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Mental Math Tricks and More

Daryl Stephens, ETSU
Students in grades 5–12 in Texas compete in a contest each spring known as Number Sense. It’s governed by the University Interscholastic League (UIL) based at the University of Texas (Austin).1 The test itself takes 10 minutes and usually has 80 questions. Students are given the test and a pencil with the eraser taped over. Problems must be answered using only mental calculations — no calculators, scratch work, or erasures. Every tenth problem is starred and requires only an answer within 5% of the exact answer. Tests are scored by taking five times the number right minus four times the number wrong up through the last problem done. The ones left blank at the end aren’t counted, but any problems skipped before the last one worked are counted wrong. For test problem sequencing and sample tests, see other handouts.

Sample Shortcuts (in no particular order)
I. Using algebraic identities A. 5 × 17 + 5 × 3 = _______ B. 122 – 82 = ________ Use the distributive property to turn it into 5 × 20 = 100 . Use the difference of squares to think of (12 + 8)(12 – 8) = (20)(4) = 80 .

II.

Multiplication shortcuts A. Multiply by powers of 10. These tricks are usually taught in regular math classes at the middle school level and involve annexing the right number of zeros or shifting a decimal point. They might possibly need teaching to fourth, fifth or sixth graders. B. Multiply by 50. Multiply by 100 and divide by 2 (or vice-versa). Or multiply by 5 and affix a 0 – whichever is easier. C. Multiply by 25. Multiply by 100 and divide by 4 (or vice-versa). D. Multiply by 75. Multiply by 100, divide by 4, and multiply by 3. E. Multiply by 33a. Multiply by 100 and divide by 3.

UIL governs a number of other academic contests in Texas public schools, such as calculator, drama, speech, debate, keyboarding, journalism, one-act play, computer science, reading maps/charts/graphs, spelling, ready writing, picture memory, and storytelling. It also governs middle and high school sports. Similar contests are sponsored by the Private Schools Interscholastic Association.

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carrying if necessary. Start with writing down the ones digit of the other factor. make it a two-digit number by writing a 0 in front. Example: 752 = 5625. 57 × 12 = 84 carried 1 to get 18. H. Carry the 1 again. G. 87 × 83 = 21 (7 × 3 = 21) 2. 1. This is sometimes referred to as “double the digit and add to its neighbor on the right. e. Use FOIL in reverse from algebra. 11 × 6823 = 3 (Write down the 3. Mental Math Tricks and More Squaring a two-digit number ending in 5. 57 × 12 = 4 Think 7 × 2 = 14.) Multiply by 12. 42 × 37 = 4 2 × 7 = 14. write 6. 1. add 7 so 10 + 7 = 17. 87 × 83 = 7221 (8 × 9 = 72) 2-digit × 2-digit in general. I. 3. then multiply 7 × 8. Write down the 5 and carry the 3 in your head. Example: 42 × 37 = 1554. Both 36 and 44 are 4 units away from 40. plus the 1 we carried. carry the 1. 42 × 37 = 1554 4 × 3 + the carried 3 = 15. then add the carried 1. Example: 11 × 6823. Then multiply the tens digit by one higher and write that product down in front.2 F. so think of this as (40 + 4)(40 – 4) and work it as 402 – 42 = 1600 – 16 = 1584 . 4 × 7 + 2 × 3 + 1 (carried from the last step) = 2. 24 × 26.) 4. Multiply the units digits and write that down. The product ends in 25. (Write down 25. Carry the 1 in your head. L. if the product is less than 10. Multiply by 11. for example. Multiply by 500 and divide by 4. Example: 36 × 44. Then ly the tens digit by 1 higher and write that product in front.” Example: 57 × 12 = 684 1.) 5. So. . Multiply by 125. 57 × 12 = 684 Take the 5.) 2.) Multiply two 2-digit numbers in the same decade whose units digits add to 10. 11 × 6823 = 5053 (6 + 8 + 1[carried] = 15. Think 5 × 2 = 10. Using Difference of Squares to help in multiplying. 11 × 6823 = 75. 87 × 83). Then write down the first digit (plus anything that is carried mentally). Carry digits in your head. 11 × 6823 = 53 (2 + 3 = 5) 3. (E. Then add each digit to its neighbor to the right.g. 11 × 6823 = 053 (8 + 2 = 10. J.g. 48 × 125 would be = 12× 500 = 6000 . 42 × 37 = 54 35. Write 8 and carry the 1. K. 3. 1 × 9 would be written as 09. add the 2.053 (The first digit is 6. We can use the algebra fact (a + b)(a – b) = a2 – b2 to multiply two numbers that are an equal distance from each other. Example: 1. write down the 4 and carry the 1.

