Learning to use a scientific calculator can seem daunting, but if a project/exam is looming ahead, one can’t run away from it forever.
Even if you are great at solving math problems and know all the formulas, using scientific calculators does not come naturally to everyone. Besides, one cannot expect to solve complex problems within a limited time using just pen and paper.
For instance, in case you are preparing for your SATs, you’ll need a high quality calculator for the SAT exam, as not all calculators are SAT approved. So, learning how to use scientific calculators is a must if you’re preparing for such a test.
A scientific calculator makes life easier for professionals as well as students as it can help get calculations done faster. And learning the various scientific notations on a calculator can be incredibly beneficial and timesaving.
In this brief guide, we’ll help you learn how to use scientific calculators.
What Is A Scientific Calculator?
Before we begin with the basic functions and advanced applications, let’s take a look at what device classifies as a scientific calculator. The first thing to understand is that scientific calculators are distinctly different from other calculators, even if they may appear similar.
Broadly speaking, there are three categories – basic, scientific, and business calculators. The basic ones are used for regular multiplication, addition, subtraction, and division purposes. But it is impossible to work upon detailed problems that have a basis in trigonometry, physics, or engineering on this regular calculator.
In fact, a business calculator also stands unable to solve such complicated math problems. Scientific calculators are designed to work with log, natural log, exponents, and trig functions along with memory. When working with scientific notation, these functions will help calculate the sum and display results quickly on the calculator screen.
Also, business calculators have buttons for interest rates which is not enough for finding any formula that has a geometry component.
How To Use A Scientific Calculator?
If you wish to make the most of your calculator and use it often for daily arithmetic sums or complex problems, read through the entire guide carefully. Remember that calculators vary by brand, so the exact function or keys may differ, but we have used a popular model, “Casio fx83ES”.
This calculator is readily available in stores, but if you cannot access this particular model, don’t fret, for the basic operations will remain similar.
1. Learn The Basic Functions
First up, let’s get the common functions clear by giving you several examples of keys, their functions, and usage in a problem. So, take out your brand new (or existing) scientific calculator and take a close look at the keys, calculator screen, and keypad. Typically, the device should have the following elements/keys

 Display
 Mode key
 On key
 Cursor control button
 Function keys
 Delete key
 All clear key
 Basic operation keys (multiplication/addition)
 Equals key
 Last answer key
 Numbers keys
 Alpha key
 Shift key
Basic Key Functions
Most of these keys will be evident once you see them, and a few have their names mentioned too. For instance, the delete key is shown as “DEL” in red, and the allclear key is written as “AC.”
The “On” key is used to switch the power on all calculators and is found in the top right corner of most devices. On the lower half of the keypad, you have the numbers and basic operation keys of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The “=” sign is called the equal key and gives you the final result of the calculation.
Make note that some keys often have more than one function on the keypad. The primary function will be written on the key in white, while the secondary use is sometimes mentioned in yellow above the key. To access these alternate functions, press the “SHIFT” key, and the “S” symbol will appear on the top left corner of the display.
This sign appears only to indicate that the key has been pressed and goes away when you press something else. Sometimes keys have three functions, with the third written in red above the key. The number values of previous formulas are stored in the memory and can be retrieved by pressing the “ALPHA” button. When “A” appears on the screen, it confirms the button has been pressed.
Screen Menus And Key Sequence
Some options may not have a dedicated button on the pad, so they can be viewed on the calculator screen. One can select one function from the menu options on the display by pressing the corresponding number key.
The key sequence is the process of combining particular keys to get one function. To make things easy, we’ll stick to mentioning the key sequence and explaining it to them while placing the sequence name in brackets. For instance, if you press “SHIFT” and then press “AC,” this is a key sequence for turning the device off. Thus, we’ll mention the purpose (OFF) in brackets like this.
Essentially, there is no button on the keypad that is called “OFF,” but this method will help you remember the name of the function for each key sequence.
2. Initialize The Calculator
Start with the default settings of the calculator and initialize by pressing the “ON” key and entering two key sequences

 Sequence 1 – “SHIFT” 9 (CLR) 1 (setup) = “AC”
 Sequence 2 – “SHIFT” “MODE” (SETUP) 8 (norm) 2
In sequence 1, the CLR stands for clear, which is the second function of the numerical key 9. Basically, you need to do this to clear the previous settings that may be stored in the calculator. After pressing the correct keys, you can start using the device in math mode. The word “math” will show up on the right side of the screen to confirm this.
