Calculators for Amateur Radio Exams

A question that comes up from time-to-time… what sort of calculator can I use for my Foundation, Intermediate and Full amateur radio exam?

The wording from the RSGB paperwork (Booklet EX500 2016 edition) states as follows:

3.1 Silent, battery powered, non-programmable calculators are permitted. The Invigilators may provide spares but are not required to do so.

Foundation

For Foundation, the most complex formulas you’ll need to tackle are V = I x R and P = I x V

Any basic calculator will do the job here. I train with a local club and we provide candidates with a loan calculator for the exam. They cost £1 and came from one of the many “High Street Pound Shops’ out there. These are perfectly adequate, as a scientific calculator is not needed

A basic £1 calculator for Foundation
A basic £1 calculator for Foundation

Intermediate

Formulas at this level do get slightly more complicated (but not much), and a scientific calculator is helpful (but not essential). A basic ‘pound shop’ one would do, but for peace of mind, a scientific calculator (just to help with exponents) makes sense.

Advanced / Full

A scientific calculator is a must. For the exam, you’re given a one-page list of formulas (so you don’t have to remember them all), and you will be given some formula questions. Here’s an extract showing a couple of the more complex formulas:

Extract from the Full exam formula handout
Extract from the Full exam formula handout

If formulas aren’t your thing, then I’d strongly advise getting a scientific calculator with a large screen that allows formulas to be typed in as seen, like this:

Large-screen calculator with visual representation of formulas
Large-screen calculator with visual representation of formulas

One that’s often recommended, and is featured in the RSGB’s Intermediate Licence book, is the Casio fx-85GT – This is available for around £10, and is ideal for all three licence levels. It’s non-programmable and allowed for use in GSCE and A level exams, making it fine for amateur radio exams.

Want an edge?

For a few pounds more, take a look at the Casio fx-991EX PLUS. This gets a five-star rating as the best calculator to go for, as it has a trick up its sleeve – the “SOLVE” button. Essentially, this allows you to type in an equation and put in an ‘x’ for the value you want to calculate. Press the “SOLVE” button, and wherever the ‘x’ is the formula, its value will be calculated. This calculator conforms to the requirements for UK school exams and is marketed as suitable for GCSE/A level, so this functionality is clearly not regarded as ‘cheating’.

Under “Using a Scientific Calculator” in the RSGB Advanced Licence booklet, there’s an example of calculating a resonant frequency. The Casio fx-991EX PLUS makes this a doddle – see below:

Casio fx-991ES Plus Resonant Frequency calculation
Casio fx-991ES Plus Resonant Frequency calculation
Casio fx-991ES Plus Resonant Frequency calculation
Casio fx-991ES Plus Resonant Frequency calculation result
What model of calculator is allowed for exams?

The RSGB don’t publish a list of approved / banned devices, and they simply state that calculators must be “silent, battery-powered and non-programmable”. Both the Casio fx-85GT and Casio fx-991EX PLUS mentioned on this page fit that category, and are marketed in the UK as suitable for GSCE and A/AS level exams (See fx-991EX Plus packaging).

In February 2017, RSGB advised its tutors of the calculator guidance issued by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ). They set the UK requirements for exams (including EdExcel and City & Guilds), and the JCQ’s published exam conduct guidance (2017) is clear: “Calculators must not be designed or adapted to offer any of these facilities: language translators, symbolic algebra manipulation, symbolic differentiation or integration, communication with other machines or the internet. Also they must not have retrievable information stored in them, including: databanks, dictionaries, mathematical formulas, text.” The two Casio models referred to, comply with those requirements and are OK for school use, so it’s hard to imagine that RSGB would have a problem with either model.

Non-programmable? Programmable calculators are defined as calculators that can automatically carry out a sequence of operations under control of a stored program (much like a computer). Typically these allow programs to be installed via USB or an SD card. Calculators with a memory function are fine.

Mobile phone calculators? No. RSGB Rule 3.2 states that:“All mobile telephones, smart watches and other electronic items (other than a calculator) must be switched off and deposited in a secure place so as not to be accessible during the examination.”

Any questions? Please ask below.

2 Comments

  1. 2E0GOZ 5 February 2018 Reply
    • HamTrain PeteAuthor 6 February 2018 Reply

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