Calculator Info/Skills

You need a scientific calculator to do some of our work (graphing calculators are fine, but overkill). Any calculator with sin, cos and tan buttons can work, but please do not rely on your phone calculator, as you will not be allowed to use them on the tests. If you need to buy one, I recommend the TI-36X Pro (~$20) if you want one that can do more advanced stuff or TI-30Xa if you are looking for something simpler (~$10).

Calculator skills you need:

  • Scientific notation:
    • I highly recommend calculators with an [EE] or [EXP] button as opposed to a [x10^] button. The [EE] or [EXP] treat the scientific notation as one single number (so you don't need to put parentheses around everything all the time), but the [x10^] button usually treats the x10 part separately, so you may get wrong answers if you do not remember to add parentheses often.
    • If you need to type 3.6 x10-5 you should type 3.6 [EE] -5 and it will show as 3.6E-5. In other words, the x10 is built in to the EE or EXP button.
    • You should get comfortable multiplying and dividing these values. Here are a few examples and answers
  • Fractions
    • many calculators have a [1/x] button or an [x-1] button. Both of these invert the value, so instead of typing [1] [÷] [5], you can simply type [5] [1/x].
    • If your calculator tends to give answers in fractions, that's fine, but our answers will often be in a rounded decimal format. Ask a friend or look up online how to change the format of your answers.
  • Using your previous answer for another operation.
    • Sometimes I see students waste time on their calculator work by retyping previous answers. There are memory buttons on some calculators and other have an [ans] button (often [2nd] [=] or something similar). This depends on your calculator, but let's learn it early to prevent copying errors and be more efficient.
  • Degree Mode or Radian Mode
    • When using sin, cos, and tangent with angles measured in degrees you should use degree mode. For us in Physics, that will be through all of the linear kinematics & forces content.
    • We will use radians when dealing with rotational motion (late winter/early spring), so be ready to move back and forth between the modes then.

Often the number is followed by a letter or series of letters called a unit. Those are ignored when doing your calculator work, but should be processed for your final answer.