Use these calculator tips and tricks to boost your SAT math score


Courtesy of Texas Instruments

This article is intended for use with the popular TI-83, TI-84 and TI-84 Plus CE calculators. The calculator shown here is the TI-84 Plus CE. Please use this photo for reference when reading the tips on this article.

Ethan Lee, Opinion Editor & Business Manager

Juniors: sorry to remind you, but the state-required (and cancerous) SAT with essay will be April 9 at our school, and whether you like it or not, standardized tests comprise a large part of how colleges perceive you in the admission process, especially at more selective institutions like the University of Michigan. Therefore, it is crucial to get a good score on the test, even if you don’t like math or aren’t good at it. Here are some allowed, but possibly overlooked, tips and tricks that can help you towards getting that 800 on math, or at least raising your score by fifty or more points. And all of these tips can be used to help you on the ACT math section as well. Note—this article is intended for use with the popular TI-83, TI-84 and TI-84 Plus CE calculators.

Quadratic formula program

  • Yes, I don’t know why either, but it is entirely allowed for students to install programs on their calculator to assist in problem solving. It really is the best-kept secret about the SAT and ACT. To do this, just plug in your calculator to a computer, go to, and choose which program to download. In this case, the quadratic formula program will give you answers after entering an a, b and c value from an equation of the form ax2 + bx + c = 0.

System of linear equations program

  • Here is another must-have program: solving a system of linear equations. Usually, this is when you see two equations with two different variables, usually x and y, or a and b. With this program, getting values of those variables is once again as easy as inputting both equations. Installation is the same as the aforementioned quadratic formula program.

Storing a number as a variable

  • After getting a solution for a question, you may want to double-check the answer. That can be done by plugging in your answer back into the equation. Simplify things by storing that answer as the variable “x” in your calculator. Just enter the numeric value, hit the “sto →” on the bottom left corner, and then the “X, T, , N” button. After that, the variable x will equal whichever value you entered.

Changing a number to a decimal or fraction

  • Some people like fractions, and probably most like decimals, but it doesn’t matter when you can convert between them in an instant. By pressing the “math” button, scrolling over to the “FRAC” section, and choosing the third option, answer choices can be converted back and forth with ease, depending on what the question asks for.

Graphing functionality

  • You should have learned in class that pressing the “y=” button on the top right corner of your calculator allows you to insert equations to be graphed. Remember that hitting “2nd,” then “trace,” and then options three, four or five allows for finding the minimum, maximum, and intersects of graphs, respectively. Usually, this is the only way to find certain components of lines, parabolas, and polynomial functions.