Calculators Are Allowed on the ACT

What if you showed up to the ACT and couldn’t use the calculator you brought with you? You can work hard to prepare for the ACT math section, but you’ll be at a major disadvantage if you can’t use your calculator. You can even use powerful devices like the TI-84. While many students have used such calculators, they are not always aware of all the “tricks” that can help them improve their ACT scores. It is critical to understand what’s permitted under the ACT calculator policy to prepare you with your math strategies to assist you. This blog talks about the calculator policy, tips on using them during the exam, and more.


Understand the math section 


The ACT Math section, in general, covers high school math through precalculus. However, many of its questions are formatted differently than what you’ve seen on math tests. The scope of topics covered may be broader than what you’ve seen in class. Fortunately, the ACT is made up entirely of multiple-choice questions and it allows you to use a calculator for all of them. These two conditions drive the entire ACT preparation process. For every question, one of the five answer choices listed is correct, and you may use your calculator as much as you want. 


ACT calculator policy

In general, the ACT states that all test takers are permitted to use “any 4-function, scientific, or a graphing calculator, as long as it is not on the prohibited list and is modified, if necessary.” Your best bet is to use a calculator you have previously used. If you’ve never used it before, you’ll risk wasting time trying to figure out the basics. While all ACT problems can be solved without using a calculator, it is a resource you should take advantage of, if for nothing else than to speed up the time it will take to complete the test. 


Prohibited Calculators

Algebra System functionality is prohibited on the ACT. You are evaluated on your ability to solve algebra problems on your own.

This feature cannot be built into or downloaded into your calculator.

Here are a few calculators that are specifically prohibited:

Texas Instruments: 

  • All model numbers that begin with TI-89 or TI-92
  • TI-Nspire CAS (the TI-Nspire non-CAS is permitted)


  • HP Prime
  • HP48GII
  • All model numbers that begin with HP 40G, HP 49G, or HP 50G


  • fx-CP400 (ClassPad 400)
  • ClassPad 300 or ClassPad 330
  • Algebra fx 2.0
  • All model numbers that begin with CFX-9970G

Additionally, you are not allowed to use calculators on your cell phones, laptops, or tablets. Calculators with QWERTY format letter keys are also prohibited. 


Use a calculator that’s permitted

Although the ACT allows you to use a calculator throughout the Math portion, there are some limitations to the models you can use. What calculators are available for use on the ACT? The generous ACT calculator policy, on the other hand, allows advanced graphing calculators such as the TI-84 series. You may not use your phone or tablet, and any calculator with a CAS (computer algebra system), such as the TI-Nspire CAS or TI-89, is prohibited.


Because the entire TI-84 series calculators are allowed on the ACT, you should get one as soon as possible to become acquainted with its features. Most teachers use Texas Instruments in their classrooms, and the majority of tutors are family members. Because the TI-84 Plus CE is the most advanced allowed calculator, the instructions listed below will apply to that model. Many of the strategies described can be carried out on other calculators, but the key actions will differ. While all of the tips will undoubtedly work on the TI-84 Plus and TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition, the sequence of steps may vary slightly. 


Understanding TI-84 basics

Keypad basics

On this calculator, almost every key has more than one operation associated with it. To access the blue features, first press the blue “2nd” key. To access the green options, first, select “Alpha.” 



Your current modes are always visible at the top of your screen on the TI-84 Plus CE. If you need to change modes, press “Mode” to access the following menu. Scroll using the navigational keys and press “Enter” to select a new setting to change a mode. For the ACT, you shouldn’t need any of these other than Radian/Degree. When you’re on the home screen, it’s best to stay in Degree mode, although you may need to change that for a particular problem. For graphing trigonometric functions, always switch to Radian mode.



The grey keys at the top of the keypad control graphing operations, but the ones with f1-f4 labels connect you to dropdown menus that provide shortcuts to various calculator features (remember to press “Alpha” first). 

The Fraction submenu is accessed by pressing F1.

1 allows us to use a horizontal fraction bar to type fractions and rational expressions.

2 allows for the input of mixed numbers.

 3 converts erroneous fractions to mixed numbers.

4 changes decimals into fractions and vice versa. 

F2 brings up the Function submenu.

While options 2-4 have helpful features, they do not apply to the ACT. Option 1 provides absolute value bars, whereas Options 5 and 6 allow you to enter logarithms of any base and index roots.

Options 7 and 8 are set up to compute permutations and combinations. Option 9 allows you to perform factorials.

F3 activates the Matrix menu—more on that later!

F4 displays a list of Y-variables.


Changing a decimal to a fraction

When a calculation yields a rational number, you can convert it to fraction form by selecting it from the shortcut or Math menus. That means you won’t have to worry about finding common denominators or simplifying fractions! Assume you entered the following calculation to bring up this screen, press the “Math” key: Select the first option and press “Enter” to finish the operation. (Note that when you see “Ans” on the screen, it means the calculator uses the last number displayed.) 


As a final note, bring extra batteries or ensure that your calculator is fully charged. Bringing a dead calculator is worse than bringing a prohibited calculator. Don’t expect your ACT testing center to provide you with a calculator (or a pencil, for that matter). Charge your calculator thoroughly the night before the test, and keep an extra set of batteries on hand just in case! 

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