Steven Walker, Maths Subject Advisor
In this blog, I’ll summarise the calculator requirements just for the assessment of the qualifications. Many different forms of technology will be useful in supporting students in learning content however, and what you use in the classroom is entirely up to you.
What a calculator should and must not have for assessments is covered in two documents, the JCQ’s Instructions for Conducting Examinations and the specification document for your particular qualification. There is a wide range of calculators that satisfy the requirements in both.
A new version of the JCQ Instructions for Conducting Examinations is issued each academic year: make sure you make the latest one. The latest version has the calculator requirements in Section 10.
These requirements ban symbolic functions or Computer Algebra Software (CAS), along with the ability to communicate with other machines or the internet. This precludes some graphical calculators, though many are still valid for use in exams.
Requirements for a particular qualification will be given in its specification. I’ll deal with Maths first, then Further Maths. Note that this guidance is correct for both AS and A Level Maths A / Further Maths A and Maths B (MEI) / Further Maths B (MEI).
The only paper with its own different rules for technology is the Further Maths B (MEI) option Further Pure with Technology, which is beyond the scope of this blog; for more information on that, please see its specification or get in touch.
Any calculator that meets the AS and A Level requirements will also be permitted for the calculator papers in GCSE (9-1) Maths, Level 3 FSMQ: Additional Maths, Core Maths A and Core Maths B.
For A Level Maths, calculators must have an iterative function, as well as the ability to compute summary statistics and to access probabilities from standard statistical distributions.
The iterative function can be as simple as the ‘Ans’ button, which can be used to perform repeated iterations efficiently. Almost all scientific calculators now have this button and students may be familiar with using it from GCSE (9-1) Maths. Students could learn to use the table or spreadsheet functions on their calculator for this technique, but there is no need for these.
Summary statistics required for A Level Maths include mean, median, quartiles and standard deviation. There will be questions where knowledge of statistical formulae is needed, but there is an expectation that students will be able to off load these calculations to the calculator when appropriate. This will be reflected in the number of marks.
Accessing probabilities from the required standard statistical distributions is something that students can struggle with, so ensure that your class are familiar and confident with this. Our A Level Maths specifications clearly state that it is the binomial and normal distributions that students need. Note that it isn’t required for calculators to have specific statistical functions that find the probabilities.
Graphical calculators can be used in exams if they have the relevant functions (check these if you have an older models) and meet the standard requirements (they don’t have computer algebra software, ways to communicate etc.), but they are not necessary for the exams. Question authors take care when setting questions that students using a graphical calculator will not get an unfair advantage over those students with a scientific calculator. At the time of writing the Casio CG50 and the Texas Instruments TI-nspire are available and suitable for use in exams.
Newer models of scientific calculators that include binomial and normal distribution functions provide a good compromise between ease of access to the probabilities and cost/complexity. This includes calculators such as the Casio fx-991EX ClassWiz and the Texas Instruments TI-30X Pro.
For the classroom, scientific calculators such as these, along with software such as Excel, Geogebra, Desmos or Autograph (accessed via computer or mobile phones), form a complete technology package for teaching A Level Maths.
Basic scientific calculators may have a normal distribution function, but often won’t have a binomial function. These can still be used in exams, as long as they have a sigma function to sum cumulative binomial probabilities (if you teach AS Maths students however, you would have to teach this as extra content).
Calculators without a normal distribution function could also be used, if students are able to memorise the normal distribution function and calculate values themselves.
Inverse functions however would require trial and improvement and finding values for the binomial distribution with large n requires the normal approximation to the binomial. This is not ideal and we wouldn’t recommend this approach.
For Further Maths, the DfE’s subject criteria include the additional requirement that calculators must have the ability to perform calculations with matrices up to at least order 3 × 3. The only requirement beyond this is that if students are taking the Statistics option in either Further Maths A or Further Maths B (MEI), they should also be able to access the Poisson distribution. The four calculators mentioned above include both matrices and the Poisson, so with these a single calculator can be used for both Maths and Further Maths.
For all our current AS and A Level Maths and Further Maths qualifications, allowed calculators may be used in the exams for any function they can perform.
This allows technology to permeate the teaching and learning and also gets rid of the awkward grey areas that existed in previous specifications about what was or wasn’t allowed to be done on calculators.
The current qualifications allow students to use calculator functions such as polynomial solvers, definite integrals, gradient at a point and simultaneous equation solvers.
However, knowledge of how to perform these functions is still required by the content and may be assessed through questions using command words such as ‘In this question you must show detailed reasoning’. For more information on these and other such questions, please see our ‘Exploring our question papers’ guides for Maths A or Maths B (MEI).
Teachers may also be interested to know that most of the newer calculator models also have computer based emulators, which are useful for whole class teaching demonstrations. Teaching resources are also available from manufactures such as Casio and Texas Instruments.
Emulators can be used by candidates as part of special access arrangements. For more information, please see our previous blog Mathematics assessment – the use of computer technology as part of special access arrangements.
There are many great online resources available, so join the conversation by sharing your ideas and links to all your favourites in the comment box below..
If you have any questions, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call us on 01223 553998 or tweet us @OCR_Maths. You can also sign up for email updates to receive information about resources and support.
Steven Walker, OCR Maths Subject Advisor
Steven joined OCR in 2014 during the major qualification reform period and now primarily focuses on supporting the Level 3 maths qualifications. He originally studied engineering and then took an extended period to work and travel around the world before completing a PGCE in secondary mathematics. Steven began his teaching career with VSO in Malawi and has taught maths in both the UK and overseas.