Number Theory and Related Topics A. use the formula . it may often be easier to use (or ) and then write in lowest terms rather than changing to common denominators and . Double and Half. Example: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = _________ Use the formula that 1 + 2 + 3 + . it may be easier to multiply twice one factor by half the other.g.) B. Multiply the new exponents together. One factor that is a mixed number ending in ½. + n = 3 N. Note on adding and subtracting fractions: For mental arithmetic. then subtract it. 3. 35 × 18 = 70 × 9) 2. Useful fact: GCF(a. this gives the number of positive integer factors. Add 1 to each exponent.g. there are 8 terms.Mental Math Tricks and More M. C. (In other words. Example: 4 + 6 + 8 + 10 + 12 = _______ Add numbers in pairs from opposite ends inwards: (4 + 12) + (6 + 10) + 8 = 16 + 16 + 8 = 40 B. 22 × 13 = 11 × 26) 3. So the sum is 7 × 8 ÷ 2 = 28 .) Examples: 9 × 23 = 230 – 23 = 207 19 × 42 = 20 × 42 – 42 = 840 – 42 = 738 III. IV. Multiply the other number by 10. is 4 × 2 = 8 . Find the prime factorization of the number (use exponents).. (and the number of terms). then. An even number times a multiple of 5 (e. so 34 × 4 = 136 . where n is the number of terms. 9n = 10n – n. b) × LCM(a. (7½ × 16 = 15 × 8) Multiplying by 9. b) = a × b. Example: 10 + 12 + 14 + 16 + 18 + 20 + 22 + 24 = ____________ 10 + 24 = 34. . A number times a multiple of 11 (e. 8 ÷ 2 = 4. (Find the GCF and LCM by whatever method seems easiest to do mentally. The number of divisors.. Sum of a series A. For some multiplication problems (see below). 2. Example: How many positive integer divisors does 40 have? 40 = 23 · 51 . where n is the last term C. In an arithmetic sequence not starting with 1 and increasing by 1. This is especially good for 1. How many positive integer divisors does a whole number have? 1.

111 × 58 = 6438 (5 + 1 = 6) . Write down the ones digit. Take 58 – 5 = 53 b. carry.4 D. Add the tens and ones. 2. (6 × 1) + (4 × 3) + (5 × 2) + 2 = 30 088 d. Example: 52 × 101 = 5252. Multiply ones (f × c) and write down the ones. Sets where a and b are digits. : . Multiply a × d and add carried digit. Mental Math Tricks and More computing. If a repeating decimal has all digits after the decimal as repetends. Multiply two 3-digit numbers. write down 1s and carry. 4. 3. Then write in lowest terms. write a fraction with the repetend as the numerator and a denominator with the same number of 9s as the number of repeating digits. Write the tens digit (and carry). Repeat the previous step. 5. Write the 2-digit number next to itself. C. Divide by 90 (and simplify if possible): Another example: (Think of V. 111 × 58 = 38 (5 + 8 = 13) 3. Do (a × f) + (c × d) + (b × e) + carried digit. 6 × 3 = 18 8 b. Harder or More Obscure Multiplication Tricks A. Do (b × f) + (c × e) + carried digit. Multiply a 2-digit number by 101. carry. 111 × 58 = 438 (5 + 8 + 1 = 14) 4. VI. write down ones and carry. where the letter represent digits. 1. Example: 111 × 58 1. Do (a × e) + (b × d) + carried digit. (5 × 1) + (4 × 2) + 3 = 16 6088 e. Writing a repeating decimal as a fraction: 1. write it down. So 2. 111 × 58 = 8 2. (4 × 1) + 1 = 5 56.) A set with n elements has 2n subsets. Multiply a 2-digit number by 111.088 B. Let’s write it as abc × def. (6 × 2) + (5 × 3) + 1 = 28 88 c. Example: 123 × 456 a. Repeating decimals such as a. 6. write down the ones and carry.

