Speed and accuracy matter for the CFA, FRM and CAIA exams. It is worth investing some time to learn how to use your calculator more effectively.
This Texas Instruments BA II Plus guide is the ultimate list of some lesser-known, time-saving calculator functions that you need to know for your CFA exam preparations, regardless of level.
These tips and advice apply to both BA II Plus & BA II Plus Professional calculator models. It also assumes you already know the basics like calculating IRR, NPV and time value of money.
I’ll start off with a discussion on which calculator version I prefer (and why), moving on to the recommended calculator settings for CFA exams, then jumping into details of each function I found useful, before ending with the usual FAQ section.
Let’s dive in!
- BA II Plus vs. BA II Plus Professional
- BA II Plus calculator – 3 recommended settings for CFA exams
- How to use BA II Plus: Additional tips & functions you should know
- BA II Plus calculator help & FAQ
- Why is my BA II Plus rounding?
- Can I solve normal distribution questions with BA II Plus?
- My BA II Plus calculator is not calculating correctly. Need troubleshooting help!
- How to reset a BA II Plus calculator?
- What is the typical BA II Plus battery life?
- What battery does BA II Plus need?
- How do I change or replace my BA II Plus calculator’s battery?
BA II Plus vs. BA II Plus Professional
The BA II Plus calculator is used by most CFA exam candidates – but which should you choose? BA II Plus or BA II Plus Professional version?
Having tried both thoroughly, I would recommend using the basic BA II Plus model instead of the Professional version.
I prefer simple BA II Plus model because:
- it does the job well,
- it is lighter, and
- the buttons press is superior without much force required – this is more important than you first think (see below).
Whilst BA II Plus Professional certainly looks better and feels more premium, I felt the effort to make it premium (weight and button press) did the calculator a disservice without extra benefits vs the “basic” model:
- More expensive
- Nearly 50% heavier than BA II Plus (including its cover) – yes, we measured. The Professional version doesn’t come with a cover by the way.
- The button design is really my pet peeve here:
- Sure, the Professional version’s buttons feel more premium, however they are harder to press and not as responsive when keying in data. If you use this for hours, you can’t really afford to constantly check if data has been entered correctly. This can present quite an unnecessary source of calculation mistakes.
- Also, the Professional version’s button are all the same colour, in an effort to look sleek. The 2ND button is just a shade lighter than the rest. But that’s it. Having the colour differentiation across the numbers, 2ND button and TVM functions are actually quite handy, for me at least.
- What about the extra features in Professional? I don’t find them necessary nor worth it, the touted NFV additional function only applies very select cases of NPV, and can be done via NPV yourself anyway. It is better to stick to the standard NPV function and learn one way to doing that to avoid confusion and waste time with unnecessary complexities that overall don’t save much time, nor is tested often.
You don’t really need BA II Plus Professional. And you certainly don’t need a financial calculator to tell you that you’re an Advanced Business Analyst, vs. just a Business Analyst 🙂
If you haven’t got a BA II Plus calculator and decided on your model now, you can easily get the latest model on Amazon:
BA II Plus calculator – 3 recommended settings for CFA exams
Make sure that you don’t execute the RESET function (i.e. 2ND +|− ) unless you want to reset all your settings back to factory settings. For more info on how to reset your calculator, see the Help & FAQ section.
If you accidentally did that (or if one of the proctors did that to your calculator before the exams – it happens), make sure you learn how to reconfigure your calculator settings as below.
1) Increase to 9 decimal places
Screen will show ‘DEC = 9’. If there is no ‘ = ‘ sign, press ENTER again to register your settings.
|Your calculator’s default is 2 decimals. For the CFA exams, we recommend a 9 decimal setting for floating decimals.|
Floating decimals essentially means that the calculator will show as many decimals (up to 9, in this case) for each number as needed.
For example, with a 9 decimal setting, the calculator will show 2 as 2 (with no decimals), but will show 2.39756732 as 2.39756732.
2) Set the period per year to 1
|This is to check that the setting is right for most calculations you need for the CFA exam curriculum.|
Set “P/Y”, i.e. period per year = 1.
Recent BA II Plus calculators have 1 as default, however much older models have a default of 12. So worth checking just in case.
3) Use Algebraic Operating System (AOS) instead of Chain Method (CHN)
Screen should show ‘AOS’. If not just repeat the keystrokes.
|Set your calculation method to Algebraic Operating System (AOS). |
This means that when you calculate 3 + 4 x 5, it will show 23.
The chain method (Chn) however, will show 35. We recommend AOS method setup to avoid confusion.
How to use BA II Plus: Additional tips & functions you should know
The tips listed here applies to all levels. Try them, and choose whichever works best for you.
This section is not meant to be a comprehensive section about all the IRR, NPV, TVM and CF functions that you need to know for your exams, but rather a few tips that hopefully speeds up your calculation process whilst maintaining accuracy.
