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Using a Scientific Calculator

by Ron Kurtus (revised 8 July 2013)

A scientific calculator is an advanced version of the ordinary hand-held calculator or computer application that you may often use. It usually includes trigonometric functions such as sine and cosine, exponential functions such as square root, and miscellaneous mathematical functions. Some expensive scientific calculators even include graphic and problem-solving capabilities.

We have some simple scientific calculations in the School for Champions lessons and have included an online calculator to use. You can access it from the lessons with calculation examples. This lesson includes instructions to use such a calculator.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions. Useful tool: Units Conversion

Scientific Calculator

The online calculator is used just like a real one. But note that you need can't use your keyboard to input numbers. You need to click on the numbers and functions on the calculator.

How to use it

We assume you know how to use a simple calculator to add, subtract, multiply and divide, so we'll just explain the more complex functions.


If you enter a number by mistake, you can use C to clear that number. It does not clear previous calculations.

If you want to clear what is on the display, click AC ("all clear"). Note that AC does not clear the memory.

Clear mistake exercise

  1. Click AC to clear everything you may have done before.
  2. Enter 12 + 3 but then realize that you really meant to enter 13 instead of 3.
  3. Now click C to clear the 3. Then enter 13 and click = to get the correct answer of 25.


Note that different calculators have different expressions to clear the entries. Many calculators use C to clear an entry and AC to clear all, as does our calculator. On the other hand, the calculator provided with Microsoft Windows uses CE to clear entry and C to clear all. You need to be aware of which nomenclature your calculator uses.


For some calculations, you may want to remember one calculation to use later. You can add a calculation into memory by clicking the M+ button. Then you recall it later with the MR button. You clear the memory with the MC button.

Note that M+ will add whatever you have on the display to whatever is already in the memory, so it is good to click MC before adding with M+, unless you have recently started the calculator.

Adding to memory exercise

You want to add 1 + 2 and then multiply that by the sum of 8 - 3.

  1. Click AC to clear all.
  2. Add 1 + 2 and click =.
  3. Click MC to clear the memory, then click M+ to add the value to memory.
  4. Click AC to clear previous addition.
  5. Then enter 8 - 3 =.
  6. Click * to multiply by another number.
  7. Click MR to recall what is in memory. Then click =.

You should get a total of 15.

To see how to add more to memory, click M+ and then MR. The 15 should be added to the 3 already in memory, giving you 18 when you recall memory.


1/x is simply 1 divided by whatever x is.

sin, cos, tan, inv

Functions used in trigonometry concerning angles are sine (sin), cosine (cos), and tangent (tan).


There is also the capability of going backwards. If you know the sine, cosine or tangent, you can find the angle in degrees for that function. This is called the inverse (inv) operation. Those values are also called the arcsine, arccosine and arctangent.

x^2 and x^y

x^2 means "x squared" or x2. That also means x times x or x*x.

  1. Clear all
  2. Enter 3 and click x^2 to get 9.

x^y means x raised to the y power. For example, if y = 3, you would have x cubed or x3. Using this operation is tricky.

Suppose you wanted to calculate 34. That is 3*3*3*3 or 3 times itself 4 times.

  1. Clear all
  2. Enter 3, then click x^y
  3. Enter 4 and click =.
  4. You should get the answer 81.


sqrt means the square root of the number. It is often seen as the symbol , but that may not show up in some older browsers.

The square root of a number is the value multiplied by itself that equals the original number.

Find the square root of 121:

(You can also calculate the square root with x^y, using y = 0.5.)


pi is the number 3.14159... used in many geometry calculations. It is more often seen as the Greek letter π, but that may not show up in some older browsers.


ln is called the natural logarithm of a number. This operation is not used much.


n! represents n factorial. That means if n = 7, n! = 7*6*5*4*3*2*1. This operation is not used much.

  • Enter 4 and click n!.


You can use the online scientific calculator to help solve various problems. It is very similar to actual battery powered calculators.

Use good tools

Resources and references

Ron Kurtus' Credentials


eCalc Scientific Calculator (downloadable) - Includes instructions and many features

Scientific Calculator - Online version from

Scientific calculator for chemists with notebook

Physics Resources

Scientific calculators

Some calculators available from

Hewlett Packard 49G+ Graphing Calculator - Costs about $120

HP 33S Scientific Calculator (F2216A) - Costs about $48

Texas Instruments BA35 Calculator - Costs about $21


Top-rated books on Scientific Calculators

Top-rated books on Physics

Questions and comments

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