The CFA Institute has a strict calculator policy for the CFA exams. You would not be allowed to use your calculator in the exams if you don’t have the exact approved model to hand.
Only 2 calculator models (and their variations) are authorized for the CFA exams:
- Texas Instruments BA II Plus (including BA II Plus Professional), and
- Hewlett-Packard 12C (including the HP 12C Platinum, 12C Platinum 25th anniversary edition, 12C 30th anniversary edition, and HP 12C Prestige).
I wouldn’t call this the CFA Program version of the smartphone wars, but sometimes discussions can get a little heated on which calculator is ‘the best’. Read on for a more detailed comparison on all models.
TI BA II Plus – A Popular & Value-for-Money Workhorse
- Easy to learn and use
- Many third-party provider materials support the BA II Plus with step-by-step guides to calculation
- Cheaper than the HP 12C
- The main complaint from candidates is that it looks cheap and plasticky. If you agree you can always get the BA II Plus Professional (sleeker looking, although Sophie has her gripes with the BA II Plus Professional version’s button quality which may slow you down or worse, make mistakes…)
HP 12C – Sleek and Prestigious, But Be Aware of the RPN
However, it uses a different input convention to most modern calculators called a Reverse Polish Notation (RPN), which can be perplexing if you’re new to the concept. In Reverse Polish notation the operators follow their operands; for instance, to add 3 and 4, one would write “3 4 +” rather than “3 + 4”. You can try out a web version of how the RPN works on the HP 12C here.
- (Perceived) prestige – this is the ‘old-school’ calculator
- If you’re used to RPN, we definitely recommend the HP 12C – chances are you’ll have one already!
- If you’re NOT used to RPN, you’ll have to endure a learning curve before you can master the HP 12C, although many of the HP 12C’s fans maintain that it’s worth it.
- It’s more expensive. A side effect of its cult status among bankers is that it can cost 2-3x the price of a BA II Plus calculator.
- It’s not as widely used by CFA candidates. Study group discussions may go better if you are all working from the same calculator. Also, should you forget your calculator and borrow one, you’re probably going to end up with a BA II Plus loaner, so it might be better to get used to the BA II Plus.
Our CFA Calculator Recommendation
Don’t worry about one being slower than the other – the key presses required for typical CFA questions and processing times are close enough to be irrelevant.
Are you on the fence, or have you picked a side? Let us know why in the comments below!