy) helps because it can function as a sanity check. While you might be perfectly capable of factoring or dividing simple polynomials quickly by hand, why not have the calculator do it? Why not have the calculators compute the limit for you? Or solve an equation and find the value at a certain point? After all, at some point SAT math (both the Subject Tests and the Math section of the general SAT) becomes more a matter of accuracy than knowledge or even speed.
A good graphing calculator can help (perhaps positively influence a point increase of 20 or more). There’s always that chance that even if you can’t solve the problem, your calculator can.
Finally, a graphing calculator isn’t absolutely essential, but it can be extremely helpful and we recommend you take it with you for your SAT.