Education Technology

Testing Tips: Using Calculators on Class Assessments

Posted 11/26/2018 by Karen Campe, Teachers Teaching with Technology™ (T3™) National Instructor

You’ve been using TI graphing calculators in your teaching, and now it’s time for testing. Whether you are giving a short quiz, a chapter test or end-of-term exam, here are some tips for how to use TI calculators successfully on class assessments.

Determine the Objectives

The TI-84 Plus family and the TI-Nspire™ CX handhelds are robust teaching tools for calculating, graphing and more. During lessons, these devices enable students to work accurately and efficiently, make real-world connections and build understanding of math concepts and procedures. But no matter what level math you teach, there will always be some computational and graphing skill you will want students to know and be able to do without a calculator.

Decide which math skills and problems you will assess without the calculator and for which ones you will allow technology support. Encourage students to think about Mathematical Practice Standard #5, “use appropriate tools strategically,” as your lessons unfold, so they consider whether the calculator is helpful, necessary or a disadvantage in a particular situation. If there are calculator buttons or menu items that students must remember, include those in class notes, and discuss issues such as rounding decimals to a certain place value, if that is important for you. Be clear with students about your expectations in advance of testing, and model examples of both calculator and non-calculator questions.

Separate the Sections

When creating your quizzes and tests, separate the calculator and non-calculator problems into two sections. I usually put the non-calculator questions on the first page, which students turn in before using the calculator for the remainder of the test. On shorter quizzes, there may only be a single question for students to answer without technology, so I walk around and check each student’s paper in real time before they take out their calculator.

I require my students to show enough of their mathematical thinking on all test questions so that someone reading their work is able to follow their steps. Applying this rule to the calculator section allows me to distinguish between a student who knows the math concept and a student who is just “trying things out” until something looks like a good answer. Exploration with technology is a worthy exercise during learning activities, but by assessment time, students should be able to use the graphing calculator in a targeted manner to effectively solve problems.

Set up the Handhelds

When using calculator technology on a test or quiz, it is critical that the device itself is a useful tool for students and doesn’t interfere with the process of assessing their mathematical knowledge. Setting up the handhelds before testing helps meet this goal. A simple reminder to the class to set calculators to degree mode, for example, can avoid a potential issue for students. If there is a data set that everyone needs, transferring lists to the handhelds avoids typing mistakes in entering numbers. With the ease of coding on TI graphing calculators, some students may have programs — such as a quadratic equation solver — that give them an advantage over students without them, so you can level the playing field by deleting the program for that test.

There are several other ways to set up the handhelds for testing and security. You can reset defaults, RAM or the entire memory, or use “Press-to-Test” to disable programs, certain commands and apps, and block access to user data and files. Full instructions are found at

Electronic Quizzes With the TI-Nspire™ CX Navigator™ System

The TI-Nspire™ CX Navigator™ System allows teachers to send question documents to student handhelds, then collect and review them for class discussion, or grade them and save information to the Portfolio. It is easy to create or modify question files from the TI-Nspire™ Teacher Software. The Review workspace projects results to the class, allowing for discussion with students of various solving methods and right versus wrong answers. I also like to use self-test documents for students to review skills before tests. If you are using the TI-Nspire™ Navigator™ System for a graded assessment, consider whether students need a paper copy of the quiz to show their work in addition to the electronic version on their handheld. More information on the TI-Nspire™ Navigator™ System can be found at

About the author: Karen Campe is a T3™ National Instructor with 15 years’ experience teaching secondary math and pre-service teachers. She is passionate about using all types of technology to enhance student understanding in mathematics and has provided technology professional development at conferences, workshops and webinars since 1998. Karen blogs at Follow her on Twitter @KarenCampe.