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SAT Math Test : Boost Your Confidence on Test Day and Use Your Tool of Choice

Big news from College Board® this year was the launch of the fully digital SAT®, with its first administration on March 9, 2024. With this comes a built-in digital calculator available for students to use during the math portion of the test, alleviating the need to bring their own hand-held calculator and for proctors to ensure that those calculators are test ready.

This seems like great news, but for many students and teachers, this might cause a bit of anxiety. Let’s face it, we are much more comfortable using tools we know. Not understanding how to use the online embedded calculator could create added stress, confusion, time, and unexpected errors. When taking these high-stakes tests, you don’t want to add additional stressors. 

The good news – you can still bring your own calculator to take the digital SAT, according to the SAT Calculator Policy.

My suggestion – use what you are familiar with, and if that is a hand-held calculator, bring it! You will be more efficient and can focus on the questions and the math content versus trying to make sure you are using the embedded calculator correctly, which takes time away from answering the questions. Granted, the SAT has provided a tutorial to learn the digital calculator before the test, but my thinking is if you already have a calculator you are comfortable with, focus your prep time on studying the math questions and using the tool that provides you with the most confidence. 

Let’s get on to some calculator tips for the SAT. I will be using the fx-9750GIII graphing calculator in my examples, since it’s my favorite. But tips apply across the board. One change on the SAT is that a calculator is allowed throughout the Math section. What’s important is to know when it is useful to use a calculator and when it is NOT useful. I would definitely suggest exploring the SAT site and their sample questions to help you study and familiarize yourself with the types of math problems. 

Tip #1: If you bring a hand-held, be sure it’s in Exam Mode.

No matter the calculator you bring, it must be in Exam Mode for security. Be sure you know how to do this. Here is how to set Exam Mode for the fx-9750GIII and the fx-CG50.

Tip #2: Know when NOT using a calculator is more efficient.

Just because you can use a calculator, doesn’t mean you should. Time is a factor, so use time wisely. Here are some examples of when a calculator is not the most efficient choice:

  • When a question is simply asking for an equivalent form of an equation or formula.

  • When you are asked to choose an appropriate mathematical representation of a given math context problem (e.g. converting words to a mathematical representation).

Tip #3: Be able to graph a function quickly and find key points (intersection, roots, min/max, zeros, etc.)

Using a calculator quickly and efficiently is an important skill to master prior to taking the SAT. Graphing functions to find key points are common types of questions. Before you can do that efficiently, you need to make sure you can convert equations quickly to equivalent forms (which shouldn’t need a calculator – see #2 above!). Most calculators require the y= or x= form of an equation. Be sure you know the different forms of the equations (slope-intercept, standard form, vertex form) is also a related and helpful skill.

This video shows you how to use the fx-9750GIII graphing calculator to graph different functions and find key points using the G-solve functionality. Note - this process will work the same for any Casio graphing calculator you have, all of which are approved for the SAT.

Tip #4: Practice, Practice, Practice

There are many resources out there to help you prepare for the SAT but take advantage of the free resources and support provided by the College Board themselves. The SAT Suite of Assessments provides you with free practice tests, a checklist, a Bluebook app, and more to support you as you prepare for the SAT.

Good luck! 

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