Rules for Calculator Use on the PSAT/NMSQT

You are allowed to bring a calculator to the PSAT/NMSQT. The test-makers tell you, accurately, that you can solve every problem on the test without a calculator. But why would you want to add and divide when you have a machine to do the arithmetic for you? The key factor is to use the calculator efficiently and accurately.

Sometimes the calculator bogs you down in a string of numbers that a formula can slice through instantly. At other times, the calculator takes the place of simple but time-consuming arithmetic (long division, for example). You should learn when a calculator will help and when it will hinder (act as an obstacle). Be sure you know the difference, and use your calculator only when it will help you.

Don’t have a calculator? The College Board doesn’t include one with your testing fee, but your math teacher may have one you can borrow. Home-schoolers, call your local high school to see whether a loaner is available.

The College Board has several rules about calculator use during the PSAT/NMSQT:

  • Your calculator may not have a raised keyboard or the ability to connect to the Internet. In other words, no mini-computers or smartphones.

  • Battery power is fine; power cords aren’t. (Proctors don’t want to worry about outlets or too-short cords.) If your batteries die during the exam, too bad. The proctor won’t sell you any AAAs, and you’re not allowed to run out to a convenience store.

  • The best calculator for this test is a scientific calculator, which can handle the basics (adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing) and more advanced calculations such as square roots, fractions, and exponents.

Be sure that you know how to operate your calculator before you take the test. If you’ve bought or borrowed one recently, use it as needed when you work through practice math problems.

No matter how well you know your calculator, it works only if you enter the correct numbers. Say (in your head, not aloud) every step you take, as in 5 divided by 7 plus the square root of 9. Keep your eyes glued to the little screen to be sure that it shows

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After you complete a problem, hit “clear” so that you begin with a clean slate for the next one.

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