CFA® Calculator Policy

By: Kaplan Schweser
January 12, 2021
CFA Calculator Policy

The CFA® exam calculator policy is clear and direct. Only two models are authorized. No other models are allowed in the exam room. This article explains why you need a calculator for the exam and the two models you can bring.

Why You Need a Calculator for the CFA Exam

If you have already begun your exam prep, you already know why you need a calculator. However, if you haven’t started yet, here is the answer. You have approximately 90 seconds to answer the questions on the CFA exam. The equations and calculations you are expected to solve are complicated. As a result, it is almost impossible to take the exam without a calculator and expect to pass. Calculators are not provided at the testing center, and you can’t borrow a calculator or share one with someone else at the testing center. Therefore, you must bring your own to the exam.

Are you taking the CFA exam? Learn about the basics. Download your free copy of the CFA® Program Fundamentals eBook, 2nd Edition.

Which Calculators You Can Use

The CFA exam calculator policy allows only two calculator models for the exam:

  • Texas Instruments (TI) BA II Plus (including BA II Plus Professional)
  • Hewlett Packard (HP) 12C (including the HP 12C Platinum, 12C Platinum 25th anniversary edition, 12C 30th-anniversary edition, and HP 12C Prestige)

Both of these models are widely available. You can order them on Amazon, the Texas Instruments and HP websites, and Walmart online. Both are often sold at office supply stores, as well.

The CFA exam calculator policy also allows calculator covers, keystroke cards, and loose batteries. You should definitely bring extra batteries. You can also have a small screwdriver for replacing your BA II Plus batteries. You can even bring a backup calculator if you want, as long as it’s one of the approved models. However, for any and all calculators you bring, you need to leave the manuals at home.

Before the exam starts, the proctors will inspect your calculator. You’ll need to keep it on your desk where it can be clearly seen because the proctors can inspect it at any time throughout the exam. If the proctors don’t detect that you’ve brought or are using an unauthorized calculator, it doesn’t mean that you’re in compliance with the policy. The proctors can also take it from you at any time. So, don’t take any chances. Bring one of the approved models with you.

The Difference Between the Calculator Models

The TI BA II Plus and TI BA II Plus Professional calculator models offer an algebraic operating system. Anyone who has been using calculators for math will understand that mode. It enables you to enter numbers and combined operations into the calculator in a straightforward sequence.

The HP 12C, 12C Platinum, 12C Platinum 25th Edition, 12C 30th Anniversary Edition, and 12C Prestige models are based on Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). Those who have been working in a bank are usually provided with an HP 12C model. With RPN, users follow their operands. For example, to add 511 and 6137, you would input “511 6137 +” and not “511 + 6137.”

Learning to Use the CFA Exam Calculators

Because you won’t be able to refer to the calculator manual during the exam (even if you could, you wouldn’t have time), you should learn how to use the calculators beforehand. You can start by downloading the manuals for the TI and HP models from the web. If you have decided to use the BA II Plus model, you can learn the basics in this Kaplan Schweser video tutorial and then tackle the more advanced features. There are also tutorials for the HP 12C. This tutorial covers the HP 12C for all finance applications, and this HP 12C tutorial is specific to the CFA exam.

TI BA II Plus vs. HP 12C: Which Is Better for the CFA Exam?

The answer to which model is better depends on your preferences and comfort level with the two different types of operating systems. If you’re used to algebraic inputs, and you haven’t had much experience with any other type of operating system, the TI BA II Plus model will probably work best for you. Most exam preparation providers, including Kaplan Schweser, focus on teaching you how to use the TI BA II Plus model.

If you have been using one of the authorized HP 12C models in your work or studies, then it might be the better choice for you. You can find a lot of information about why some candidates and CFA charterholders prefer it by checking out Analyst Forum and Quora.

Preparing to Take the CFA Exam? Or Considering It?

Now that you know what calculator models are authorized, learn what other items you should (and should not) bring with you to the CFA exam. If you’re ready to start preparing for the exam, check out our CFA exam packages.

Free eBook: Before You Decide to Sit for the CFA® Program Exam

Free eBook: CFA® Program Fundamentals, 2nd Edition

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