Graphing calculators are vital for secondary math where students may need to check complex problems to be sure they are working them correctly. In fact, some classes, such as calculus, require graphing calculators.

In the Heller Research Associates’ report “Impact of Handheld Graphing Calculator Use on Student Achievement in Algebra 1”, the research firm surveyed Algebra I teachers from two separate school districts. The survey showed that the teachers wound up using the calculators about 61.9% of the time for instructional activities. The teacher’s felt that the use of calculators “allows them to take the concepts to a higher level and connect the different concepts”.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that students in grades 8 to 12 had a higher NAEP score when they used graphing calculators. For high school and college math and science, a graphing calculator can mean the difference between a passing and failing grade. But, with so many different models on the market, it can be difficult to decide which one best.

A graphing calculator is a handheld calculator that completes tasks involving variables, solves equations and plots graphs. Most of the popular models recommended by educators and college testing companies are also programmable. This means that the calculator can be programmed so that complex series of calculations that are frequently used can be automated. Users can also automate calculations that aren’t easily accessible from the calculator’s keyboard.

## Texas Instruments

Although free online versions of TI calculators, like our site, become more popular each year, the fact is–the vast majority of high school students will not be able to access these free or web based tools during class time, so, let’s look at what calculator you should buy for school! This question inevitably leads, at least here in the US, to Texas Instruments. (TI) dominates the marketplace. While there are other brands out there, TI is probably the most recognizable. According to the Washington Post, TI released their first graphing calculator in 2004 and sells that same model to this day, along with several other calculator models from which to choose. According to NPD Group, out of the approximately 1.6 million graphing calculators sold in the U.S. last year, 93% were TI calculators. Casio made up the other 7% of sales.

## SAT/ACT Friendly Models

The ideal graphing calculator is one that will take your child from Algebra to Chemistry and on into standardized college readiness tests, such as the SAT and ACT. According to the ACT website, prohibited calculators are those “with built-in or downloaded computer algebra system functionality”. Some models the site lists as prohibited include the TI-89, TI-92 and TI-Nspire CAS. The models below are all test friendly and thus can be used in high school and college classes and also during the SAT and ACT. The top models are all Texas Instruments with Casio coming in sixth.

### TI-83 Plus

As of September, 2014, the TI-83 Plus was the number three best-selling graphing calculator on Amazon. The calculator is recommended for:

- Pre-Algebra
- Algebra 1 and 2
- Trigonometry
- Statistics
- Business & Finance
- Calculus
- Biology
- Chemistry
- Physics

Although this is a more basic model than the 84 and above, it offers some strong features.

- Ability to display graphs, equations and coordinates at the same time on a split screen. This means the student can trace a graph while looking through table values
- Clear 64 X 96 pixel resolution LCD screen
- Storage and analysis for up to 10 functions

Best For: Students taking core math but do not have a strong focus in math or the sciences

Suggested Retail: $149.99

### TI-84 Plus

TI-84 Plus is currently the number one selling graphic calculator on Amazon with a 4.5 out of 5 star review rating. The calculator is recommended for:

- Pre-Algebra
- Algebra 1 and 2
- Trigonometry
- Geometry
- Precalculus
- Statistics
- Business & Finance
- Calculus
- College Math
- Biology
- Chemistry
- Physics

The 84 does everything the 83 does, but has some added features.

- Comes with 12 preloaded apps
- Faster processor (2.5 times faster)
- More memory than the TI-83, with 24 KB RAM and 480 KB of Flash ROM
- USB cable for sharing files with other calculators or connecting to a PC

Best For: Students taking core math but do not have a strong focus in math or the sciences. However, this calculator also is recommended for Geometry.

Suggested Retail: $189.00

TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition

The TI-84 Plus C Silver Edition graphing calculator is the number two top selling graphing calculator and is recommended for:

- Pre-Algebra
- Algebra 1 and 2
- Trigonometry
- Geometry
- Precalculus
- Statistics
- Business & Finance
- Calculus
- College Math
- Linear Algebra
- Biology
- Chemistry
- Physics

The entire line of TI-83 and TI-84 Plus models are all in the same family and have all the basic functions of the younger generation. In the TI-84 Plus C Silver edition, the calculate also has features such as:

- Color LCD display
- QuickPlot
- Fit Equation
- Ability to download images
- Slide-on case

Best For: Good for students taking all the courses mentioned for the previously mentioned TI models, plus calculus. 1000 SAT prep questions are preloaded on this calculator, so perfect for SAT prep.

Suggested Retail: $150.00

TI-Nspire CX

If you have a bit more to spend or you want a calculator that will take you through pre-algebra to college math, the TI-Nspire CX is suited for:

- Pre-Algebra
- Algebra 1 and 2
- Trigonometry
- Geometry
- Precalculus
- Statistics
- Business & Finance
- Calculus
- College Math
- Differential Equations
- Linear Algebra
- Life Science
- Earth Science
- Physical Science
- Biology
- Chemistry
- Physics

Some of the unique features of the TI-Nspire CX include:

- Transfer class assignments from calculator over to a computer
- Ability to color code equations, lines and points
- Color display
- Backlight
- Lightest weight of the TI models
- 3D graphing

Best For: College bound students and those focusing on math and science. Also good for SAT prep.

Suggested Retail: $165.00

A good graphing calculator is an investment, but choose wisely and it will last through four years of high school and beyond. While new models arrive on the market from time-to-time, the basic functions of the calculators remain the same, meaning you can also pass this tool down from one child to the next without having to reinvest in a new calculator every few years.