Is it allowed to use a calculator on the PSAT?
Just like the SAT, there are four sections on the PSAT — Math (no calculator allowed), Math (calculator allowed), writing section, and reading section. The first math section in which the calculator is not allowed contains 17 questions and lasts for 25 minutes. The second section in which calculators are allowed contains 11 questions and lasts for 45 minutes.
The College Board says that almost all the questions on the calculator Math section (second section) can be solved without the help of a calculator. But for some questions, using a calculator will be helpful. To be more precise, the college board’s official website says that you can use a calculator for this section when it can make your life easier, but you must not overcomplicate questions by taking help of a calculator for psat when it is better to solve those manually. For example, using a calculator to multiply 34 x 174 is better as you can get an error-free answer quite fast. However, if you solve the equation 3x + 4y = 17, 4x + 8y = 26, it will be better to solve it manually than taking help from a graphing calculator.
What calculators are allowed on the PSAT?
Three kinds of calculators are allowed by the college board for the PSAT exam— scientific calculators, four-function calculators, and graphing calculators.
Four function calculators
These PSAT calculators are named so as they can only perform four functions— subtract, add, divide, and multiply. Even though theoretically you could use this type of calculator on the PSAT, it is not recommended mainly because it lacks helpful features like entry lines and parentheses.
The only benefit of a four function calculator for psat is that it tends to be reasonably priced and takes up less space. But to be honest, the cons of not being able to visualize what you just entered into the calculator outweigh the pros to a great extent.
You are allowed to use all types of scientific calculators on the PSAT exam. These calculators have all the features that a four-function calculator has, in addition to a few other useful functions. These functions include pi and trigonometric functions and parentheses. Having parentheses is particularly useful as you can actually see what you just entered into the calculator to ensure your calculations happen in the correct order. Suppose solving a complex calculation by entering it into the calculator all at once with parentheses is much easier than having to break it up into different simpler parts that then calculate those separately. The larger the process of calculation, the more the chances of errors.
These calculators are very helpful as they have a lot of features. Apart from having entry lines and all the other features that a scientific calculator possesses, these calculators are also useful in working out solutions to linear equations. For example, if you want to get the coordinates to determine where the two equations cross, a graphing calculator can help you with that.
The only disadvantage of these calculators is that students can get overwhelmed with their multi-functionality. The students can get tricked into using a graphing calculator for PSAT when performing the calculation manually could have been faster. You must avoid this problem by challenging yourself to determine if it is really useful to use these calculators for all the questions during your practice tests.
PSAT calculators you must avoid
Some calculators, such as the Voyage 200 and TI-92, go against the guidelines of the College Board; therefore, they have been banned from being used on the PSAT. The guidelines say that you can’t use a calculator that can access the internet or be noisy. Also, you are not allowed to use a calculator that requires a connection to an electrical outlet.
You can’t use a calculator that meets the criteria given below on the PSAT:
- It is a part of a handheld or a portable laptop, computer, pocket organizer, or electronic writing pad. You can also not use your computer while taking the test.
- Its hardware or software has the QWERTY keypad. You are also not allowed to use any hardware peripherals with a calculator that is otherwise allowed.
- It is equipped with a stylus, pen input, or touch-screen capability.
- It has wireless or Bluetooth connectivity feature
- It makes noise or paper tapes
- It can connect to the internet or requires an electrical outlet.
- It can work like a cell phone and has video/audio recording features. Cellphones are not allowed on the PSAT as well.
- It is equipped with a digital video/audio player.
- It has a scanning or camera feature.
Four PSAT calculator tips
Now that you are aware of which calculators you can and cannot bring to the PSAT let us look at a few important tips that can help you use your calculator efficiently on the exam day.
Tip 1: Bring a calculator that is allowed
Look at the list of calculators that are allowed on the PSAT and get one that relates to the list. Don’t get a calculator if that is not allowed. Bringing with you a calculator that has not been approved for the test is of no use, and you won’t be allowed to carry it to the examination hall.
Tip 2: Be familiar with the way your calculator works
A calculator is used in an exam to enhance your accuracy and speed. However, if you bring a calculator you have never used before, your speed will be decreased, and you will also be more likely to make errors, no matter how good quality or fancy the calculator is.
Tip 3: Check the entry line feature of the calculator beforehand
When you are in the middle of the exam and have a lot to finish, it is easy to accidentally hit the wrong numbers and end up wasting your time. To reduce the incidence of these errors, make sure to check out if the entry line feature of your calculator is working fine. Also, double-check the numbers you have entered before clicking on entering to ensure that you have entered the right numbers. Doing this is especially important if you are using a calculator that does not keep a running log of all your previous calculations.
Tip 4: Use a calculator only when it is necessary
This is particularly important when using a graphing calculator. With these calculators, it seems easier to make the calculator perform all the calculations for you. What you don’t realize is that entering a lengthy equation into the calculator to get it solved can take longer time than it would take to perform the calculation manually. However, this does not mean you should skip using calculators altogether. Just use them to supplement your skills rather than replace them.
Calculators are great tools to increase speed and accuracy on exams. We hope that this blog helped you understand what calculators are allowed on the PSAT and also helped you with some tips on how to use them.