3. Regular Calculations
We’re sure everyone might be familiar with this step of using calculators because this step is as basic as it gets. All the numeric keys you type are displayed clearly on the screen, and pressing the “=” button gives the results on the right side of the screen.
If the calculation is particularly long and all numbers do not fit on the screen, scrolling symbols will appear, and you can scroll right or left as required. Locate the word “REPLAY” on the device and use the keys on its left and right to scroll. To avoid confusion, break down the calculation into smaller parts to get accurate results.
4. Decimals And Fractions
When the number in the calculation is not whole, it will appear as a fraction on calculator displays. You can see something like ¼ or ¾ on the screen when this occurs, but you can convert it to a decimal form for easy understanding.
Press “SHIFT” and “=” instead of only the equal key to get the answer in decimal form. It is recommended to keep the scientific calculator in math mode for navigating through the calculations with ease.
If you need to calculate a fraction, there is the required button that looks like one square on top of the other with a line dividing them. This key is located on the left side of the function key area on your calculator. The two squares denote the two numbers you wish to fill in as a fraction, such as ⅕.
On the first press of the button, enter the numerator (1), then move the cursor downwards to fill the denominator (5). To continue with the rest of the calculation, get out of the denominator box by pressing the rightside cursor.
Similarly, it is possible to use mixed numbers like 2 ¾ by using a specific template/ key sequence. Pressing “SHIFT” followed by the fraction key gives three numbers to fill, the first being the whole number and the other two being the numerator and denominator in that order.
5. Powers
Now, let’s move on to using powers in calculations on a scientific calculator. The device will have a dedicated button for a smaller power like a square or cube, which are found on the function key area. Just as one would scribble on paper, here, too, the main number comes first, followed by the power number.
For example, if you need to calculate 32, then type the number 3 first and then the x2 key on the calculator. For powers higher than 3, make use of the general power key to customize the power number. So, if you wish to enter 26, then type 2, followed by the general power key and the number 6.
After pressing the power key (which looks like x on a calculator), there should be a flashing cursor that looks like this “.” This indicates that you are applying the power in the correct area.
6. Correcting Errors
Typing in the numbers quickly can lead to incorrect data entry, which is not a problem since editing it out is simple. To correct any unwanted numbers in the calculator, the sideways scrolling buttons will come in handy. The right and left scrolling keys, along with the flashing cursor that looks like this “,” allow for quick edits without redoing the entire sum.
Insert new numbers when the cursor is at the appropriate place and delete unwanted items using the “DEL” delete button. Conveniently, this sequence works even after the “=” sign is pressed, making it possible to swiftly go back and rectify the error.
In some cases, it is best to clear the display and start afresh by pressing the “AC” key. If the calculation sequence does not register with the device due to an erroneous entry, it will inform the user of the same by flashing “Syntax error.”
The error popup also gives two options – to clear the sum or scroll through the calculation. Similarly, if you face a “Math error” or “Stack error,” it means the scientific calculator cannot register the calculations, and it is best to redo the sum.
7. Negative Numbers
You will already know that the minus sign is used in two contexts in mathematics – as a symbol of subtraction or to mark a negative number. If you look closely at the scientific calculator, you’ll find two distinct minus signs, each for a different purpose.
 Minus – is used to indicate subtractions between two numbers like 8 – 5 = 3
 Bracketed minus () indicates a negative number like 2 or ()2
However, there could be some calculators that use the same function key interchangeably, so you can check the manual that comes in the packaging to verify this. However, if you try to use minus with brackets () for subtraction, the device will view it as a “Syntax error.”
8. Longer Calculations
Depending on your area of work or study, you will be required to solve complex calculations which require specific functions on the scientific calculator.
Let us assume you need to figure out the volume V of matter in a metal rod that has L meters of length, and the distance around the midpoint is D. Here, you are faced with this problem V = L x D2/ 4 π
If the metal rod is 2 m in length and the distance around the center is 90 cms, then you need to find V = 2 x 0.902/ 4 π
As you can see from this example, the value of π (pi) is required to find the volume of the metal material. In ordinary cases, you can type out the approximate value of pi individually, but typing it can get inconvenient after solving multiple complex calculations.
