What Is The Difference Between Calculator And Scientific Calculator?

Many of us avoided manual calculations and relied heavily on calculators to get through math projects in middle school. 

As we grew up, not much changed because we now use online calculators to help with complex mathematical or engineering problems. The thing is, standard calculators are easy to forget about since we take the basic functions for granted. These devices have been around for centuries in various forms, and the simple calculator comes in many other types—scientific calculators, for instance. 

Let’s find out more about the types of calculators, and we’ll walk you through what makes the best scientific calculator. Additionally, we’ll touch upon topics like “How to reset scientific calculators” and why it’s important to use ACT-approved calculators for your exams. 

What Is A Calculator?

What is the difference between calculator and scientific calculator

In simple words, a calculator is a device that is used to solve arithmetic problems. A basic calculator is limited to performing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. You can call it a number calculating machine, since it helps people crunch numbers and find answers to math problems, among other purposes. 

There are, of course, complex varieties of calculators that are used for various purposes by students and teachers alike. The ones that can handle exponential functions like logarithms, trigonometry functions, and square roots are complex calculators.

Early Calculators

Before the birth of the computer, there were various models of the simple calculator. Instead of the electricity or battery powered ones that use special buttons for number inputs, early calculating devices had a slightly primitive approach. 

A slide rule was used, which was essentially a slat of wood that could slide from its place. Since it was a basic model, complex solutions for statistics, graphs, or trigonometry problems were impossible. The other early model used in the Far East was the abacus which used beads to add and subtract numbers. 

Modern Calculators

Fast forward to today, we have answers to complex numbers at our fingertips, thanks to calculators that perform advanced functions instantly. The hand-held calculator or the one on our mobile phones has way more exponential functions and provides solutions immediately. 

Nowadays, even online calculators come in the same format as hand-held devices so that users can seamlessly switch between the two without losing practice. Although computers can perform many non-calculating tasks, which makes them the fastest calculators we have.

Types Of Calculators

There’s more to calculators other than addition and subtraction; there are graphing calculators, scientific calculators, and other specialized devices for complex uses. 

1. Basic Calculators

The simple calculator is one that can manage the four main functions—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They are also known as pocket calculators or electronic/ hand-held calculators because they are compact and fit in shirt pockets and on the palm.

They run on batteries, and some might even run on solar power, which can be recharged with sunlight. The battery can be replaced once it is used up, and these calculators are the cheapest kind, costing no more than just a few dollars. 

Essentially, the four functions are depicted by their respective symbols on the calculator pad. The symbols +, -, x, and / are easily accessible on the pad and make calculations a breeze. These devices are also useful when you need answers in decimal numbers and also have % signs to calculate percentages of numbers.

At home, you might use this device for measuring the ingredients of a baking recipe. While at the office, it may help keep tabs on the numbers related to the monthly budget. 

2. Scientific Calculators

Scientific functions in the fields of mathematics, chemistry, physics, and engineering are not possible using a regular calculator. This is where the highly specialized scientific calculators come into play. A quick glance at a scientific calculator will show you that there are many more buttons, each with a particular function on the device. 

Basically, scientific calculators need to perform exponential operations, logarithms, sine/cosine functions, and trigonometric functions, which a standard calculator is incapable of. 

Due to the complexity of use and functions, scientific calculators have bigger display screens because they usually deal with larger numbers. Various school subjects like geometry, trigonometry, and algebra require students to use scientific calculators.

3. Graphing Calculators

A graphing calculator is quite similar to a scientific calculator since they both have many overlapping functions. Of course, there is a major difference between the two, otherwise both these models would be called the same thing. In addition to other tasks, a graphing calculator can graph equations. 

Some equations require conversions upon a graph for visual representation, and this is an important tool for many types of equations. They help bring about more complex solutions and assist in plotting the graph, which would be tedious otherwise. 

4. Financial Calculators

While the graphing calculator is a complex device that can assist in plotting the graph, it is not ideal for calculating finances. A dedicated type of calculator called a financial calculator is designed specifically for solving problems of finance numbers.

The interesting thing about this calculator is that it also prints the calculations on paper for record keeping. With this feature, users do not have to find another device to type and print the calculations. This calculator keeps note of the past, future, and financial concepts like rate of return and returns on investment. 

If you need to figure out interest rates or mortgage payments, more likely than not, you’ll be using a financial calculator.

What is the difference between calculator and scientific calculator

What’s The Difference Between Calculator And Scientific Calculator?

1. Functions

If you have used calculators before, it should not be difficult to determine which type you are looking at. As discussed previously, basic calculators have mainly four functions—addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Scientific calculators allow the user to go beyond these four functions and solve complex problems. 

While a scientific calculator can easily perform the tasks of a basic calculator, the opposite is not possible. This is why the fields of science, mathematics, and engineering require constant use of scientific calculators. On a scientific calculator, a user can solve:

    • Trigonometry problems
    • Logarithm problems with base ten and the natural base
    • Probability problems that use the factorial function
    • Scientific numbers that have a multiplication by 10 to a certain power
    • π problems

2. Display Size

If you compare the two types of calculators next to each other, it is obvious that scientific calculator displays are much larger. A regular one has a smaller screen, and this is because its applications are limited.

