The Best Calculators for the ACT

The Best Calculators for the ACT

According to the ACT officials, all the ACT math problems may be solved without a calculator. But it’s the height of folly to try to prove that yourself because you’re actually allowed to use a calculator for the ACT. That way, you save a lot of time, and you also increase the chances of getting the answer right.

You’re allowed to use the calculator only on the math portion of the test, which includes the ACT WorkKeys Applied Math. You better get one for yourself, as students who take the test can’t share the calculators with each other.

The ACT Calculator Policy

The ACT has a calculator policy that expressly defines what kind of calculator you’re allowed to use for the test. If you break any of these rules, you may be dismissed and your test may be voided.

Here are some of the more crucial regulations regarding your choice of calculators.

  • You can’t use computers of any kind, such as laptops, tablets, and handheld computers. Even PDAs are explicitly prohibited.
  • Calculators with Computer Algebra System functionality (CAS) are also not allowed. These include various advanced CAS calculators made by Texas Instruments, Hewlett-Packard, and Casio.
  • It’s not legal to use electronic writing pads or pen-input devices, though you can use the Sharp EL 9600.
  • You also can’t use calculators with the QWERTY letter key design. However, you can use these calculators if they’re provided in a secure test delivery platform. Also, you can use calculators with letter keys if they’re not in the QWERTY format.
  • If your calculator emits sound, you have to turn off the sound.
  • If your calculator has some paper tape, you have to remove the tape.
  • If your calculator can hold documents, then you have to remove all the documents.
  • If your calculator can hold programs and apps, then you have to take off those apps that offer CAS functionality.
  • If your calculator has an infrared data port, you have to cover that port with electrician’s tape or duct tape.
  • If your calculator has a power cord, you have to remove the power cord.

The most crucial rule here is the one regarding the CAS functionality. This may be allowed for the SAT, but not for the ACT.

Best Options for your ACT Calculator

With this policy in mind, you have to make sure your chosen calculator complies with all the restrictions. Of course, that’s not the only factor.

You may want to get the calculator with all the advanced features, but then these features come at a cost. If you have a more modest calculator, then you may have to do without certain functions.

More advanced features may also make the calculator more complicated to use. Keep in mind that the ACT has time controls. You don’t want to waste time trying to figure out how to use the calculator during the test. You better be familiar with it before you use it for the ACT.

It also should be compact and lightweight. A bulky calculator can be rather annoying to hold on to. The display should be easy to read, and the keys should be arranged sensibly for easier use.

It should work reliably well. The battery power should last long enough for you to finish the test.

With these factors in mind, let’s check out our top prospects for the best calculators for the ACT.

TI-84 Plus CE

This graphics calculator from Texas Instruments is perhaps the standard by which all the other calculators are measured. It’s the proven champion that has truly stood the test of time. It’s a true classic, like the Ford Mustang or the Rolex Submariner.

In comparison with the most modern calculators available today, it’s not exactly advanced. But it gets upgraded and updated regularly, so it’s not as if you’re using an obsolete model. Besides, the fundamental design is tried and tested, and its extremely durable.

What’s more, it’s also quite affordable. Since you can use it for both the ACT and SAT, you save a ton of money with this option if you’re taking both tests.


Everything you need for the ACT is all here. You get the graphing capabilities, along with the algebraic and statistical functionalities. Because of its simpler design, it’s relatively easy to use. You won’t have to spend to much time with it to become familiar with how to use it efficiently. You have plenty of shortcuts you can use that you can easily keep in mind.

This isn’t a calculator from the 1970s. It’s a modern calculator, which can even use a USB cable for data transfer. You have features like MathPrint, which lets you input and see equations and symbols exactly the way they appear in your textbooks.

Because of its popularity, you’ll also find a lot of 3rd-party apps that you can download for this. These apps can then extend the capabilities of this calculator, so you’re able to get extra features such as spreadsheet functions.


This uses a nice and clear color display with high resolution. With color coding and grid lines, you’re able to read and differentiate various graphs from each other.

The buttons are laid out nicely with ample spacing for large fingers. Its weight and thickness were reduced by 30% compared to the previous generation. It’s eminently easy to bring along.

It also uses a rechargeable battery. You can use its docking station, but when you’re on the road you can recharge it with a wall charger or a USB cable.


  • Rechargeable battery
  • Nicely compact
  • Readable display
  • Allows for equations to appear accurately


  • Its features may not be as advanced as some other models.
  • For the SAT, it lacks features that you can find in other SAT calculators

TI-83 Plus

This is allowed for the ACT, and also for SAT, PSAT, and AP exams. That shouldn’t be surprising, since it’s a very basic model.

It’s for those who don’t have a large budget or are unwilling to spend to much for a calculator. Yet this may also appeal to you (even if you can spend more money) if you don’t want the hassle of learning to use a more complicated calculator.