Instead, use the shortcut “SHIFT” “x10x” (π) to quickly add the approximate value of pi.
9. Reusing Previous Results
Calculations on paper will have you using multiple pages to note previous results, and you may be doing the same while using calculators. Keep away the papers because scientific calculators retain the results of the previous calculation. So, instead of making errors by writing and retyping each time, you can use the “Ans” key on the device to retrieve the latest result of your calculations.
10. Calculator Memory
Pressing the “Ans” key will only reveal the most recent calculation result, but there is more to a scientific calculator than that. The memory function of calculators allows users to divide the calculation into two parts for ease. This way, it is possible to calculate the values of various parts of the expression without having to note down the results each time.
The thing to note is that calculators have different types of memories and the basic one (M) involves only one key, “M+.” This is simple enough to use, but you must make sure to clear the memory of previous information since the device might still retain it.
Press the key sequence “SHIFT” 9 (CLR) 2 (memory) = AC. After this command, all the previous calculator memories will be wiped out. Here’s how you can store an answer in the M memory of the calculator – press “SHIFT,” “RCL,” and M+. In this sequence, the RCL or recall button is used to store the information, its second function.
If you need to check the information/answers stored in the memory, press “RCL” and M+ to display the values on the screen.
11. Scientific Notation
Some numbers are so huge that the calculator automatically shows them using scientific notation. However, smaller numbers can also be viewed using scientific notation depending on which mode you are currently working in.
The two modes are “Norm 1” and “Norm 2,” of which Norm is short for normal. Norm 1 mode will use scientific notation for any number less than 0.01. (and greater than 0.01) On the other hand, Norm 2 does the same for any number less than 0.000000001.
12. Roots/Square Root
We have already explained how the power key allows users to add powers greater than two and three. Similarly, there are dedicated keys on the calculator for finding the root of any number. The button visible on the keypad directly gives the square root of the required number. However, we can use the same button to find the cube roots too.
If higher roots are required, you can use the second function of the general power key (the one that looks like x). If you’ve got the hang of using fractions on a scientific calculator, this process will feel easier too. It has the same left and right scrolling system that allows users to add the correct numbers in the right place.
13. Trigonometric Ratios
One can measure angles using varying degrees and find the values of trigonometric ratios on the calculator. To work with degrees, press the key sequence “SHIFT” “MODE” (SETUP) followed by 3 (degree). After this, a “D” indicator will be visible on display, and the device is ready to work upon trigonometric ratios.
Press the “san,” “cos,” and “tan” keys as and when required to measure an angle. If the formula is simple, pressing the keys followed by = will be enough to answer. However, if these ratios are meant to be part of a larger calculation, use brackets on them.
Alternatively, if your calculation is based on radians, it is possible to change the settings from degrees to radians on the device. Press “SHIFT” “MODE” (SETUP) and 4 to get this set.
14. Logarithms
The “Log” button on the calculator is used to calculate logarithms, and the key sequence goes as follows: press “log” 100 = to get log2 100. Note that the sequence will require closed brackets if it is part of a larger calculation.
How To Use Scientific Calculator Frequently Asked Questions ?
Can the same key sequence provide varying answers on different calculators?
Yes, and that is why it is crucial to know the functioning of the scientific calculator you use. Logically, one may think that the mathematical formula should be the same across all devices, but this is not true. Calculators can be built to understand key sequences differently.
For instance, if you need to calculate 3 + 5 x 4, you may know that according to the correct order, multiplication comes before addition. So, your calculation gives you the answer 23, which is the correct one. But, your calculator may not understand this basic rule and will switch up the order and add 3 with 5 and multiply it with 4 later, giving you the incorrect answer 32.
How To Use Scientific Calculator Final Words
While these steps should be easy enough for anyone to start using scientific calculators, a user’s manual can be a lifesaver. As we mentioned previously, the keypad of calculators may vary depending on the brand, and if you can find the manual, it will help immensely.
In any case, we hope this guide proved helpful to those of you trying out a scientific calculator for the first time.