Parentheses (or brackets)
|I find these parentheses buttons quite helpful in making sure I compute correctly, as putting brackets (just like writing them on paper) ensures that the computation is done in the preferred order and logical way.|
Clear entries & memories: Backspace, CE|C and Clear TVM buttons
|Backspace button||This is a useful backspace button, especially when you make a mistake in the middle of typing out a long equation, you don’t have to restart.|
For example, pressing 2 x 3 → 2 = will give you 4, as you have reversed the mistake of pressing 3 without the need to restart the whole operation.
You have better control and can delete by character/numbers, rather than clearing the whole previous entry like the function below.
|CE|C button: 1x clears previous entry|
CE|C button: 2x clears everything
|Using the same example previously, pressing CE|C once clears the previous entry entirely, whereas pressing it twice clears everything.|
So 2 x 3 CE|C 2 = will give you 4.2 x 3 CE|C CE|C will just give you 0, as pressing CE|C effectively clears everything in the calculation.
Pro tip: Press the CE|C button twice to clear your calculator before moving to the new calculation.
|CLR TVM button: Clear TVM Worksheet||Make sure you clear all previous work before you start any TVM calculations. |
It may sound obvious, but you need to make this a habit as it is one main source of calculation mistake.
|CLR WORK button||If you want to clear just an individual memory, just store a zero value in it. More info on how to store values further below →|
However, if you want to clear all 10 memory slots, press 2ND 0 2ND CE|C.
Remember, clearing memory before starting a new calculation is key to avoid errors.
Power function (exponents): The K function and y^x button
|The K function||This is a quick compounding function, especially when discounting or in TVM questions.|
For example, if you press 1 x 1.05 2ND % =, it will give you 1.05 (compounded once).
Pressing = continuously n times will give you the answer for 1.05^n, where n = 2, 3, 4…
|y^x button||To use the power function or do exponentials, use the y^x button.|
Make sure you have set your calculator to AOS mode first.
Then try this example: 5 x 10^3. The calculator keystrokes are: 5 x 10 y^x 3 = , which should get you 5,000 under AOS setting.
You can even use fractions in the exponents, e.g. 3 x 100 y^x 0.25 = 9.486832981.
Memory function: Storing & recalling values and clearing memories
|Storing & Recalling Numbers|
To store a number:
To recall a number:
|Storing values are crucial for more complex calculations. |
Storing (STO) and recalling (RCL) numbers in the calculator’s memory speeds things up significantly.
To store the number on your calculator screen, press STO then for example 1 to assign it to slot 1.
To recall that same number, press RCL 1. Lifesaver!
|Recall Your Last Answer||Also there’s another lesser known nifty feature that recalls the last answer of your computation. |
It updates the value continuously and reflects your last answer.
Handy if you forgot to store it, or need it as an input to the next equation.
|Clearing All Memory / Stored Values||Finally, you need to remember and know how to clear stored values: |
1) To clear an individual memory, just store a zero value in it, i.e. press 0 STO 3 (if clearing memory slot 3 only, for example).
2) To clear all 10 stored memories (numbers 0-9) using the CLR WORK function by pressing 2ND 0 2ND CE|C.
Stat function: Crazy shortcuts to standard deviation, variance & mean
While I’m not going to go into detail of how to use TVM, NPV, IRR or CF functions (you should know this anyway), the Statistics function is one of the relatively unknown functions that actually saves a ton of time especially for Quants or Portfolio Management topics. Basically any question that requires calculation of the standard deviation or mean from a data set would be perfect for this.
Best to illustrate this with an example with sample data set: 20, 15, 5, -3, 8
|1) To setup your calculator to do single variable statistics, press 2ND 8.|
(Repeat until you reach the ‘1-V’ setting)
|2) Toggle using 2ND ENTER until you see 1-V. The other 4 settings: LIN, PWR, EXP, Ln are for regression analyses which we won’t be needing for CFA exams.|
|3) Clear screen and let’s input the data above.|
|4) Enter the Data setting (press 2ND 7).|
5) Always clear memory of previous entries before entering new data by pressing 2ND CE|C (CLR WORK).
|6) Then, enter data into X01, X02, X03…. etc, and leave Y01, Y02, Y03… as default of 1. |
X represents data, whilst Y represents frequency of that data point.
(Repeat ↓ as needed)
|7) Finally, you enter into the Stats function to see ‘1-V’, which is the correct setting.|
By toggling with the ↓ button, you’ll see the results:
sample standard deviation S(x) = 8.92;
population standard deviation (σx) = 7.97;
For the variance, just use the x^2 button on the relevant standard deviation.
A quick way to get the population mean and standard deviation!
Okay, that may not seem like a big deal to you.
The Stat function’s true time-saving power comes when you’re asked to look for standard deviation or variance in a slightly more complex question like this:
|1) Assuming that your calculator is already configured for single variable statistics (1-V), clear your data as usual before you start a new question by pressing 2ND 7 2ND CE|C.|
|2) In this case, X variables are the return, Y variables (frequency) are the weighting. |
It is important to note that the frequency data (Y variables) must be entered in whole numbers for this calculator.
This means that for the weightings, we just enter 55 for 55% (not 0.55) and so on.
