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Graphing Calculator: Calculator Modes
When you press MODE you see eight different options that allow you to change calculator settings based on what you need. The default settings are shown below.

The Normal, Scientific, Engineering mode will seldom be used. You will most likely always use the normal setting. Scientific mode shows all your answers in scientific notation. However, instead of 2.37 x 104 the calculator will display

Engineering mode is very similar to scientific except that it does not display answers in scientific notation until the answer is 1000 or larger.

Unless you are dealing with a science activity that requires all answers in scientific notation, normal mode will probably be sufficient for your calculations.

The next line on the Mode screen sets the number of decimal places displayed in your answer. Float will automatically give you the appropriate number of decimal places. For example, when dealing with whole number answers, the display is a whole number without a decimal.

However, when an answer is a terminating decimal, the calculator will show the necessary number of places after the decimal. With a non-terminating decimal, the calculator will display the first nine places past the decimal.

When you set the mode to a specific number of decimal places (1 - 9), your answer will always be displayed with that number of places past the decimal. For example, when set at 2, all answers have 2 digits after the decimal

If your answers are all supposed to be rounded to a certain number of decimal places, this is a useful mode.

The next mode setting is the most important one when dealing with angle measures in any course (trigonometry, precalculus, calculus, physics, etc). If you are working with radian values such as p/2, p/3, or 5p/6, you MUST have your calculator set in Radian mode to evaluate trig functions of those values.

Likewise, if you are working with angle measures in degrees, you MUST have your calculator set in Degree mode to perform calculations that involve trig functions.

Your answers will be dramatically effected by using the wrong mode. The same degree calculations shown in the screen above are now shown below with the calculator in Radian mode.

The calculator screen gives you no indication of the mode setting so you MUST pay careful attention to this. Before beginning any work with trig functions, check your calculator mode and the type of problems you are working with. Having the calculator set in the wrong angle mode is one of the most common mistakes when working with trigonometric functions.

The line on the mode screen showing Func, Par, Pol, Seq is where you choose the mode for the type of functions you are working with: function, parametric, polar, or sequence. Depending on the mode setting you choose, the key and the key will display different things. X is displayed in function mode, T is displayed in parametric mode, q is displayed in polar mode, and n is displayed in sequence mode. The Y= screen settings vary also. For a more complete explanation of this, see the lesson on mode settings.

The Connected and Dot modes adjust how the calculator graphs. By using the connected mode, all points on the graph are connected. This is usually the mode you want to use. However, when you are dealing with rational functions that have asymptotes, like , you see a solid line where the function is undefined.

In connected mode, the calculator is connecting the values to the left and right of the asymptote making it appear as if the graph is defined there. However, in dot mode, you can clearly see the place (x = 5) where y is undefined.

The Sequential or Simultaneous mode sets the calculator to graph your equation in sequential order of Y1 followed by Y2, Y3 and so on. Or if you are in another mode, r1, followed by r2, r3, and so on. Simultaneous mode tells the calculator to graph all the functions you have entered all at the same time. This is mostly a personal preference and seldom makes a difference to your work. The default setting is sequential which is what most people prefer.

The real or complex modes sets the calculator to allow certain calculations and how to display those answers. For example, in real mode gives you an error message.


However, by changing to rectangular complex mode (a + bi) you get the imaginary answer to the problem.

In polar complex mode (reqi) complex answers are displayed in polar form. This is a rarely used mode.

The screen display mode allows a full screen view, horizontal view, or graph/table view. Full screen is what each of the previous displays have been. It is considered the “normal” calculator screen.

To see a graph and calculations at the same time, choose the horizontal setting. You can also see a graph and the Y= screen with the equation at the same time. Anything you can do on a full screen you can see below a graph.


This mode makes each display smaller than the normal screen, but does allow you to see more than one thing at a time.

The G/T setting allows you to see your graph on the left side of the screen and the table of values for that graph on the right. Using the equation y = 3x+1 in this mode give you

This mode is useful when you want to see the table of values associated with your function. TRACE is still active in the G/T mode.

You now know the basics of setting calculator modes. You may want to explore the different possibilities if you didn’t already do so as you read through.

S Taylor

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