No-Nonsense Display

The display is in black and white, which should tell you that this isn’t exactly a premium calculator. Yet there are those who think of color displays as superfluous features. If you share that opinion, then this is the basic, no-nonsense display you want. It’s still big enough and clear enough for data analysis.


This can really help not just with your ACT and other exams, but for high school and college math. In fact, some people buy this in their high school freshman year and discover that it’s good enough for high school, the ACT, and college. For those who don’t care to buy calculators regularly, this is a god-send.

It also helps that this calculator was built to last. The materials are all hard, including the impact-resistant slide case. It’s very common to use this for years without anything going wrong.

However, there’s no rechargeable battery. You’ll have to make do with 4 AAA batteries. Bring extra batteries for the ACT, just to be safe.

Basic Features

This works nicely for pre-algebra, statistics, physics, and fundamental graphing uses. But you can use flash technology to upgrade the apps if you wish.

You can use statistical data plotting for your pictographs, scatter plots, and pie charts.

It even has built-in support for sensors for the pre-installed data collection interfaces. That means you can use the calculator to measure the temperature, sound levels, light, and voltage.


  • Extremely affordable
  • Simple and very easy to use
  • Truly durable
  • Works for high school and college math


  • Black and white display
  • No rechargeable batteries
  • Relatively basic functionality

TI-Nspire CX

At the other end of the spectrum from the TI-83 Plus, we have the TI-Nspire CX. It’s among the most expensive calculators you can get for the ACT, and it’s also the most advanced that’s still ACT-approved.

Just be careful that you don’t get the version with the CAS functionality. That’s way too advanced, and not allowed for the ACT.

Still, without the CAS this is still top of the line for the ACT. It toes the line without going over the limitations. It’s very difficult to find a more advanced calculator that’s still allowed for the ACT.

Advanced Features

You can use this for statistics, algebra, calculus, trigonometry, and lots more science and math subjects. Other features include:

  • Advanced graphs, with sliders and animation
  • Animated geometric figures
  • Graphical hypotheses
  • Spreadsheet functions
  • Add notes and comments for equations
  • Various types of graphs

This does very fast calculations, with a substantial RAM of 16 MB. That’s huge, considering that you only have 24 KB RAM for the TI-83 Plus and 154 KB RAM for the TI-84 Plus CE.


This uses a super-clear and readable display with plenty of colors and high resolution. You get 320×240 pixels, compared to the 96×64 pixels in the basic TI-83 Plus.

With plenty of colors to use, you’re able to show and distinguish between various graphs in the display.


This also comes with a docking stating, as it has a built-in rechargeable battery. This battery can last 2 weeks on a single charge. With normal use, it may take 3 years before you’ll need to replace the battery entirely.


  • Extremely advanced
  • Superb display
  • Still compact
  • Still legal for the ACT
  • Can easily get you through college math


  • Quite expensive
  • More complicated to use

Casio fx-9750GII

This may seem a bit too basic as well, but it’s another contended for the best ACT calculator for those with a limited budget. It’s cheap because of the black and white display and comparatively limited functions, but it’ll do very well if you don’t have much money to spend.

Special Features

Just because it’s an affordable model doesn’t mean you can just use this to do your budget and taxes. This can perform:

  • Base-n calculations
  • Logical operations
  • Engineering symbol calculations
  • Engineering notation
  • Differentiation calculus
  • Integration calculus
  • Algebra
  • Graphing
  • Coordinate conversion
  • Probability
  • Statistics

Ease of Use

Because of its simpler design, it’s easy to use. It won’t take too much time for you to familiarize yourself with it. You have simple shortcuts for the formulas you’re more likely to use often.

The menu is laid out logically, and the buttons have a very sensible arrangement. The navigation is quite straightforward, and you don’t have to dig deep to find the functions you need.

This is basically another calculator for the no-nonsense users, who don’t care for pretty displays and overly advanced features they won’t use anyway. This is best for those who will take the ACT, and then go to college without too much math needed. This may not be the best for future engineers and math majors, but for those who will major in History or Literature, it’s more than enough.


  • Simple to use
  • Easy to get familiar with
  • Very affordable
  • Still offers lots of functions


  • Black and white display
  • A bit too basic for advanced math


The good news is that in general, approved calculators for the ACT are also allowed for the SAT. For those who plan to take both tests, having a single calculator for the tests saves a lot of money.

Our last bit of advice is that you try to get the best ACT calculator you can afford. Consider it an investment that’s certainly going to profit you in years to come. The ACT can determine your educational future, and get you into the college you want. That’s a huge potential benefit that merits the cost of the most advanced calculator you can legally use for the ACT.

Besides, after the ACT you’ll still find a lot of uses for your calculator. You’ll be able to use it for college, and it can help with your finances as well.