Episode 24

Calculators: What are the Rules This Week?


July 23rd, 2020

29 mins 54 secs

Season 1

Your Hosts

About this Episode

ACT oulines calculator rules on their site actstudent.org. The rules have changed a lot over the last two decades.

Below are the links and explanations from their website as of July 15, 2020.



You can call 800.498.6481 for a recorded message containing highlights from this policy.

Can I use a calculator?

The ACT calculator policy is designed to ensure fairness for all examinees, avoid disturbances in the testing room, and protect the security of the test materials. For more information view the latest Calculator Policy (PDF).

Please visit our FAQ for Computer Algebra System (CAS) Functionality for more information.

Frequently Asked Questions - Computer Algebra System (CAS) Functionality
Note: These FAQs may be updated from time to time.

Q1: How does the policy apply to calculators that cannot hold programs and documents?
A: Not all calculators have the capability to hold programs and documents. If the calculator you bring to take the ACT Mathematics Test cannot hold programs and documents, then these clarifications do not affect you.

Q2: What is computer algebra system (CAS) functionality?
A: A computer algebra system typically solves equations algebraically, simplifies expressions, performs algebraic manipulations, and performs exact arithmetic (for example, does not round or truncate decimal places). A computer algebra system is also a system, potentially doing many levels of analysis at the same time. Examples include, but are not limited to, Zoom-Math, APP4MATH, F2K, etc.

Q3: Why can't I use a computer algebra system on the ACT Mathematics test?
A: A computer algebra system has a valid place in mathematics, and learning how to use the tool effectively is valuable. The ACT Mathematics Test does not assess this skill. Being college and career ready in mathematics requires that a student be able to analyze algebraic expressions and equations, knowing what to do in order to solve problems.

Q4: My calculator holds apps as well as programs. Are apps allowed?
A: Apps that have CAS functionality must be removed as well. Even though your calculator may have separate buttons or places to store apps versus programs, an app is a kind of program. For the purposes of this policy, the definition of “program” includes apps. Any time the word “program” is used, it should be interpreted to include apps as well.

Q5: Do ALL programs have to be removed? What about documents?
A: Only programs that have CAS functionality must be removed. All documents, however, must be removed regardless of their purpose or function.

Q6: Can you tell me if a specific program or app is allowed?
A: Given the proliferation of math resources/tools, ACT is not fully familiar with all mathematics programs and apps that are available for use on a calculator. If you are unsure whether a program or app is prohibited, our recommendation is to not install it or remove it before test day.

Q7: Is it OK to disable programs instead of removing them?
A: ACT's calculator policy calls for the programs to be removed. Disabling programs – for example, putting the calculator in Press to Test mode – is not enough.

Q8: If I have to remove programs from my calculator, how do I get them back on it after I test?
A: Many calculators have a way of restoring programs if they have been saved outside the calculator. If you have programs that you need to remove and you do not know how to save and restore, we recommend you check with your calculator company for details well in advance of test day.

Q9: What kinds of mathematics-related programs ARE allowed?
A: The kinds of mathematics-related programs permitted for the ACT allow students to use the calculator capabilities to do the routine calculations yet require students to show their analysis skills by choosing the right operations and process. Mathematics-related programs are allowed if they are single-purpose – for example, finding numeric solutions to a quadratic equation. A student must choose the right program for the right purpose. This is much the same as choosing the right formula for the right purpose.

Q10: Are there any rules that allowed mathematics-related programs must follow?
A: Programs must be written in the language of the calculator. Programs written in a different language, compiled, and loaded onto the calculator are not allowed. In this way, the programs can be examined on the calculator and will use calculator functions. Programs must not be lengthy. The limit is 25 logical lines of code. Programs cannot call another program. Techniques such as compressing code into a data statement are not allowed as a way of getting around this limit. Programs are allowed to change the value of system variables so that results may, for example, be graphed through the normal calculator graphing interface.

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