Calculator and Slide Rule

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Calculator in the Exam Room

Affordable technology is continually reducing the amount of thinking we need to do in daily life. With the widespread popularity of digital watches, for example, we do not need to know how to tell time anymore. Computers, another thought - saving device, are becoming ever more sophisticated with the advent of artificial intelligence software. Recently, technology has been creeping into the classroom. Increasingly, teachers are allowing the use of calculators in mathematics class even during examinations. Even the Educational Testing Service, publisher of the influential SAT, is bowing to the times. From the beginning of the 1993-1994 academic year, students have been allowed to use calculators on the SAT.

This trend has dangerous, long-term consequences. In general, students should not be allowed to use calculators during mathematical examinations. While calculators do indeed save time on lengthy or complex calculations, allowing widespread use will corrupt these very tests, lead to a faculty appreciation of exact answers, and contribute to the continuing atrophy of important mathematic skills.

Admittedly, calculators are cheap; a decent one can be purchased for less than a price of a movie ticket. Permitting their use would greatly reduce simple computational errors and allow test-makers to devote more time to important mathematical concepts rather than the “grunt work.” Basic computation is relatively mindless and needlessly time consuming. Besides, in everyday life people use calculators, why shouldn’t students?

Students should refrain from overusing calculator for a number of reasons. First, the excessive amount of computation required on many tests is not an argument; it’s an argument for better tests. Allowing the use of calculators in the examination room will just make it easier for math teachers to fall back on problems that emphasize number crunching instead of insight and higher kevel thinking. Furthermore, the...
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