Add a number to one addend and subtract it from the other to simplify the addition. Multiply a 3-digit number by 111. 111 × 234 = 74 3+4=7 3. 111 × 234 = 25. then multiply by 5. change 67 + 58 into 70 + 55 so that one addend is a multiple of 10. Same idea as for 429. (This works because . VII. Addition using compensation. Converting to Other Number Bases A. divide it by 7. it’s just sheer grunt work. Example: Change 853 – 397 by adding 3 to both numbers and computing 856 – 400. Divide the other number by 7 and multiply by 3. Multiply a multiple of 7 by 858. you may have to carry a 1 or 2 in your head.) Example: 56 × 429 = ? .974 Write down the 2. 6 × 5 = 30. So the product is 24. B. So to answer 10011002 = ____4 . Example: 42 × 715. 3. Or turn 502 – 328 into 500 – 326 by subtracting 2 from both numbers. 111 × 234 = 4 Write down the 4. Split the base-2 number into blocks of two digits.018 . Then convert 002 = 04 . Same as for 429. 56 G. so the answer is 30. Multiply a multiple of 7 by 429. but divide by 7 and multiply by 4. 002 = 34 . VIII. Most conversion has no tricks to it. Write that result as a 3-digit number (padding with 0s if necessary). and 1 digit. Use right-to-left “sweeps” of 1. then repeat the result in front. but divide by 7 and multiply by 6. As before. Multiply a multiple of 7 by 572.030 . Take the multiple of 7. Change base 2 to base 4. F. B.024 . 2. Example: 31024 = 110100102 . 42 ÷ 7 = 6. Base 4 to 2 would work in a similar fashion. 2. Subtraction using compensation: Add (or subtract) the same number to minuend and subtrahend to get easier numbers to subtract. 111 × 234 = 5974 2+3=5 5. 111 × 234 = 974 2+3+4=9 4. 2. 102 = 24 . So 14 × 572 = 8008 .Mental Math Tricks and More D. . 012 = 04 . partition the base-2 numeral as 1|00|11|00 and rewrite it as 10304 . 5 E. ÷ 7 × 3 = 24. So 21 × 858 = 18. and then write it again to the left. Write the result as a 3-digit number. H. For example. Simpler Things A. Multiply a multiple of 7 by 715. Example: 111 × 234 1.

Doug. (n. 4358 = 1000111012 .) Oh to Be a Math Wizard! (Publishing place unknown – picked up at an inservice in Texas in the late 1980s. (1989). Austin. University Interscholastic League.com/tricks/ Skow.academicmeet. Mental Math Tricks and More Change base 2 to base 8. Similar to changing base 2 to 4. 2007. Daryl Stephens Mathematics Department East Tennessee State University Box 70663 Johnson City. 2007. from http://www. Retrieved September 14. Numsen’s Trick Center.d. TX: University Interscholastic League.utexas. from http://www.uil.6 C. Developing Middle School Number Sense Skills. Henrietta. Dr. (2006). (2007). Retrieved September 11. but this time partition the numeral into blocks of 3 digits. remembering this chart: Base 2 Base 8 000 0 001 1 010 2 011 3 100 4 101 5 110 6 111 7 Examples: 1100100110011112 = 110|010|011|001|1112 = 623178 . References Blend. Donald P.edu . Division of Continuing Education. EJH Number Sense Problem Sequencing.edu/academics/elem_jrhigh/numsense_prob.html Dr.) Ray. the University of Texas. TN 37614-1701 1-423-439-6973 stephen@etsu.

adkins/TMSCA%20Practice%20Tests (Some of the answer keys don’t match up correctly with the right tests. percent/decimal 5. Sums of whole numbers 9. Recognizing place value 3. then Number Sense tests in main frame Number Sense Problem Sequencing (Source: http://www. multiplication & .60 1. subtraction.gcisd-k12. Example: A base problem could appear as problem #55.academicmeet. weight. Multiplication short-cuts 5.com/tricks/ • http://www. ELEMENTARY Problems 1 .52. & division of decimal fractions Comparing decimal fractions & common fractions 4. Greatest common divisor (gcd) & least common multiple (lcm) 11.utexas.htm Here are some places you can find practice middle school number sense tests: • http://www. Remainder type problems 6.edu/academics/elem_jrhigh/numsense_prob. Addition/subtraction of fractions with common denominators 2.) • http://www.20 1. More multiplication short-cuts 7. & division of whole numbers 2. Even & odd number type problems 7. volume 3. Conversion problems (either way): length. • http://www.html) Note: A type of problem from a particular section could appear later in the test.com/natural/mental%20math%20tricks/powerzone.themathlab. Order of operations 6.pdf • Elementary and Junior High Test Page: http://texasmath. subtraction.org/ • http://www. Addition.curiousmath. Conversion problems (either way): fraction/decimal. Consumer type problems 9. Problems about prime numbers 10. multiplication.texasmath.23. The others are of a more general nature. subtraction.com/ • http://www. Addition.uil. but should not appear earlier than problem #21. Addition.htm (Something like 132 tests here! From Cross Timbers Middle School. Ratio/proportion 8. Problems 41 .40 1. percent/fraction.texasmath.gcisd.net/~luonna. Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District) • http://64.186/schools/ctms/mathscience/1997/97test02. Roman numerals/arabic numbers Problems 21 . multiplication. Expanded notation 8. The first two are related to the Texas Number Sense Test.org/ – Click on Download on left. Rounding off whole numbers 4.Mental Math Tricks and More 7 Some Mental Math and Number Sense Test Links The following pages have lots of tricks on them.org/DL/EJH/ High School Tests: • http://www.org/schools/ctms/clubs_mathsciencenumbersense.

