For students who struggle with math, a common question that regularly surfaces is, “do you get a calculator on the GMAT?”

Math is scary, even for business school students. That’s why a lot of people wonder whether they can use a calculator on the GMAT. The answer to this question is fairly straightforward, but still requires some explanation to fully understand. This quick primer will answer the question for you, as well as provide you with useful strategies for taking the GMAT with and without a calculator.

This is one of the first questions many prospective GMAT-takers want answered. And I get it—even basic arithmetic can be scary. So, I’ll come right out and address it. The answer here is…yes, you are allowed to use a calculator on the GMAT. Well, sort of. Let me explain.

First and foremost, you are only allowed to use a calculator on one section of the GMAT. Specifically, a calculator will only be permitted on the Integrated Reasoning portion of the exam. As such, a calculator will not be permitted to you during the Quantitative, Verbal, or Analytical Writing portions.

Obviously, the big bummer there is the Quant section.

As you may already know, the GMAT does not allow participants to bring any personal items into the testing area. This includes personal calculators, which are not permitted on any portion of the GMAT.

Instead, a simple calculator will be provided to you on screen during the Integrated Reasoning section. Meanwhile, a whiteboard and marker will be provided for the Quantitative portion for manual calculation purposes.

GMAT Calculator Overview

Now that you know and understand the GMAT’s calculator rules, you may be wondering what the GMAT’s provided calculator looks and functions like. In terms of appearance, the GMAT calculator looks something like this, though precise images of its appearance are not available due to publication restrictions from GMAT’s administrators.

However, most mock-ups of this calculator show that it has a few basic functions that you should prepare to use.

Here’s a list of some of those function keys that you can expect to use the most often during your upcoming GMAT administration:

% – This key allows you to work with percentages, even in mixed equations. As such, you’ll be able to quickly calculate equations like “200 + 10% = 220”

SQRT – This key is labeled with an abbreviation of “square root,” meaning that this key can be pressed to calculate square roots efficiently

1/X – When pressed, this key calculates the reciprocal of the figures currently onscreen

Your GMAT calculator may also include several so-called “memory” functions. These can save you a lot of time in practice and include the following:

MS – Short for “memory store,” this key will log the current figures on screen into the calculator’s on-board memory.

MR – Short for “memory recall,” this key pulls up the last figure set stored in memory and places it in the first available spot on screen.

M+ – Short for “memory addition,” this button will add any figures on screen into your current stored memory. This is often used to create long equations without needing to type in each section a second time.

MC – Short for “memory clear,” this button erases any and all figures currently stored in memory.

Strategies for Using a Calculator on the GMAT

Now that you know what to expect out of the GMAT’s calculator, it’s time to strategize how you’ll use it to your advantage. Here are just a few strategies that previous GMAT-takers have vouched for when it comes to using their calculator:

Use the Calculator Sparingly

This might sound like the opposite of advice at first but bear with us. You should only use your calculator sparingly, which is to say, when you feel that you really need it most. Whipping out your calculator for every equation can slow you down, especially on questions that are designed to be answered with mental math alone.

Taking several practice GMAT’s can really help you gauge what kinds of problem require a calculator and which do not.

Utilize the Memory Functions

One of the most overlooked functions on the GMAT’s calculator is its memory functions. However, when fully utilized, these functions can cut entire minutes out of solving some of the exam’s toughest equations.

Keep in mind that you are not likely to master the memory functions in the heat of battle. Instead, try using them at home so that you can get a feel for their uses before putting that working knowledge to the test on a practice exam.

Establish an Estimate for Each Question with the Calculator

If you are able to do so, it is prudent to time yourself while taking a practice GMAT exam. Specifically, you should determine your “lap” pace when answering mental math questions and calculator questions.

This can give you better idea if you are ahead of pace or lagging behind on test day. This, in turn, can help you more judiciously decide if pulling out your calculator is worth it in the first place.

Strategy for Going Calculator-Free on the GMAT

As it turns out, some GMAT-takers are opting to go calculator-free during their exam. If you are considering this route, be sure to keep these following strategies in mind:

Practice Mental Math Daily

In truth, this is good advice for anyone looking to take the GMAT – practice your mental math daily. Being able to quickly calculate the kinds of questions the GMAT presents will allow to not only find the right answers, but also check your work on the fly. Confidence in your mental math will also be required if you decide to forgo a digital calculator during your GMAT.

Simplify Whenever Possible

Often, GMAT questions will be written in terms that are seemingly larger than an average person can calculate through mental math. On those occasions, you should try to simplify the terms of the question as much as possible.

This would mean, for example, simplifying a “10/3,200” figure to a more basic “1/ 320” figure. Don’t forget to remove the simplification when calculating the final answer, though.

The Final Word

When it comes down to it, you have nothing to fear with the GMAT’s calculator. So long as you put in the practice, you should feel plenty confident with the GMAT’s calculator functions, which in turn will allow you to more efficiently answer the exam’s most difficult questions.

If you properly strategize before test day, too, you should be able to make the most of your GMAT calculator in no time.

Yes and no. You can use a digital on screen calculator for the Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT, but you cannot use a calculator on the Quant section. For this math-based section, you’ll have to work things out long hand.

Should you use the calculator on the GMAT?

The question of whether you should use a calculator on the GMAT is totally different from whether you can. Even though a calculator is provided, it is often best to bypass it and do mental math. It can often save you valuable time.