A-level calculators: what do you need to know?
Students making the step up from GCSE to A-level maths will need a lot of support as they tackle more complex topics and challenges in years 12 and 13.
This will come primarily from the teacher, but A-level maths students can also gain a lot from using effective tools to support their learning, including the right calculator.
Do you need a graphic calculator for A-level maths?
An advanced scientific calculator will be powerful enough to cover the minimum syllabus requirements of A-level maths, but for students that want to explore the subject in more depth, graphic calculators offer unique benefits.
Since maths is an inherently visual subject, the ability to draw graphs and visualise key concepts can prove vital to effective learning. This is particularly true for A-level maths students, who will be expected to demonstrate deeper understanding of topics such as:
Teachers will know that students need to build their theoretical knowledge of these topics before exploring them in greater depth. Graphic calculators can aid in the development of this fundamental understanding by offering new ways of looking at concepts that can be difficult to grasp on paper alone.
When students know the theory and feel ready to go deeper, they can take advantage of features that are available on a graphing handset but not on a scientific calculator.
While exploring a subject like quadratic graphs and equations, for example, students can use a graphing calculator to plot a table of values and analyse the shape of the graph.
This can lay the groundwork for getting into challenging topics such as cubic and quartic functions. When students are asked to sketch these functions, they can use what they have learned from plotting and exploring the graphs on their graphic calculator.
What features should you look for in a good graphic calculator?
When schools and teachers are evaluating the range of graphical calculators on offer, it’s important to look for features that offer the greatest value in the classroom and also in the exam environment.
How can A-level students use calculators to prepare for exams?
The fact that students can take it into their exams is one of the most powerful benefits of the calculator over computer software and mobile phone apps. However, students also need to recognise that the calculator is only a tool that can offer support in the exam scenario; it’s not a substitute for theoretical understanding and it can’t do the work for them.
An essential aspect of exam preparation for any candidate is building up their familiarity with the calculator and their ability to use it quickly and efficiently. Teachers who introduce graphic calculators to their A-level groups at the start of year 12 will see the benefits at exam time, as the students have had plenty of time to learn the technology and get comfortable with it.
It’s also important for students to ensure their calculator has the appropriate settings and that they’re happy with how it’s set up. Switching to exam mode on the fx-CG50, for example, effectively gives students a clean slate to work from in their examinations. They also have options such as changing the mode of calculation and choosing how they want to display fractions, functions and other elements. This can help to ease pressure and enable efficient use of time in exams.
Calculators are a powerful tool to support students in examinations and throughout their learning, but like any tool, they need to be used in the right way.
- Graphing technology
- Scientific calculators