Trans4mind Home Page

Using a Scientific Calculator In Mathematics Exams

By Nicholas Pinhey

Using a Scientific Calculator In Mathematics Exams

With exams approaching this is a short article with reminders and advice for anyone about to take a mathematics exam and who will need to use a scientific calculator.The most common calculator problems are:

- setting up the calculator in the right mode

- not being able to find the calculator manual !

- remembering to change calculator modes

- rounding and inaccurate answers

Why Use a Scientific Calculator?

Scientific calculators all use the same order for carrying out mathematical operations. This order is not necessarily the same as just reading a calculation from left to right. The rules for carrying out mathematical calculations specify the priority and so the order in which a calculation should be done - scientific calculators follow the same order. This order is sometimes abbreviated by terms such as BODMAS and BIDMAS to help students remember the order of doing calculations.

1st.Brackets (all calculations within bracket are done first)

2nd.Operations (eg squaring, cubing, square rooting, sin, cos, tan)

3rd.Division and Multiplication

4th.Addition and Subtraction

Being aware of this order is necessary in order to use a scientific calculator properly. This order should always be used in all mathematical calculations whether using a calculator or not.

Scientific calculator check

There are two types of scientific calculator, the most recent type being algebraic scientific calculators. Algebraic scientific calculators allow users to type in calculations in the order in which they have been written down. Older scientific calculators need users to press the mathematical operation key after they have entered the number.

For example to find the square root of nine (with an answer of three) press: [button]

Algebraic scientific calculator: [SQUARE ROOT] [9] [=]

Non algebraic scientific calculator: [9] [SQUARE ROOT] [=]

Both these types of scientific calculator are fine for exams, but make sure you know how to use your type.

If you are not sure whether you have a scientific calculator are not, type in:

[4] [+] [3] [x] [2] [=]

If you get an answer of 14, then you have a left to right non-scientific calculator.

If you get an answer of 10, then you have a scientific calculator as it has worked out the multiplication part first.

Lost Calculator Manuals

Calculator manuals tend to get lost very easily or you can never find them as an exam is approaching. A frequent request is what can you do if you have lost your calculator's manual? If it is a relatively new model then you can download a copy from the manufacturer's web site. If it is an old Sharp or old Casio calculator manual then you can probably find one on the internet. Even with search engines, finding these manuals can take some time - use the following quick link for Casio: website and old calculator manuals; Sharp: website and old calculator manuals; Hewlett-Packard calculators and Texas Instruments calculators:

Calculator Mode

Now that you have your calculator manual you can set your calculator to the correct settings. The standard settings are usually:


(use MODE button - choose normal not stat) NOT: SD or REG


(use MODE or DRG button) NOT: RAD OR GRAD


(use MODE or SETUP and arrow keys) NOT: FIX, SCI, ENG

Many calculators have a reset button on the back that can be pressed in using a pen or paper clip if you want the original factory settings.

The most common mistake is to leave your calculator in a previous mode and forgetting to CHANGE IT BACK AGAIN ! (We"ve all done it, just try to avoid doing it in the exam !)

Common Calculator Mistakes

(a)Pressing the DRG button by mistake and not doing trigonometry questions in DEGREES mode. (If you are doing more advanced work then forgetting to change out of DEGREES mode !).

(b)Borrowing an unfamiliar calculator or getting a new calculator too close to the exam and not being familiar with the keys and how to change modes.

(c)Forgetting to write down and check work. Any exam with a calculator should have a warning on it! It is essential to write down the calculations that you're doing so that you can get method marks. You should also try and double check all calculations in case of pressing a wrong button.

(d)Round only at the end of a calculation. Store calculations in the memory and use all the decimal places during calculations. If you use a rounded value too soon then you will lose accuracy.

(e)Forgetting to use brackets on division calculations (e.g. when dividing by ALL the bottom part of fraction).

Many calculators are now very powerful and have amazing computational power. Some of the programmable calculators are mini computers. Although they will all calculate 100% accurately every time, unfortunately they are only as good and as accurate as their operator!

It is often the case that candidates perform better without a calculator as it is very easy to make simple mistakes when using one. If you can do so, it certainly helps to have an idea of the rough size of the answer, so that you can see if an answer is sensible or not. It is also a good idea to repeat all calculations just in case you have made a mistake.

About The Author
Nicholas Pinhey is the designer of fast GCSE Maths Revision Cards for Intermediate and Higher GCSE Mathematics.

From our extensive site, you'll find good info on many topics using this search:

Support your personal development with these popular and effective hypnosis downloads...

  • Public Speaking Fear ~ Banish speaking anxiety and nerves with hypnosis.
  • Motivate Yourself to Exercise ~ Build a powerful exercise habit that you can't break.
  • Get Rid of Fear & Anxiety ~ Stop worry and apprehension wrecking your life.
  • Self Esteem ~ Break the negative trance of low self esteem and give yourself a chance in life.
  • Create Your Own Reality ~ Use the power of your unconscious mind to transform your life.
  • Deeper Self Respect ~ Use hypnosis to connect with your true inner worth.
  • Detach From Fear ~ Tune out nervousness and anxiety with hypnosis.
  • Improving Concentration and Focus ~ Learn how to discipline, direct and command your mind to improve your performance.
  • Exercise Motivation ~ Give you powerful keys to getting back on track with your exercise - and staying there.
  • Overcoming Shyness ~ Provides an invisible security blanket allowing you to develop social ease and overcome shyness.
  • Quick Confidence Booster ~ An audio hypnosis session that's specifically designed to get you (quickly!) back on track.
  • Stop Negative Thoughts ~ Learn powerful hypnotic techniques to stop negative thoughts before they start.
  • Overcoming Procrastination ~ Let hypnosis help you get on with what you need to do, when you need to do it. Let nothing hold you back.
  • Think Thin ~ Use hypnosis to re-train your brain and lose weight naturally... that's how to get and stay slim.
  • Fall Asleep Fast ~ Relearn how to fall asleep fast and enjoy a good night's sleep.
  • The Next Level ~ Designed to radically boost your performance in any field. It's based on a technique used by top athletes and other successful people to help them make a big stride forward.
This is our selection of favorites, but there's a session for every need! Choose from over 800 Hypnosis Downloads...
Search now on an issue that interests or concerns you...

View all the Hypnosis Downloads here

The New Wave in Meditation Technology

Click here to learn more about the iAwake Profound Meditation Program
The iAwake Profound Meditation Program
is a way of enhancing your meditation practice, making meditation not only easier and more enjoyable, but also more efficient and effective.
Profound Meditation provides the smoothest, deepest, richest, most profound meditation experience available anywhere...
Here is a link to a free 20-minute track from iAwake Technologies - a sample of the type of tools that will deepen your meditation immediately and help you quickly become a successful meditator. It's the opening track of iAwake's flagship product, the Profound Meditation Program, called the iAwake Experience...
Learn More and Download the iAwake Experience
We think you'll find this technology a tremendous aid on your transformative journey of becoming your best and most creative self - and you can get started today!
Copyright © 1997-2018 Trans4mind Ltd