Use of calculators for Mathematics papers in the summer 2016 exam series

Fri May 13 14:35:00 UTC 2016

In this update you'll find information about the use of calculators in the summer 2016 exam series, including the regulations from the JCQ ICE document. These regulations apply to all Mathematics qualifications, including A level, GCSE, International GCSE and International A level.

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You can find the regulations for the use of calculators in examinations in the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) booklet 'Instructions for conducting examinations (1 September 2015 to 31 August 2016)', available on the JCQ website.

I'm providing the information from page 13 of the JCQ document here for your convenience.

JCQ regulations on using calculators

Candidates may use a calculator in an examination unless prohibited by the awarding body’s specification. Where the use of a calculator is allowed, candidates are responsible for making sure that their calculators meet the awarding bodies’ regulations.

The instructions set out in this section apply to all examinations unless stated otherwise in the appropriate awarding body’s subject-specific instructions.

Candidates should be told these regulations beforehand and be familiar with the 'Information for candidates' document.

Calculators must be:

  • of a size suitable for use on the desk
  • either battery or solar powered
  • free of lids, cases or covers which have printed instructions or formulas.

Calculators must not:

  • be designed or adapted to offer any of these facilities:
    • language translators
    • symbolic algebra manipulation
    • symbolic differentiation or integration
    • communication with other machines or the internet.
  • be borrowed from another candidate during an examination for any reason*

  • have retrievable information stored in them - this includes:
    • databanks
    • dictionaries
    • mathematical formulas
    • text.

The candidate is responsible for the following:

  • the calculator’s power supply
  • the calculator’s working condition
  • clearing anything stored in the calculator.

Advice:* An invigilator may give a candidate a replacement calculator.

Where access is permitted to a calculator for part of an examination, it will normally be acceptable for candidates to place their calculators on the floor under their desks in sight of the invigilator(s) for the non-calculator portion of the exam.

Which calculators can be used?

Note that the regulations above say that:

"calculators should not have retrievable information in them - this includes… mathematical formulas and text."

Thus many models will need to have their memory cleared before they can be taken into the examination. In the case of the Texas TI-84, for example, there's a built-in press-to-test feature designed specifically for this purpose. If you or another teacher enable the feature before the exam, the student won't be able to disable it without connecting to a second handheld, or computer.

Find out more about press-to-test

The crucial prohibitions above are to do with calculators that can perform symbolic algebra manipulation and/or symbolic differentiation or integration; these calculators are still quite expensive and the ones I know about include:

Make Model
Casio Algebra FX2.0, Algebra FX2.0 PLUS, ClassPad 300 (all models)

Hewlett Packard

HP 40G, HP 40GS, HP 48G, HP 48G II, HP 49G, HP 49G PLUS, HP 50G, HP Prime
Texas Instruments TI-89, TI-89 (Titanium), TI-92, TI-92 PLUS, Voyage 200, TI-nspire CAS

This isn’t an official list; it’s based on what I know of these calculators and my interpretation of the JCQ rules. There is no list of calculators which can be used, though it can probably be assumed that any calculator that is not on the list above is permissible. This includes graphical calculators, those which can perform numerical differentiation and integration, manipulate matrices, change bases, and so on.

Wherever possible we try to set questions that obviate any advantage a student may obtain from such calculators. A basic scientific calculator should be considered sufficient for the demands of the AS and A level papers.

Graham Cumming, Maths subject expert
Graham CummingMathematics and Statistics
UK: 020 7010 2174
Intl: + 44 (0)20 7010 2174
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