3) Proceed to enter data into X01, X02, X03 for returns and Y01, Y02, Y03 for weighting.
|4) Finally, you enter into the Stat function, which should say 1-V, and scroll down for your answers:|
a) n=100 (good check point that your weights sum up to 100%, and also that you didn’t mix up the variables)
b) mean x̄=2.195%
c) population standard deviation (σx) = 5.23 is the answer. We are using this instead of sample standard deviation (despite it being similar as n is large) because n is arbitrary due to the weighted nature of the question.
Voila! Now that’s a crazy time saver.
BA II Plus calculator help & FAQ
Why is my BA II Plus rounding?
The BA II Plus calculator comes with a 2 decimal places default setting. To stop the rounding, all you have to do is increase the decimal places, as detailed in the Recommended Calculator Settings section.
Note that changing the number of decimal places affects the display only, as the the calculator actually doesn’t round internal values (except for amortization and depreciation results) which it uses for calculations.
If you want to round the internal values, use the ROUND function (2ND STO buttons).
Can I solve normal distribution questions with BA II Plus?
Unfortunately BA II Plus and BA II Plus Professional do not provide z-value probabilities.
You’ll need to know how to use and read from the z-tables provided. and more importantly, memorize 6 critical z-values for the CFA exams.
More details about these key values are provided in our Free Probability Distribution Tables article.
My BA II Plus calculator is not calculating correctly. Need troubleshooting help!
Most of the time, this tends to be a human error rather than the calculator’s fault.
Here’s a few list of things to check to troubleshoot, assuming your inputs are done correctly:
1) TVM calculations:
a) Did you Clear TVM worksheet? Before starting each TVM calculation, just make you clear your previous work (it’s good practice) – just press 2ND FV buttons.
b) END vs. BGN mode: Make sure that your calculator is in the END mode, rather than BGN mode. If it is in BGN mode, you can see it in the top part of the screen, and just press 2ND PMT 2ND ENTER 2ND CPT to switch it back to END mode.
– It’s useful to know that the factory settings has END mode by default as well.
c) + and − signs: Make sure that the signs of PMT and FV are the same, and opposite to the PV. Don’t enter (+) for FV and PV, for example, as it will trigger Error 5 (i.e. no solution exists).
– Another tip is to double check that cash inflows are positive and outflows are negative.
d) I/Y format: Remember that I/Y is given in integers not in decimals.
2) Clear everything before you start: Press CE|C button twice and 2ND 0 2ND CE|C to clear all 10 memory slots.
3) Check your calculator settings: Press 2ND . ↓ ↓ ↓ ↓ (↓ button 4 times) to go through the main settings of the calculator, just to make sure everything is correct.
How to reset a BA II Plus calculator?
1) Press 2ND then +|− buttons.
2) You’ll see RST? and the Enter indicators on screen.
– If you changed your mind at this point, just press 2ND CPT to cancel reset. The screen will then show 0.
– If you would still like to proceed to reset, press ENTER, and the screen will show RST and 0 to confirm that your calculator has been reset.
Hard reset option: You can also reset the calculator by gently inserting a pointed object in the hole marked RESET at back of the calculator.
What is the typical BA II Plus battery life?
The official Texas Instruments BA II Plus calculator manual doesn’t say how long the battery will last.
As far as we know, they last forever. None of our calculators have run out of battery, and some of them have been in constant use for more than 10 years!
What battery does BA II Plus need?
The BA II Plus calculator is powered by a single CR2032 lithium battery. It isn’t solar powered.
Make sure you get the right one, as there are other batteries that have similar sizes, such as the CR2025 and CR2016.
How do I change or replace my BA II Plus calculator’s battery?
You can watch our video on how to change your calculator’s battery, or follow the instructions below.
The instruction below is for BA II Plus ‘basic’ calculator only. For BA II Plus Professional, the back cover easily slides out without the need for screwdrivers.
1) Things you need: A single CR2032 battery, a small Phillips screwdriver (00 size), and preferably something to prise open the calculator shell.
2) Unscrew all 4 screws at the back of the calculator.
3) This is the tricky bit. Even without the screws, the calculator shell is held shut with plastic snap locks. It’s very frustrating to try and overcome this by hand so use a penknife or a small slotted screwdriver. Watch the video to see the best way to quickly pop open the shell.
4) Change the battery. In the older BA II Pluses, the battery is held together with two more Philips screws. In the new model, you can just slide it off.
5) Pro tip: Once you’ve changed the battery, quickly check that the calculator is working BEFORE you reassemble it!
6) Snap the cover back on, and screw the screws back on. You’re done!
7) You should know that it’s noisy. Changing your battery makes a shit ton of noise. The thunderclap sound of snapping the calculator shell open and shut, your grunts and miscellaneous clatters will all sound quite loud in the exam hall. If your battery needs changing, change it a week or so before the exam.
8) Another pro tip: Your calculator’s data is not retained when the battery is removed. Therefore, replacing the battery has the same effect as resetting the calculator, so make sure you reconfigure to your preferred settings right away before using it again.
Which BA II Plus function did you find particularly useful? Do you have further tips to share? Let us know your comments below!
P.S. – Meanwhile, here are some related articles that you may find useful: