A calculator is one of several back-to-school essentials you'll find on the classroom shopping list every year. During the middle school and early high school years, all you may need is a basic calculator. However, as math and science get more involved, you may need calculators for school to perform multiple operations.
There are several types of calculators to choose from, which may cause confusion on which type to buy. As calculators get more complex, they're often more expensive. You may be wondering whether you need to spend over $50 for one, especially when some calculators are for sale that cost under $10. This guide will explain the different types available and point you to the best calculators for school.
Best standard function calculators
A standard function calculator is usually the least expensive and most commonly found. You can get a quality basic calculator for under $10. It typically features an 8- to 12-digit display and performs the basic types of calculations such as multiplication, addition, subtraction, division, square root, and percentage calculations. The best calculators for school are:
Features: 10-digit LCD display | 5.5 ounces | Independent memory
Casio's MS-80B is more ergonomic than other calculators because of the larger, palm-size surface and angled numerical display. It's low-cost for $9 on Amazon but has more features than a basic calculator. You'll find it can perform currency and tax conversions and even calculate profit margin, making it an ideal choice for business/economy students.
- Solar-powered with battery backup
- Large eight-digit angled display for easier viewing when placed flat on a desktop
- Extra functions for percentage and currency calculations
- Getting familiar with the functions can take some work
- The larger format is no longer pocket-size
Features: 3 color options | 8-digit LCD display | Dual power supply
The small and lightweight calculator from weighs just over an ounce, is inexpensive at only $7 and fits in a pencil case or pocket. The calculator is dual-powered and will automatically shut down after about six minutes of inactivity, saving power. Parents of mIddle-school students will find this model to be a good option when a portable, low-cost calculator for simple math is needed.
- Small enough to fit in a pocket
- Fun color options
- No cover to protect the keys
- Only displays up to eight digits
Features: 8-digit LCD display | Included PP cover | 2.82 ounces
If your calculator doesn't fare well in your backpack and you usually need to replace it mid-year, a metal calculator could be more durable than the plastic shell versions. The Deli Mini has a metal body, rubberized keys and a removable cover protecting the LCD display from scratches and damages. Although the body is heavier-duty, it's still small and slim enough to slip into a shirt pocket if needed. The calculator's cover has a cleverly integrated interior pocket, perfect for holding a small notepad or a few business cards. This calculator may survive the school days and stick around into your business years.
Dual-power solar with battery backup
Longer-lasting metal shell
Water-resistant, flip-open case has room for a small notepad or business cards
Some customers report that the case doesn't fit properly
The vinyl-like case could be of better quality
Best scientific calculators
A scientific calculator is able to handle more complex and multi-step calculations. They're often required for math courses such as algebra, geometry, and statistics, as well as for science and engineering. Scientific calculators are typically more expensive than a standard function one, although you can find them for as little as $10.
Features: Four-line display | MathPrint feature | Edit, cut, and paste entries
Texas Instruments is well-known among calculator nerds for producing some of the best devices at a reasonable price. The TI-30XS retails for just over $15 and comes packed with high-level-math functions and a four-line display. That's impressive when you compare it to other two-line models that retail for a higher price.
In addition, this is a calculator you can grow into. There is enough functionality for more advanced students while still keeping it simple enough for those new to scientific calculators, thanks to TI's exclusive MathPrint mode. It will allow you to work in common math notation until you get the hang of more advanced equations.
- Loaded with advanced features for a low price
- Multiple calculations are possible, and you can compare results from the same screen
- Approved for use during ACT, SAT and AP examinations
- The color and styling may not appeal to everyone
- Some users find it's not very intuitive, making it hard to use
Features: 16-digit display | 422 functions |8 temporary and 3 definable memory buttons
It's a great option for someone who knows math or science will be their major but hasn't set a definitive direction yet. There are 422 non-graphing functions possible, making it likely it can calculate nearly anything you can think of.
The large display can handle up to 16 digits over four lines. It's dual-powered solar power with a battery backup. The WriteView display allows students to see symbols and expressions like they'd find in a textbook. Those new to a scientific calculator will appreciate the PC simulator available to teachers, so they can display calculations to a class for everyone to follow along. For more advanced users, equation editing and playback is a lifesaver. Work backwards to review your process and edit calculation mistakes without having to start from scratch.
- 422 functions
- Start fresh from any of the screens by pressing the home button
- Three definable keys allow you to save custom functions
- No printed manual
- Sliding cover may be prone to breaking
Best graphing calculators
When a standard function or scientific calculator won't do, a graphing calculator is probably the answer. It's the most advanced type of tool for finance, statistics, calculus and more. However, it often comes with a significantly higher price tag. Depending on the features, you could pay as little as $40 and more than $100 for one. However, as the saying goes, you'll get what you pay for. Unless you time the purchase with a sweet sale, it's likely a decent graphing calculator will cost you around $100.
Features: 11 color options | Pre-loaded apps and images| 7 ounces
When you need a calculator that can perform well and deliver a flawless image, the TI-84 Plus CE is a great choice. It retails for $100, although you may sometimes find it for less. The TI-84 Plus CE has a high-res, full-color backlit display and preloaded graphics and apps. Its new and improved design is slimmer and 30% lighter than previous versions to make it perfectly portable. As you can imagine, the screen probably takes up a significant amount of the battery's juice. The TI-84 comes with a rechargeable battery and USB cable to save you money on replacement batteries.
- Crisp, color, backlit display
- Preloaded applications
- It comes with MathPrint for common math notation mode
- The backlit display is prone to scratches
- Some reports of short battery life
Features: 256 MB flash memory | Slide-on cover | 8 ounces
Leave it to HP to jazz up the graphing calculator. The modern, brushed metal design and sliding cover definitely set it apart from the basic model you're probably used to seeing. You may wonder why you'd need a multi-touch, 16-bit display -- until you start using it. It's usually easier to navigate by tapping the app tabs at the bottom of the screen than navigating buttons. And depending on the app, you'll get a new perspective when working with 3D models when you can drag your finger to move the object.
If you're a visual learner, the extra money may be worth it. If you're looking for justification for the price, consider the 256 MB of memory it comes with. It's far more than most graphing calculators on the market have.
- Sleek, brushed metal design
- Large 3.5-inch multi-touch display
- Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery
- Depending on your experience level, could be a steep learning curve
- Some users complain that the software freezes or locks up
What is the best calculator?
The Casio MS-80B standard function desktop calculator is the best calculator for school based on price, display, and functionality.
10-digit LCD display
Seaciyan Mini Calculator
8-digit LCD display
8-digit LCD display
Texas Instruments TI-30XS
Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE
16-bit touchscreen display
Which calculator is right for you?
The best way to decide which type of calculator is right for you starts with what you'll need it for. Most schools will make suggestions that tell you whether you need a graphing, scientific or standard calculator.
If you're investing more than $30 on one, look for an advanced model. The extra features will give you room to grow into it, so you don't have to purchase a new one every year. Although it may seem difficult to use at first, you should be able to get comfortable with the calculator over time. That being said, be sure the calculator you choose has a well-written manual available that spells out how to use all the functions.
Lastly, consider whether you'll be using the calculator during testing, such as AP or SAT exams. Not all calculators are approved for use during testing, which could leave you in a pinch on an important day. Fortunately, most education-based calculators will show on the packaging or in the manual if they're approved for exam use.
Choose this calculator...
If you want...
The best overall option.
Seaciyan Mini Calculator
A pocket-sized calculator with basic functions.
A durable calculator with a cover to protect the keys.
Texas Instruments TI-30XS
A calculator built for complex math equations.
A scientific calculator great for any level student.
Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE
A graphing calculator with a high-definition color display.
A touchscreen graphing calculator.
How did we choose these calculators?
There are thousands of calculators available for sale. Finding the right one can be overwhelming. To narrow down the list to a small handful of models, we looked at pricing, quality, customer reviews, intuitive feel and the functions available. No calculator is perfect, so we mentioned each model's benefits and drawbacks to help you determine whether it would be right for you, based on your needs.
What's the difference between a graphing and a scientific calculator?
Both calculators go above, and beyond the basic operations, a standard calculator performs. A graphing calculator usually has a larger screen to display objects and graphs, while a scientific calculator displays two to four lines of information. Graphing calculators are typically more expensive than scientific calculators, although the price can vary based on the features.
How do I pick the best scientific calculator?
When shopping for a scientific calculator, your display is one of the most important aspects to consider. Look for one with at least two lines, although four lines are ideal. That way, your entry and the solution are both on the same screen. Having a review or replay mode can save you lots of time.
The type of calculations you'll be doing will likely require several steps. A small error along the way can affect your answer. If you have a replay mode, you can go back and work through your calculations to find and edit the error. Otherwise, you would have to delete your work and start all over again to get it right.
What classes require a graphing calculator?
A graphing calculator has many uses. Depending on the school you attend, you may need one for varying levels of algebra. Since a graphing calculator displays the concept on the screen, expect to need one for geometry, trigonometry and calculus. Graphing calculators are also useful for science and business studies. Some subjects include statistics, finance, chemistry, physics and more.
Can I use a graphing calculator on a test?
Most graphing and scientific calculators can be used during a test. In some cases, having one may even be required if you're planning on taking an AP or college entrance exam such as the SAT, PSAT or ACT.
Are there alternative calculators worth considering?
Here are a few other options to look into:
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