Calculators To Count On for the CFA® Exam

A candidate solving cfa exam questions with a calculator

If you are looking to work in the financial services industry, earning the globally-recognized Chartered Financial Analyst designation can greatly boost your career. This cost-effective, universally acclaimed designation provides a comprehensive understanding of finance. Preparing for the demanding CFA Exam is a rigorous process. An important part of that preparation includes deciding between the approved CFA exam calculators.

Neither calculator has a built-in advantage over the other; each candidate most likely chooses a calculator based on personal preference. This blog outlines the details of each.

CFA Exam Calculators Usage Policy

The CFA Institute has strict policies in place regarding the use of calculators for all levels of the CFA Exam process, and all candidates must abide by their published and posted rules, as follows:

  • The CFA approves use of only the following calculators: 
    • Texas Instruments BA II Plus (including BA II Plus Professional)
    •  Hewlett Packard 12C (including the HP 12C 25th anniversary edition, the HP 12C 30th anniversary edition, and the HP 12C Platinum)
  • Your calculator is subject to inspection prior to the exam start
  • You must keep your calculator in full view on your desk
  • Proctors will periodically inspect calculators throughout the exam administration
  • Use of an unapproved calculator will result in voided exam results and/or suspension or termination of CFA candidacy
  • Failure by a proctor to identify an unauthorized calculator before the exam starts does not imply approval of the device or permission to use it
  • Loose batteries, keystroke cards, and calculator covers are allowed in the testing area, as is a small screwdriver for battery replacement purposes
  • Calculator instruction manuals are not permitted in the testing room
  • Prior to the exam, you will be required to clear your calculator’s memory

Texas Instruments BA II Plus

This calculator series, including the original and BA II Plus Professional version, is widely seen as a more user-friendly choice:

  • It uses the Algebraic Operating System (AOS) model, which closely resembles”school” math, for ease in learning basic functions
  • It has a larger display (and bigger screen) than the HP models
  • Less expensive than HP calculators

Original TI BA II Plus

This device is faster than the HP 12C, but lags behind the HP Platinum’s processing speed. It supports permutation and combination formulas.

TI BA II Plus Professional

This upgraded model offers advanced functions, such as calculation of Discounted Payback Period, and saves keystrokes on Time Value of Money functions. The battery case pops off, so changing batteries is easier than the original model. The display is also larger.

Hewlett Packard 12C

This calculator series, including the Platinum, Prestige, and anniversary editions, is the standard device for financial professionals that have been in use since 1981.

  • Use of the Reverse Polish Notation (RPN), a calculation system that can be counterintuitive and difficult to master
  • Can work in Algebraic mode (mimics the TI)
  • Does not have built-in combination and permutation functions
  • Slightly better battery life
  • Smaller than the TI calculators
  • More expensive than the TI models

Original HP 12C

The original model measures 5×3 inches with a small 10-character display. Its slim design includes 120 built-in stats and functions. The calculator boasts ease of use once you become accustomed to RPN.

HP 12C Platinum

The Platinum edition of the HP 12C is updated with more functions, increased memory, and processing speeds up to six times faster than its predecessors. This version of the calculator also offers an algebraic mode for more familiar input.

The Verdict

Ultimately, the Hewlett Packard Platinum calculator is faster, sturdier, and considered the industry standard. However, the Texas Instrument calculators are easier to learn for beginners. Regardless of your choice between the approved CFA exam calculators, repetitive use is key to becoming proficient enough to pass the exam. 

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