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Calculators on the GMAT/GRE: When You Can Use Them

Discover the ins and outs of using calculators on the GMAT/GRE with our comprehensive guide.

Posted May 24, 2023

Aspiring business school and graduate school students are required to take the GMAT or GRE tests to gain admission to their desired programs. These tests can be nerve-wracking and challenging, especially under timed conditions. Fortunately, you're allowed to use a calculator in some portions of the test to make your calculations easier and faster. However, you must use approved calculators and adhere to specific guidelines and restrictions for their use. In this article, we'll discuss everything you need to know about calculators on the GMAT/GRE tests, including test formats, the role of calculators, and how to use them effectively to maximize your test score.

Understanding the GMAT and GRE Test Formats

Before we dive deeper into the role of calculators in the GMAT and GRE tests, let's first get an understanding of their structure. The GMAT consists of four sections, namely, Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Verbal, and Quantitative. The Verbal and Quantitative sections use multiple-choice questions, whereas the AWA section requires that you compose an essay. The GMAT has a time limit of 3 hours and 30 minutes. The GRE, on the other hand, has a slightly different structure. It consists of six sections, which include two Verbal Reasoning, two Quantitative Reasoning, one Analytical Writing, and one Experimental. Each section has a time limit of either 35 or 45 minutes, totaling 3 hours and 45 minutes in testing time.

It's important to note that the Experimental section in the GRE is not scored and is used by the test makers to try out new questions for future exams. This section can be either Verbal or Quantitative and is randomly placed within the test. It's important to take this section seriously, as you won't know which section is experimental and which ones are scored.

The Role of Calculators in GMAT/GRE Tests

Calculators play an essential role in both the GMAT and GRE tests, specifically in the Quantitative Reasoning sections. Since these sections mainly test your math skills, working with long decimals and fractions can be time-consuming without a calculator. Hence, a calculator can help you perform faster and more accurately.

However, it is important to note that not all calculators are allowed in the GMAT and GRE tests. The tests only allow the use of basic calculators, which means that you cannot use a graphing calculator or a calculator with advanced functions. Therefore, it is crucial to check the calculator policy of the test you are taking and ensure that you have the appropriate calculator before the test day.

Approved Calculators for GMAT/GRE Tests

There are specific guidelines for the type of calculators allowed in the GMAT and GRE tests. Only basic four-function calculators are allowed in the GMAT, whereas programmable, graphing, and scientific calculators are prohibited. For the GRE, you can use any standard calculator of your choice, as long as it does not have a QWERTY keyboard. You should also note that the on-screen calculator provided by the test center cannot be replaced by an external calculator.

It is important to note that you are not required to use a calculator for the GMAT or GRE tests. However, if you do choose to use one, it is recommended that you practice with it beforehand to ensure that you are comfortable and familiar with its functions. Additionally, if you bring a calculator to the test center, it must meet the specific guidelines outlined by the test administrators.

For those who are unsure about which calculator to use, there are many resources available online that provide reviews and recommendations for calculators that are suitable for the GMAT and GRE tests. It is also a good idea to check with the test administrators to confirm that the calculator you plan to use is approved for the test you will be taking.

GMAT/GRE Test Sections That Allow Calculators

In the GMAT Quantitative Reasoning section, the use of a calculator is allowed. However, candidates are only allowed to use it in the Integrated Reasoning part, not in the AWA section. Similarly, in the GRE Quantitative Reasoning sections, calculators are allowed, but not in the analytical writing section.

Restrictions on Calculator Use During GMAT/GRE Tests

It's essential to note that the calculator's usage is restricted to specific periods during the test. In the GMAT, you're allowed eight minutes to familiarize yourself with the calculator before the Integrated Reasoning section begins. During the exam, you can use the calculator throughout the section. However, it's vital to note that the calculator does not have an undo feature, so you should double-check your work before entering your answers. On the other hand, the GRE allows you to use a calculator in both Quantitative Reasoning sections and leaves it up to you to decide when to use it.