40 1. Factorial 8. multiplication & division of integers 2. median. area.20 1.number line 13. Sequences 5. More multiplication short-cuts 7. Area of: parallelogram. Consumer type problems 6. Solving simple equations 8. Mean. multiplication & division of whole numbers. Basic geometry facts 4. 6. circle 8. mode 9.80 1. Number theory . sphere 5. Multiplication short-cuts 6. rectangle. 13. Inverses Problems 41 . More percent type problems Problems 61 . Squaring two-digit numbers 6. Squaring numbers 7. triangle Radius/diameter of a circle Powers & roots of numbers Solving simple equations Sequences Sets Word problems Volume of cube/rectangular box Right triangle problems More multiplication short-cuts Base systems Problems 21 . Greatest common divisor (gcd) & least common multiple (lcm) 10. Probability 11. Square roots/cube roots 9. Base systems 7. capacity. Sums of whole numbers . More consumer type problems 9. rectangle. subtraction. More number theory 3. rhombus. More area problems 5. Powers of numbers 4. subtraction. Powers of numbers 8. circle 12. 5. Order of operations 3. Mental Math Tricks and More division of fractions and mixed numbers Substitution problems Perimeter/area of: square. length. 9. Substitution problems 7. Comparison of fractions & decimals 5. Coordinate geometry . 3.60 1.prime numbers and divisors 11. Ratio/proportion 13. subtraction. Volume/surface area of rectangular solid/cube 6. Pythagorean theorem 4. Solving inequalities 9. Probability 10. Roman numerals/arabic numbers 8.8 2. 8. Volume of: circular cylinder. rhombus. 7. 11. Sequences & series 6. Addition. More multiplication short-cuts 3. time 5. 12. More percent type problems JUNIOR HIGH Problems 1 . cone. Addition. Percent problems 4.80 1. Addition. Sets 2. Remainder problems Problems 61 . multiplication & division of mixed numbers and integers 2. More area problems: parallelogram. trapezoid. 111 7. 10. Inverses 3. 4. fractions. trapezoid 12. Repeating decimals 2. Use of the distributive property 4. Inequalities 10. Word problems 3. Perimeter/area of: square. Conversion problems (either way): English/metric. and decimals 2. Basic geometry facts 10. Coordinate geometry 9. Multiplication of 101.

Word Problems 4. Sets 9. Substitution 3. Repeating Decimals to Fractions 13. Coordinate Geometry Problems 4. Direct and Inverse Variation 3.Mental Math Tricks and More 11. Roman Numerals/Arabic Numerals 8. Percent Problems 10. multiplication.uil.60 1. Simultaneous Equations 12. Sequences 16. Determinants 6. Permutations & Combinations 4. Powers of Numbers 2. Derivative 7. Perimeter & Area Problems of Polygons 15. Right Triangle Problems 3. Determining Critical Values 10. Modular Arithmetic 5. Complex Numbers 2. English/Metric. Addition. Absolute Value 6. Sums of Integers 12. Order of Operations 3. Definite Integration 9 HIGH SCHOOL (Source: http://www. Maximum & Minimum Problems 11. Limits 6. Divisors. subtraction. Value of Domain of a Given Function 2. Comparison of Fractions and Decimals 5. Sums of Divisors. Application of Remainder Theorem 4. Polar/Rectangular Coordinates 4.pdf) Problems 1 . Remainder Problems 13. Composite Functions Problems 71 . Inequalities Problems 51 . Multiplication Short-Cuts 6. Regular Polygon Problems 5. Sequences & Series (Finite & Infinite) Problems 51 . Logarithms & Logarithmic Equations 3. Solving Simple Equations 11. Consumer Type Problems 14. Vectors 8.70 1. Ratio/Proportion 7.40 1. Trigonometry 5. Inverses 5. More multiplication short-cuts Problems 41 . Binomial Theorem (Expansion) Problems 61 . Use of the Distributive Property 4. etc. Matrices 7. More Remainder Type Problems 14. Mixed Numbers. Applications of Theorems from Geometry 2. Squaring Numbers 7.70 1.80 1. Quadratic & Cubic Equation Problems . Laws of Exponents 2. & division of Integers. Fractions. Bases Involving Decimal Fractions 3.edu/academics/math _number_sense/NS_sequence_HS.50 1. and Decimals 2. Base System Problems 10.utexas. Mean. & Mode 11. Greatest Common Divisor (GCD & Least Common Multiple (LCM) 9. Conics 6. Horizontal & Vertical Asymptotes 9. Slopes of Tangent Lines 8. Square Roots/Cube Roots 8.20 1. Median. Conversion Problems (either way): Percent/Fractions. Number Theory Problems Involving: Prime Numbers. Probability 5. Problems 21 . Greatest Integer 3. Volume & Surface Area 2. More remainder type problems 12.