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Taking the Real Estate Exam: Calculating Which Calculator To Use

The writers at Rockwell get asked a lot of questions about taking the Washington or California real estate exam. If you're wondering what the most common question is, the answer might surprise you. It isn't anything about the most arcane topics of property law, but rather: "Can I bring a calculator to the state exam?"

In California, the answer is a simple one: no, you can't bring a calculator to the California real estate exam. The DRE provides test-takers with calculators, so you cannot bring your own into the test site.

In Washington, the answer is a "yes, but…" You can (and should) bring in a calculator to the Washington real estate salesperson exam, and you'll see ten or eleven math questions where a calculator would be a big help. However, you cannot bring a calculator to the Washington real estate exam that is programmable or has an alphanumeric keypad. Nor can you use any sort of calculator app on your smart phone or other communication device (not only because of the keypad but also so you don't call for a lifeline during the exam).

Many Washington students follow up the first question with "Can I bring in a financial calculator to the Washington real estate exam?" Yes, you should be able to. While high-end scientific and financial calculators are "programmable" to a very small extent, that's not what the state is concerned about. What they don't want to see is a calculator that would allow you to type in exam questions, store them in memory, and then leave the test site with them.

Mortgage Calculator The real question, though, is why would you want to bring in a financial calculator, anyway? All the math questions that you'll see on the Washington real estate exam (area problems, commission problems, seller's net problems, tax assessments, proration, and the like) can be solved easily using a basic 10-key calculator you can get at any office supply store, superstore, or grocery store. Just make sure that the calculator you bring to the exam has a percentage key, which some very simple calculators leave out. So unless you've had a financial calculator for a long time and are not just comfortable with it but extremely fond of it, there's no reason to bring it to the exam; the extra functions and options won't help you, and they could confuse you.

That's especially true with Hewlett-Packard calculators. The HP-12C is still considered the gold standard in financial calculators, but it uses what's known as "reverse notation," requiring a different set of steps even to do basic arithmetic. It's a lot like switching from an automatic transmission to a stick shift. I've actually had students come in to Rockwell to proudly show me their new HP-12C… and then promptly ask me to show them how to use the darn thing.

So, if you need to buy a new calculator for the license exam, simplicity is the key. Even when you've passed your real estate exam and are working with buyers, you don't really need a calculator that can perform complicated functions like loan amortization. Amortization calculators are ubiquitous online; look at nearly any mortgage lender's website, or use this online tool if you want one that isn't bank-branded.

If you have any other questions about the Washington real estate exam or the California real estate exam, remember that you can give us a call anytime. (Note: we teach you how to solve exam math problems in both our prelicense and exam prep courses.)