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Which Financial Calculator should you use?

December 17, 2012
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The CFA Institute's Calculator Policy and the GARP's Calculator Policy has authorized two common financial calculators for examination use:

  1. BA2 Plus (including BA2 Plus Professional) made by Texas Instruments

  2. Hewlett Packard's 12C (including the HP 12C Platinum, 12C Platinum 25th anniversary edition, 12C 30th anniversary edition and HP 12C Prestige)

Finance calculators

source: wikimedia

Since the financial calculator is your trusted exam aide, it is prudent to buy an approved calculator as early as possible to ensure maximum practice during preparation time. In this context, an open debate seems to have perplexed many students: which of the two models to buy?

Well, this being a choice rooted in subjectivity, there's no dearth of opinion. One myth doing the rounds is that Texas BA II is for young professionals while HP 12C is a legacy piece. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The fact is both are professional and both are utility-rich. The choice really depends more on individual preference which invariably is a function of habit. There's no point in hailing one at the cost of pinning the other down. After all, whatever the preference, the purpose remains the same: to have an approved calculator ready by your side on D-day.

Without making any outright 'for' or 'against' recommendation for either model, here's a handy tip that would help you rationalize your choice which would really depend on your willingness (or aversion) to learn Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). Developed in 1920 by Jan Lukasiewicz, RPN writes mathematical expressions without using parentheses and brackets. Not only does this save valuable calculation time (as much as 30%), it also allows the user to view intermediate results and define priority of operations.

Now, coming back to our choice of models, it's prudent to note that HP 12C uses RPN. So, if you are open to learning RPN, HP 12C would prove a good choice especially in CFA Program Level I where the range of calculator features would matter most. For Levels II and III, the formulas would tend to be more longhand, calling for minimal use of advanced features. Once you learn RPN, it won't take you long to see the benefit of its refined logic and defined simplicity.

But if you would rather not embark upon the steeper learning curve of RPN to ensure undivided time and attention for the CFA exam preparation, then TI's BA2 Plus is tailor-made for you. Given its hassle-free layout, it's very user-friendly.

Last but not the least, whatever the model of calculator you take along, use it well and give it your best shot in the exam. Wish you every success.


About the Author

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