3. Price And Availability

A regular model is definitely cheaper than specialized scientific calculators or graphing calculators. Since the basic options do not perform advanced functions, their price is comparatively lower.

Besides, they are readily available in any corner store, which is not always the case with scientific calculators.

In short, basic calculators are:

    • Designed for basic arithmetic
    • Ideal for house or office work
    • Have 16 to 26 buttons
    • Four functions
    • Uses solar power

On the other hand, scientific calculators are:

    • Designed for complex functions
    • Ideal for mathematical and scientific equations
    • Have 40 to 50 buttons
    • Have more features like trigonometric symbols and pi
    • Works on battery

How To Reset Scientific Calculator

There are only a few steps required to reset a scientific calculator, which you can apply within minutes. But first, take a look at some reasons that require resetting or formatting a scientific calculator in the first place. When a user enters a mode like a spreadsheet or a vector, changing midway becomes impossible.

Thus, it requires resetting so that a new mode can be used for calculations. You may also need to reset because:

    • Calculator is working incorrectly
    • You need to remove stored data
    • Display contrast may need changes
    • You may need to return to degree mode from gradient mode

One thing you must remember is that the process of resetting each calculator is different. In fact, two calculator models from the same company will not have the same process and steps to reset. This is why you need to be sure of the calculator model so that you follow accurate instructions without going astray from the directions.

Let’s take the example of Casio scientific calculators and their resetting procedure. Usually, users will need to reset the device after replacing the batteries. Take a look at some general steps to reset the Casio scientific calculator:

    • Open back cover of calculator to put in new batteries 
    • Screw the cover tightly back in place
    • Go to settings and set it on factory mode
    • Switch on calculator and press shift with the number 7 key
    • Press 3 and double press = sign for a complete reset

What’s The Best Scientific Calculator?

Choosing the best scientific calculator depends on your purpose more than anything else. You can always look for reviews of the topmost choices or brands that are doing particularly well. However, keep in mind that what suits someone else might not be the right fit for you. 

Popular Brands

    • Texas Instruments 
    • Casio
    • Toshiba
    • Canon
    • Hewlett-Packard

1. Exam Approved Calculators

If you need to buy a new calculator for an exam, you can’t just buy any calculator. There are very specific guidelines for each exam, and meeting those criterias is of utmost importance. After all, students may get kicked out of the exam room if they bring the wrong kind of calculator.

For ACT exams, there are some models that are allowed while others are entirely prohibited. The rules might change, but here are some ACT-approved calculators that are allowed in exam halls:  

Texas Instruments 

    • TI-30
    • TI-34


    • Casio Prizm

We recommend double-checking with the exam board about the latest list of ACT-approved calculators. Also, some calculators are banned, and you need to avoid buying them for exams such as: 

Texas Instruments 

    • All model numbers starting with TI-89 and TI-92
    • TI-Nspire CAS (the TI-Nspire non-CAS is permitted)


    • HP48GII
    • HP Prime
    • All models that start with HP 40G, HP 49G, or HP 50G


    • Algebra fx 2.0 
    • fx-CP400 (ClassPad 400)
    • ClassPad 300 or 330
    • All model numbers starting with CFX-9970G

It goes without saying that mobile phones or digital tabs aren’t allowed in exam halls either. Additionally, any calculator with a qwerty letter format could also be prohibited.

2. Cost

You may be tempted to buy the cheapest option because it’s just a matter of one or two exams. However, the cheapest ones might not be the most reliable, and the last thing you want is a dysfunctional calculator on exam day. 

Instead, we suggest investing in a better quality scientific calculator even if it costs slightly more. This will help you calculate effortlessly and allow you to focus on what’s important.

3. Keep Your Options Open

After years of using different calculators, students and professionals alike find a calculator type that suits them best. However, this is not something they understand in one go, and getting accustomed to a new model or a brand is bound to take time. Consider your options and go for one that seems ideal for your daily use.

It’s always possible to switch to another brand if the previous one is not intuitive. 

Difference Between Calculator And Scientific Calculator Frequently Asked Questions ?

Which calculator should I buy?

What you study or why you need to calculate numbers will determine the suitable type of calculator. If you are not sure that your mathematical problems can be solved on a scientific calculator, try using a free online calculator to solve them. Some brands can be pretty expensive, so ask your classmates and teachers for their suggestions.

Are scientific and graphing calculators the same?

No, scientific and graphing calculators have different functions, so we cannot use them interchangeably. Both are complex calculators meant for working on challenging problems, but graphing calculators specialize in plotting graphs. 

This means that you can calculate and plot coordinates with a graphing calculator, which you can’t do using a scientific calculator. 

Engineering calculator and notebook on a wooden table close up. Difference between calculator and scientific calculator final words.

Difference Between Calculator And Scientific Calculator Final Words

Ultimately, when looking for a calculator of any kind, make sure it contains all the functions you would need for your exams or projects. Apart from that, the brand and model choice is entirely up to you. Here’s hoping you find the ideal calculator soon enough! 

Until then, goodbye! 

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