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Ultimate Calculator Guide for AP Precalculus

The AP Precalculus Exam has a calculator and non-calculator section. You will be allowed to use a graphing calculator on the last 12 multiple choice questions and the first two free response questions. You can learn more about the format of the exam here.

There are a few things to keep in mind when using your calculator.

  • Make sure your calculator is in RADIAN mode.

  • Using a calculator does not mean you should show no work. While you don't have to do the calculations by hand, always write on your paper the equation you are solving, or the value you are evaluating. For example, write out the expression for the average rate of change before using your calculator to find the value.

  • Save functions in your calculator as Y1, Y2, etc. instead of re-typing them each time, especially if you are using the same function multiple times (like in a Free Response Question).

  • Don't round intermediate values. Keep several decimal places when finding intersection points or parameters of an equation. Final answers should be rounded to at least 3 decimal places.

  • Be fluent at using your calculator to graph a function on an appropriate window, generating a table of values for a function, finding zeros, intersections, and relative extrema, and calculating a regression equation to model a data set.

  • Don't write down calculator keys as supporting justification for an answer. Use words and symbols instead. (Ex: "The maximum value of the function is 10.3 and occurs when x=5.7 because the function changes from increasing to decreasing at x=5.7" NOT "Max=10.3 because I did 2nd Trace, 4: Maximum, and found a maximum when x=5.7 and y=10.3").

If you're unsure how to do some of the items above on your calculator, fret not! We've created a guide showing you how to do a variety of calculator tasks with an example of when you might use each one.

Download the full guide below!

Time to Practice: Trashketball Calculator Review

This activity is designed to make sure students are able to use their calculator flexibly and fluently, without wasting precious time or making careless errors. Each question in this Trashketball problem set will require students to efficiently navigate their graphing calculator.

Download Activity:

Download Answer Key:

Prep: To set-up the game, you will need to print several copies of the activity page (corresponding to the number of groups you have) and cut up the questions and sort them into piles. Have students in groups of 3-4. Arrange the piles at a central location at the front of the room where you will be sitting such as your desk or a table. You will also need two waste baskets, one closer and one further away, and some way to mark where students will stand (we use a yardstick). We give students 1 minute to come up with a team name and write it on the board. 

Play: Each team will send up one group member to grab a problem from your desk. The order that they take the problems does not matter, and groups do not have to solve them in the same order. The lettering on the questions allows groups to keep track of which ones they already solved. The student will bring the paper back to their group and they will solve it together. When they are done they return the paper to you and you tell them either “Yes” or “No” depending on if they got the problem correct or not. Do not give further clues on where they made a mistake if you gave them a ‘No’; simply send them back to their group to try again. If the student got a ‘Yes’, they get to line up at the yard stick, crumple up their piece of paper and try to make a basket. If they make it into the closer basket they get 3 points for their team. If they make it into the further basket, they get 5 points for their team. If they miss both baskets, they can still get 1 pt for getting the question correct. We have students keep track of points on the front whiteboard. The student then sits down and sends a different group member to grab the next problem. We insist that groups rotate who they send up to pick up the problem and attempt the shot to make sure everyone is participating. At the end of the time period, whichever team has the most points wins.

Love Trashketball? Play more here.

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