Calculators for the AP Calculus test

By Tech Powered Dad | September 11, 2010

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A lot of students (and teachers) are surprised to learn that the rules for calculators on the Advanced Placement test are actually a lot different from other standardized tests like the ACT and SAT. The surprising difference is that regardless of whether you are taking AB calculus or BC calculus, the only calculators allowed on the AP test are graphing calculators.

That’s right, a simple scientific or four-function calculator is prohibited on the AP test while a TI-89 is perfectly legal. Actually, the test is broken into two components: one where no calculators are allowed and one for graphing calculators only. The fact that non-graphers are banned does mean that most students won’t be bringing a backup calculator to the test, so instead you would be wise to bring a set of backup batteries.

A lot of calculus students want a computer algebra system, so they end up opting for the TI-Nspire CAS or TI-89 Titanium. Truth be told, the College Board says any graphing calculator is sufficient as long as it has the following capabilities:

  1. Plots the graph of a function within an arbitrary display window
  2. Finds the zeroes of a function
  3. Numerically calculates the derivative of a function
  4. Numerically calculates the value of a definite integral

The vast majority of popular graphing calculators have these capabilities. The banned list of calculators includes any with a QWERTY keyboard, touchscreen devices, and wireless devices such as:

  • TI-92 series
  • Casio classpad series
  • iPods/iPhones
  • PDA’s
  • Laptops

You are fine if you choose from the list below, both in terms of meeting the rules and the above 4 capabilities.

Texas Instruments Graphing Calculators

  • TI-82
  • TI-83 series
  • TI-84 series
  • TI-85
  • TI-86
  • TI-89 series
  • TI-Nspire (CAS or non-CAS)

Read more about why the TI-Nspire CX CAS is my pick for the best graphing calculator for AP Calculus.

Casio Graphing Calculators

  • FX-9700 series
  • FX-9750 series
  • CFX-9800 series
  • CFX-9850 series
  • FX-9860 series
  • CFX-9950 series
  • CFX-9970 series
  • FX 1.0 series
  • Algebra FX 2.0 series

Hewlett Packard Graphing Calculators

  • HP-28 series
  • HP-38G
  • HP 39 series
  • HP-40 series
  • HP-48 series
  • HP-49 series
  • HP-50 series

Sharp Graphing Calculators

  • EL-9200 series
  • EL-9300 series
  • EL-9600 series (no stylus allowed)
  • EL-9900 series

Source:  College Board

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