Which Is The Best Calculator For The CFA Exam?

Choosing the best calculator for the CFA exam is a personal choice, but having the right calculator can save you a lot of time during the exam. I will outline in this article how I used the Texas Instruments BA II Plus Professional during the exam with success. This is also the calculator I recommend for the exam if you don’t already own another model of the allowed calculators.

CFA Institute allows the following models at the exam:

  • Texas Instruments BA II Plus (including BA II Plus Professional). The BA II Plus cost approximately $28 on Amazon, the Professional approximately $40.
  • Hewlett Packard 12C (including the HP 12C Platinum, 12C 25th anniversary edition, and 12C 30th anniversary edition), available for approximately $60 on Amazon.

Each has its pros and cons, but to cut a long story short:

I recommend the BA II Plus Professional for the CFA exam.


Let’s first start with images of all allowed calculator models:

Texas Instruments BA II Plus Professional

Texas Instruments BA II Plus Professional

Texas Instruments BA II plus

Texas Instruments BA II plus

HP 12c

HP 12c

The HP 12c is a somewhat older model of a calculator than the Texas Instruments models. In my opinion, unless you already own a HP 12c and really love it, I would certainly not purchase this calculator for the CFA exam as a first choice. It’s more expensive than the TI models and using it is somewhat clumsy and different from from other scientific and financial calculators. I personally did not like the feel of the buttons, and found the price point a bit steep for such a dated piece of machinery.

The Texas Instruments BA II Plus is affordable and fairly straightforward to use. For all three levels of the CFA exam I used the TI BA II Plus Professional, and it was great. You can also use this calculators for a range of other financial certifications, such as the FRM or the ERP, and even in your work as a finance professional.I find it very helpful to quickly calculate NPV or IRR without using an Excel spreadsheet.

In level 1 of the CFA exam, the most common more involved calculations you will need are NPV and IRR calculations. The BA II plus is very intuitive, and I was able to use the calculator to my full advantage without ever accessing the manual. The calculator has a bunch of statistical features also, such as calculating standard deviation, which can be useful. However, you can also calculate standard deviation with the formula you learned in almost the same time, so you don’t even need many of the features the calculator offers.

CFA Institute takes its calculator policy very serious, so don’t even think about using a different model than the ones suggested. From the CFA Institute website about their calculator policy:

CFA Institute strictly enforces all policies with regard to calculator usage during the exams and candidates are required to abide by the policies of CFA Institute. Your calculator will be inspected prior to the start of the exam. Your calculator must remain on your desk in full view and proctors will continue to inspect calculators throughout the administration of the exam. Possession or use of an unauthorized calculator at the test center will result in the voiding of your exam results and may lead to the suspension or termination of your candidacy in the CFA Program. Failure by the proctors to detect an unauthorized calculator prior to the start of the exam, or your use of an unauthorized calculator at any time during the exam, does not imply that the calculator is an approved model or that your scores will ultimately be reported. Calculator covers, keystroke cards, and loose batteries are permitted in the testing room; instruction manuals are not. You may keep a small screwdriver with you if necessary to replace batteries in the BA II Plus.

Before the exam, you will be asked to clear the memory of your calculator. You are allowed to bring a spare battery and a small screwdriver to change the battery, but you may be asked to unwrap the battery and/or place everything on the floor. I brought all of this with me, but luckily never used it. The battery of the BA II Plus Professional was good (and still is) for more than three years and for all three levels of the CFA. You will also see many candidates with two calculator at the exam (one used for backup). I don’t think this is necessary, as the battery will most likely not run out during the exam, but if it makes you feel better, get another BA II Plus for about $28 on Amazon as a backup.

I believe you will be very happy with either of the Texas Instruments models. I chose the Professional because of the look and feel, but the normal model is less expensive and offers almost the same range of features.

I hope this helped with your calculator choice, and I wish you all the best for your CFA exam preparations!