How to Get Familiar With Your Calculator Before the Test

It's crucial to be comfortable and familiar with your calculator before the test begins. You don't want to waste valuable time figuring out how to operate it. Thus, take some time to practice using your calculator and become familiar with its various functions, including memory buttons, square roots, and exponents. Familiarizing yourself with the calculator helps you to reduce the time you spend working out problems.

Tips for Efficient Calculator Usage During GMAT/GRE Tests

Using a calculator can be a time-saver in the Quantitative Reasoning Sections, but it can also be a distraction. Proper utilization of the calculator can help you achieve your desired scores effectively. Here are some tips to help you use the calculator efficiently:

  • Use the calculator to simplify calculations, especially those involving decimals and fractions.
  • When using the calculator, double-check your work to avoid careless mistakes.
  • If in doubt, work out the problem manually to ensure the accuracy of the calculation.
  • Use the memory buttons to store crucial information and retrieve it when needed.

Common Pitfalls to Avoid When Using Calculators in GMAT/GRE Tests

Despite using the calculator to solve quantitative reasoning problems, you should be careful to avoid making some common mistakes. Below are some of the pitfalls you should avoid when using calculators:

  • Incorrect input of values or functions into the calculator
  • Forgetting to clear the calculator memory before starting a new problem.
  • Over-reliance on the calculator without double-checking your work.

How to Determine Whether You Need a Calculator for a Particular Question

While the use of a calculator on GMAT/GRE tests helps simplify complex mathematical calculations, it's not necessary to use it in every question. As such, it's essential to take some time to determine whether a problem requires a calculator or not. Some questions only require basic calculations that can be done manually. Assess whether or not you can solve the problem faster using your head or pen and paper than with a calculator.

When to Resort to Manual Calculation Instead of Using a Calculator in GMAT/GRE Tests

Although the calculator is available to use, in some cases, it's best to work the problem out with manual calculation. For example, if a question requires simple arithmetic or involves numbers that are relatively easy to work within your head, it may be faster to solve the problem using mental math or pen and paper. Remember, the calculator can sometimes be time-consuming if you're not proficient with its use.

The Impact of Calculator Use on Your Overall Test Performance

While using a calculator can help you solve problems faster, it's not a guarantee that you will score higher on your GMAT/GRE tests. The calculator is simply a tool that helps you perform calculations more accurately and efficiently. Your overall test performance depends on your problem-solving strategies, math skills, and critical thinking abilities. It's essential to practice with the calculator diligently, but don't solely rely on it to boost your scores.

Strategies for Time Management When Using Calculators in GMAT/GRE Tests

Effective time management is crucial when taking the GMAT/GRE tests. The calculator can be a double-edged sword when it comes to time management. Although it can save you time, it's also a potential source of distraction. Here are some strategies for time management when using the calculator:

  • Make a plan: Determine how much time you want to allocate for each question and stick to the plan
  • Use the calculator for complex problems and manual calculations for simpler problems.
  • Double-check your work as you go to avoid time-consuming errors.

How to Review Your Answers When Using a Calculator in GMAT/GRE Tests

Now, it's essential to review the test's quantitative reasoning section before submitting your answers. Ensure that you've double-checked your work and that your calculator hasn't produced any mistake. Take time to verify your arithmetic, pay attention to decimal points, and ensure that your calculator has not produced wrong calculations. Finally, review your work one last time before submitting your answers.


Candidates taking GMAT/GRE tests can use calculators to simplify mathematical calculations in the Quantitative Reasoning sections. While a calculator can be essential in problem-solving, it's not a necessity for all problems. Candidates should be familiar with the restrictions, guidelines, and approved calculators before taking their tests. With this knowledge, test takers can take full advantage of the benefits of calculators while avoiding the pitfalls associated with their improper use.

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