The SAT has a Math - Calculator section, so naturally, students want to take advantage of that option to maximize their score and minimize the time needed to complete the section. Why do the math yourself when the calculator will do it for you? We're going to explain why that logic is simply wrong.

"Calculators made me worse at math"

The fatal flaw in this approach is that it creates an almost irresistible temptation to not actually learn and become (and remain) proficient in the mathematics being tested. There has never been an SAT math problem on the current version of the test that could not be solved in a reasonable amount of time without a graphing or scientific calculator; a four-function (+, -, ×, ÷) calculator has been sufficient for every SAT problem seen on a released test since the SAT was overhauled in 2016.

But what’s the harm in learning and using the calculator to speed up solving?

  • You will subconsciously become dependent on the calculator – addicted, really – and you’ll find yourself reaching for it without even realizing it
  • If you’re using the calculator when practicing, your math skills will rust
  • If you’re not using the calculator when practicing, but you plan to use it on the test, your calculator skills will rust
  • If you write out all your work when solving a math problem, it’s easy to spot the source of an error when none of the answer choices matches what you got, but when attempting to solve a problem by keying it into a calculator, it can be nearly impossible to figure out where you went wrong
  • Your number sense tends to switch off when using a calculator, so when an answer makes no sense, you’re far less likely to spot it
  • Batteries (and, occasionally, calculators) die during tests

You’re also doing yourself a terrible disservice in the long run. As our founder George, who earned a bachelor's degree in pure mathematics from Yale, observes, “I was amazing at using the TI-89 at the end of high school and was trash at math freshman year of college. Calculators really dull your math sense. I used to reach for a non-existent calculator instinctively during exams. Calculators made me worse at math.

The only way to maximize your proficiency in solving anything the SAT throws at you by both methods, by hand and with a calculator, is to solve every practice math problem first by hand and then to re-solve it using your calculator. But if you’re going to make the effort to follow that procedure, why bother with the calculator part? You’ll gain nothing, because you’ll already be able to solve all the problems within the allotted time by simply doing the math.

We think you can learn all the math and execute all the needed techniques accurately and with time to spare, and you’ll have acquired and honed a valuable set of skills in the process. So, don’t be tempted by the devil’s tool; learn the math, do the math, and crush the math.