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6 best graphing calculators for new math students

Alvina Wang/BestReviews

It’s been a while since most parents were in school. That means they may have forgotten about certain tools they used in class, such as graphing calculators. This can make purchasing your student’s first graphing calculator seem complicated, but it’s not. There are only a few key things you need to know before purchasing your kid their first graphing calculator.

Shop this article: Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE, Casio fx-CG500 and Texas Instruments TI-84 PLUS CAS.

Calculator types

There are six types of calculators.

  • Four-function: Basic calculators only perform simple functions such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. These are functions you should be able to do in your head. However, a basic calculator can be invaluable when the numbers are large, time is a factor, there is a long list of numbers or there are many decimal places.

  • Scientific: Once calculations move beyond basic functions, the calculator is scientific. These can handle complex equations in advanced mathematics classes such as algebra and trigonometry.

  • Graphing: In general, a graphing calculator is the most advanced type of handheld calculator. It performs all the basic calculations of a scientific calculator plus complex equations. It also has internal storage. The key feature that makes a graphing calculator different from other models is its graphing capabilities.

  • Printing: The problem with most calculators is you have no record of your calculations. A printing calculator lets you print out all numbers and calculations so you have a physical record.

  • Financial: If you work with money, a financial calculator is best since they're specifically made for financial problems. A financial calculator isn’t used for complex scientific equations with multiple variables. It's for calculating mortgage payments, interest rates, cash flows and more.

  • Online: If you rarely use a calculator, you can solve many mathematical problems by typing the equation into your browser's search bar. Unfortunately, the more complex the equation is, the less likely you get an immediate answer. You may also be directed to a site that explains how to solve the equation rather than giving you an answer.

When does a student need a graphing calculator?

As a student progresses deeper into advanced math classes in high school and college, a graphing calculator becomes a necessity. A graphing calculator may be useful as early as pre-algebra. By the time a student is studying algebra, geometry or trigonometry, a graphing calculator comes in handy. Before purchasing one, check with the teacher to make sure a graphing calculator is recommended and allowed in the class.

Graphing calculator features

There are four general areas you need to consider when purchasing a graphing calculator.

  • Course and test requirements: If you are buying a calculator for your child’s class, it needs to meet the requirements of that class. If your child continues their studies in mathematics or science, it is best to get a model that meets the needs of their most advanced class. This way, you only need to purchase one graphing calculator. Don’t forget to check if the calculator you are considering is appropriate for exams.
  • Display screen: Screens can be large or small. They can have monochrome or color displays. It is even possible to purchase calculators that have 3D graphics or feature real images. While high-end displays are very appealing, most times they are a matter of preference.
  • Advanced features: An advanced feature is anything that is beyond the typical needs of a graphing calculator. It can be a variety of graph styles and colors, additional software, animated graphing, touch screen functionality, spreadsheet capabilities and more.
  • Battery: Most models feature a built-in rechargeable battery. For most users, this is more desirable (and less expensive) than purchasing batteries separately. Additionally, pay attention to how long the battery lasts. As rechargeable batteries get older, their performance diminishes.


Can a graphing calculator be used on standardized tests?

A. Many are permitted on the PSAT, SAT, AP and ACT exams, but not all are. Before the test, view the list of acceptable calculators so you know for certain if your particular model is permitted.

Why hasn’t the price of graphing calculators come down?

A. The cost of technology tends to dramatically decrease because new versions come out, making the demand for older models drop off. Graphing calculators are still in high demand because there is no other option for many educational purposes. Because of this, the price tends to remain the same from year to year.

Best graphing calculators

Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus CE

This is the most popular graphing calculator. It has a color display, an impressive battery and 12 software applications for enhanced performance.

Sold by Staples

Texas Instruments CXII TI-Nspire CAS

If you want the most powerful handheld graphing calculator available, this is the one to get. If you intend to use this calculator for tests, make sure it is allowed, since this model is not approved for all standardized testing.

Sold by Amazon and Staples

Casio fx-CG500

This groundbreaking graphing calculator has a high-resolution touch screen with a tap-and-drag operation. It is suitable for everything from geometry and statistics to vector analysis and engineering applications.

Sold by Amazon

Texas Instruments TI-84 PLUS CAS

This is TI’s top model minus the color-enhanced display. It requires four AAA batteries and is a versatile model that is suitable for math, science and business applications.

Sold by Amazon and Staples

Casio Prizm FX-CG50

This Casio calculator produces 3D color graphs and has editing capabilities and a natural textbook display. The icon-driven menu system is intuitive and easy to use.

Sold by Amazon and Staples

Casio FX-9750GIII

If you are looking for value and are satisfied with a low-resolution screen, this model packs the most value. It has a long-lasting battery, a solid case, a wide range of functionality and is affordable.

Sold by Amazon and Staples

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Allen Foster writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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