An In-Depth Guide to Find the Right Calculator for School
July 24, 2020
One of the hardest things to shop for during back-to-school shopping season may be a calculator. After all, there are many types of calculators available—from scientific calculators to graphic calculators to basic calculators. And they come with all sorts of bells and whistles and at different price points.
So, how do you wade through the dozens of options and pick the one with all the functionality and features you’ll need and want? Here’s a guide for choosing a school calculator that fits the bill:
Review your class list
The functionality you’ll need largely depends on what classes you’re taking—or planning to take. Science, engineering and math classes, for example, probably require a scientific calculator that can perform complex calculations, including trigonometry, logarithms, statistics and exponents.
Try to keep in mind that scientific calculators are a broad category. You may actually need a “graphing calculator,” a sophisticated type of scientific calculator with far more functionality that can plot coordinates and produce graphs on a high-resolution screen.
Certain business and finance courses may also require a scientific or graphing calculator depending on the complexity of the math involved. Or they may require a financial calculator designed specifically to perform finance-related calculations, such as depreciation, true market value and internal rate of return.
Other classes (think history or communications) may just necessitate a basic calculator that can perform the main four functions of math—addition, subtraction, multiplication and division—plus perhaps a couple other tasks, such as calculating square-root and percentages.
If your teacher’s list, class syllabus or introductory materials don’t specify needing a calculator—and you’re concerned the class may require one—consider reaching out to your teacher to inquire. It’s good to have your calculator before the class starts, so you have it ready when you need it.
Also you can keep in mind that pretty much every student today should have at least a basic, “pocket” calculator among their school supplies. Classes in all sorts of topics and disciplines today require number-crunching at some point, and having a calculator in your backpack or desk ensures you’re ready for it.
Once you’ve determined the type of calculator you’ll need, you still may have decisions to make. There are several brands and models of graphing calculators, for instance—each with their own list of features. Generally speaking, the higher the price, the more functionality and features you’ll get.
To find the right kind, you can consider the types of equations and tasks you’ll be using them for in your schoolwork. These questions can help you select the right calculator:
• What specific types of tasks will you be doing in your classes? Again, the syllabus or class description may help you determine that—or your teacher can. Make sure any calculator you buy can handle the calculations you’ll need it to do.
• Will you need to use the calculator for a specific exam? Standardized tests, such as AP tests and the SAT, often allow calculator use, but only certain models.
• Will you need the calculator for future classes? If you plan to take more advanced math, science and engineering classes in the future, you may eventually need a more sophisticated calculator. It could make sense to buy a fancier calculator now, so you don’t have to upgrade in a year or two.
Consider the extra features
Choosing the right calculator doesn’t completely boil down to need. There might be additional features worth spending extra money on to make your user experience more efficient and overall more enjoyable.
For example, some graphing calculators include full-color screens, which can make graphs easier to read and allow for color-coding. Some graphing calculators also come with preloaded applications that may be useful to you, depending on what types of calculations or tasks you’ll be using the calculator for.
Here are just some features you might want to consider:
• Adjustable screen contrast, allowing you to dim or brighten your screen as needed
• Storage of past calculations you’ve performed, so you can review them later on
• Ability to quickly translate fractions into decimals, and vice versa
• Ability to input equations in proper notation—and they appear in, say, a textbook
• Larger-than-average screen for easier viewing—and potentially the ability to view more graphs at once
• A manufacturer’s warranty that covers you in case the calculator malfunctions in the first year or beyond
Also you can consider how the calculator is powered. Some require disposable batteries, such as AAAs, but many now include rechargeable batteries or run on solar power. Not having to worry about buying and replacing calculator batteries may be a big relief.
Taking the leap
Ultimately, you’ll have to select the calculator that will serve your needs best in the school year ahead—and hopefully many years to come. Try to spend some time researching calculators and comparing their functionality and features. The right one will likely become apparent as you start to look more closely at their specific offerings.
Finding the right calculator doesn’t have to be rocket science—but it can help you become a rocket scientist.
About the author
Kelly Spors is a freelance writer and editor based in Minneapolis. She previously worked as a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, covering small business and entrepreneurship.
All content provided herein is for educational purposes only. It is provided “as is” and neither the author nor Office Depot, Inc. warrant the accuracy of the information provided, nor do they assume any responsibility for errors, omissions or contrary interpretation of the subject matter herein.
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