How to Effectively Use Calculators on the Smarter Balanced Assessment

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) is a Common Core-aligned assessment system used in many states. One tool for students is the built-in Desmos calculator, which can be used on multiple sections of the test across numerous grade levels. External calculators are not allowed on this test, so it’s worth it to learn how to use the approved calculator now.

There are three versions of the calculator, which can be found online: the Basic Calculator for grade 6, the Scientific Calculator, for grades 7-8, and the Science, Graphing, and Regression Calculator for grades 9-12. All versions follow Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, so students with disabilities can use them as well.

General Tips for Taking the Mathematics Portion of the Text

  1. Practice using the correct calculator online before test day.
  2. Take practice tests online or using Practice Test Scoring Guides. You must be familiar with how to click, drag, and drop for the online test, so you don’t lose valuable time.
  3. Read the question to understand what it is asking you to do. If it is a multiple-choice question, eliminate any answers that you think are wrong before finding the solution.
  4. Don’t always default to using your calculator. You won’t need it for some questions at all. If you’re confident about your answer, don’t second guess yourself!
  5. According to the Smart Balanced website, only between 50 and 80 percent of the questions include calculator access, depending on grade level. Be prepared to do necessary calculations, solve equations, etc. Calculators are a tool; they don’t replace your brain.
  6. Pace yourself. Multiple choice questions probably shouldn’t take as long to complete as ones that require you to do complex calculations on the calculator.

Proven SBAC Assessment Rehearsal
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Free SBAC Practice Test

Remember:
Only the built-in Desmos calculator is permitted on the test. The designers have tried to make it accessible to everyone by including larger font sizes, colors with sufficient contrast, and the ability to communicate with screen readers. If you are blind or visually impaired, you should figure out how to use these features before test day.

Crystalee Calderwood

Crystalee Calderwood

Crystalee Calderwood is a high school English teacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University, where she studied poetry and writing for children and teens. Now she spends most of her time writing and reading poetry with teens as an English and Creative Writing teacher at a local private school. In her spare time, she is a freelance writer who specializes in issues surrounding literacy an education.