Can You Use a Calculator On the GMAT?
December 13, 2007
Regular readers surely know the answer to this question. However, it's one of the most popular Google searches that land people on this site. Spend enough time focusing on the nuts and bolts of GMAT strategy, and it's easy to forget that there was a time you didn't know the basics.
For all of those Google searchers out there: No, you can't use a calculator on the GMAT.
Most people are disappointed when they find that out, but in a way, it's good news. It's hardly the case that the makers of the GMAT expect you to do the work of a calculator. Except on Data Sufficiency questions, where you don't have to calculate, they keep the numbers simple and generally avoid large numbers and decimals. When they do give you large numbers (say, 1.2 billion) or decimals (maybe 0.0625), it's a good bet that there's an easier way to think about them.
A constant theme in my writing on this site (here, for example) is that you can use the no-calculator rule to your advantage. When you're working through an algebra problem and the numbers get too complicated, odds are you're doing something wrong. If you see a lengthy decimal, you can probably approximate.
I always tell my students that, once you know all the techniques and rules for GMAT math, the only challenge is knowing which ones to apply to the harder questions. (It's a big challenge, but it does shrink the scope of GMAT math.) Questions can be very difficult, but the underlying content doesn't change.
The same is true with calculations you have to do on test day. As I wrote in this article, the GMAT even prefers a certain set of numbers. If it looks like you have to factor 1,179, again, you're probably doing something wrong. Part of the reason you should practice so much is to get an intuitive feel for what the GMAT will and will not expect you to do.
So, you can't use a calculator on the GMAT. But the GMAT doesn't expect you to be a human calculating machine, either.
About the author: Jeff Sackmann is a GMAT tutor based in New York City. He has created many resources for GMAT preparation, including the popular Total GMAT Math and Total GMAT Verbal, as well as 1,800 practice GMAT math questions.