Education Technology

Which Texas Instruments (TI) Calculator for the ACT® and Why?

Posted 10/25/2018 by Jeff McCalla, math teacher at St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis, Tenn.

I have found that there is some confusion about which calculators are allowed for use on the ACT® exam. First, let’s look at which TI calculators are prohibited according to the ACT® calculator policy.

TI Calculators Prohibited on the ACT®

Calculators with built-in or downloaded computer algebra system (CAS) functionality are not allowed, including:

  • All model numbers that begin with TI-89 or TI-92
  • TI-Nspire™ CX CAS graphing calculator

Note: The TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculator is permitted if not marked CAS.

When the TI-Nspire™ CX and TI-Nspire™ CX CAS graphing calculators first came on the scene in 2011, there was some confusion about the ACT® calculator policy. At that time, I had multiple students who went to take the ACT® with the TI-Nspire™ CX graphing calculator and they were erroneously told that they couldn’t use that on the ACT®. After a few years, the ACT® policy made the directions clearer for the test administrators by putting the note you see above. The TI naming convention being so similar (TI-Nspire™ CX vs. TI-Nspire™ CX CAS) may have contributed to the problem.

TI Calculators Allowed on the ACT®

Per the policy, the following types of calculators are permitted, but only after they are modified as noted: Calculators that can hold programs or documents; remove all documents and remove all programs that have computer algebra system (CAS) functionality.

In September 2017, the calculator policy changed to include the language above. In other words, all versions of TI-84 Plus and TI-Nspire™ CX (excluding CAS) graphing calculators are allowed on the ACT® exam. However, these calculators have the capability to add a program or app that gives the calculator CAS capabilities. CAS calculators can do calculus commands like integrals and derivatives. Instead of only finding numeric answers, a CAS calculator can provide algebraic answers in simplest form. I put the app called Zoom Math 200 on my TI-84 Plus C graphing calculator to show you an example of CAS functionality on a TI-84 Plus:

Which Texas Instruments (TI) Calculator for the ACT® and Why?

Zoom Math 200, or any app or program that gives you algebraic solutions, is not allowed on TI-84 Plus or TI-Nspire™ graphing calculators when taking the ACT® exam.

How does the ACT® enforce the CAS functionality portion of their calculator policy? Right now, it is not strictly enforced. In other words, test administrators do not come around and check or clear calculators. TI-84 Plus calculators have TestGuard capabilities, and TI-Nspire™ graphing calculators have Press-to-Test capabilities. However, as of 2018, the ACT® does not use these built-in restricting capabilities. Instead, the CAS functionality portion of the ACT® calculator policy is enforced using the honor system. The test administrators read this policy to students before the ACT® exam, and hopefully students will comply by deleting any offending app or program from their calculator.

Summary Chart

TI provides a nice chart that summarizes which calculators are allowed on all kinds of standardized tests.

Which Texas Instruments (TI) Calculator for the ACT® and Why?

Need a new Graphing Calculator? Find where to buy here.

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About the author: Jeff McCalla, author of “TI-84 Plus Graphing Calculator for Dummies,” 2nd ed. (Wiley, 2013) and “TI-Nspire for Dummies,” 2nd ed. (Wiley, 2011), teaches math at St. Mary’s Episcopal School in Memphis, Tenn. Jeff received the Presidential Award of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2009. Follow him on Twitter @jmccalla1