Why students are forced to buy this expensive and obsolete Texas Instruments calculator

I get it… it’s definitely easier for me to use a dedicated piece of hardware with lots of buttons that never move or change shape. It makes things faster when you get that muscle memory going for fast calculations and for testing. I’ve been out of school for a long time, and despite a laptop with Mathematica, an iPad, an iPhone… the whole bunch, my favorite calculator is still the HP-35S. I got into the whole RPN thing in college to save time, but I rarely need a graphing calculator anymore. That thing’s got me covered, and as excellent of a program as it is, using PCalc is definitely a step down when I’m doing lots of calculating.

All that being said, the thing needs a high-res (not even color! just make it easier to look at!) LCD display. There’s just no excuse at the volumes they’re producing.


I graduated from a Californian public high school in 2008 and graduated from a Californian public university in 2013. A lot of kids bought a TI graphing calculator, but few really needed one.

Perhaps we were lucky, but in school no student was forced to buy any kind of graphing calculator. I “survived” through all high school and college with a few Casio scientific calculators (which were great, though I’ve always wanted an RPN ever since I learned about them in senior year), though I eventually did buy a graphing calculator and never really used it, to my chagrin.

I was lucky enough that my high school bought enough communal calculators to be used in math class and graphing calculators were never required for homework. In high school chemistry we occasionally logged pH while doing a titration and some sensor-interfacing software that ran on a TI grapher was a neat way of doing that. Again, the chemistry class had a shared class set --two students per calculator.

By the time I was taking college math (which really emphasized teaching the hand-drawing of graphs anyway) there was Wolfram Alpha to check work quickly.

Oh, and as far as I recall, no graphing or programmable calculators were allowed on any standardized tests I ever took.

Curious, I looked at the The Praxis Exam, and discovered this bit…

An on-screen graphing calculator is provided for the computer-delivered test. Please consult the Praxis Calculator Use web page for further information.
You are expected to know how and when to use the graphing calculator since it will be helpful for some questions. You are expected to become familiar with its functionality before taking the test. To practice using the calculator, download the 30-day trial version and view tutorials on how to use it. The calculator may be used to perform calculations (e.g., exponents, roots, trigonometric values, logarithms), to graph and analyze functions, to find numerical solutions to equations, and to generate a table of values for a function.

And here’s the onscreen calculator.


Try the graphing or scientific calculator for up to 90 days.

Currently, there is no method to extend the trial beyond 90 days. You can re-register the trial 30 days after your trial expires, though. If you cannot wait for the re-registration period, email us and we will consider an extension.

Which strikes me as a load of bull.

Perhaps offering it for sale to the general public would raise too many embarrassing questions.


Once again, ebay to the rescue. Here’s one for $23.

I don’t understand why there isn’t some principle akin to trademark dilution for products that are de facto (or de jure) required like these. especially within the bound of public education. From campus bookstores to TIs to Textbooks, a captive audience should come with price controls.

ETA: and of course, school uniforms


On the bright side, the continued existence of the TI-83 keeps knowledge of Z-80 assembly language alive. I was always a 6502 guy myself, but the Z-80 wasn’t a bad chip.


Casio is where it’s at.

I still have this somewhere…

Of course, I wasn’t allowed to use it at uni, so they had to issue us all the same basic calculator and no others were allowed.


Heck, with right app, the Android tablet could just give you the test answers directly without making you bother with all that tedious button pushing.


I kind of don’t see what the big deal is. I mean it’s very practical especially in a test taking setting where you don’t want a device that can also be used to communicate with another person (taking the test or able to provide assistance) or has functions/features that can give someone an unfair advantage when taking an exam. Not to mention having a limited number of acceptable devices, makes it easier to identify non-accepted devices to professors and proctors.
Not to say that this is a perfectly level playing field. The cost of the devices can be prohibitive to some, for instance.

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On reflection, it is a reasonable compromise. The calculator is just advanced enough to do its job well, but not advanced enough to let the Genie of the Internet out of the bottle.

Really, the only outrageous thing is that they still cost so much. Ah well.


I used to write crib notes in the (paper) owner’s manual, which stayed in a pocket in the calculator’s cover. By the time my sister came along 3 years later, the faculty was wiser and calculators had to be removed from cases, sleeves, etc.

But now I just feel old, because this was still several years before graphing calculators. I had (I think) a Casio FX-85M (or 82C) and FX-361 (maybe still have them somewhere) and I remember them each costing about $35 in 1986-87. The guy next to me in Physics worked at a Radio Shack, and he had one of their calculators that was at least programmable, so he could take whatever formula the teacher threw at us and program it into the calculator.


Sadly, the calculator isn’t any more outmoded than the textbooks students and probably less expensive.


oh yeah, it just means you have to type them in with a non standard keyboard. but it does mean you can’t phone a friend.

Yeah, I made it through high school, college and graduate school, earned degrees in engineering and mathematics. All with a Sharp EL-506A. $15. You can buy the fancy schmancy version of it today for $20. My classmates were using TI and HP graphing calculators, but got the same grade I did.

As a bonus, when the batteries died, I’d just stick 'em to a 9 volt battery until they got hot.

And that, my friends, is how you graduate from college without debt!


Oh you can type them in with a standard keyboard, just copy the right file type over via USB cable.

Never had any need for a graphing calculator. HS, college and grad school. Did splurge in grad school and got a HP15C which does what I need.

Daughter is in HS now and uses one or the one below it, non graphing.

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My son’s school required different models of these TI calculators for each grade depending on the courses you were taking.

I recall buying 3 or 4 of these stupid things by the time he graduated - and yes, they required very specific models. I think he used them for a grand total of maybe 2 weeks.


I was also really surprised to hear a libertarian parent complaining that the common tour required a young teen to carry some huge textbook.

I thought kids were all working off laptops and tablets now? How are books not all just digital subscriptions now where this whole calculator issue couldn’t be eliminated with a downloaded update?

Our education system always seems decades behind.


WOOT - Casio!
I actually found my fx 7700GB because of this thread. Used it at uni in the early/mid 90’s, a check on this model shows that was actually the only time this model was available.

Always had trouble using a friends Ti, though IIRC the HP’s were the hardest due to their “contrary” order of operations - especially confusing to the uninitiated. I was going to power mine up to see what was still in there but alas it takes x4 2032s! and I don’t have that many lying around, nor do I want to take that many watches apart…


Obsolete? Did math change or something?

I understand the hate for the cost of the TI83, but if you’re ever going to college the $100 will look cheap compared to a textbook or tuition… I feel standardization for testing is a good idea, even if it’s old tech. Hell, calculus was invented in the 17th century and complaining about not being able to bring in a phone looks like making excuses for not actually knowing how to do calculus.

I used a TI-81 in highschool ('92- '93) and upgraded to a TI-85 in college. In college we could have an HP48G or a TI85 as the high end of graphing calcs. No classes actually required graphing and most math classes required answers like 3/2 * pi which are hard to do with calculators. Cheat sheets were allowed (identities etc) but don’t worry you would still get your ass handed to you. (stupid Laplace transforms from hell).

I still use my TI-85 daily and can’t imagine using a touch screen phone instead of real buttons. The error rate for entering numbers or pushing the wrong buttons is way higher than on a real device.