audio read-through Mental Math: Addition

There are loads of ‘specialty’ math tricks for mental computation, like:

Although tricks like these are fun and impressive, they have limited usefulness in ‘real life’ because—well—these situations just don't naturally occur that often.

On the other hand, the mental arithmetic techniques covered in this exercise are all widely applicable. Master these techniques, and you'll go a long ways towards getting rid of any fears you might have about computing in public.

Like everything else (in math and in life)—the more you practice, the easier it will be! There is unlimited randomly-generated practice available in these web exercises.

If you're working your way through this online algebra course, then you know by now that one theme is:

Numbers have lots of different names.

The name you use depends on what you're doing with the number.

All the mental math techniques we're going to discuss make use of this idea! The primary skills needed are re-ordering, re-grouping, and these two familiar ‘renaming’ tools:

Most mental math techniques require mental addition, so let's practice that first. You need to know your addition tables, through ten. (Practice here, if needed.)

The ideas for mental addition are illustrated next:

$47 + 51$  
$\ \ = (40 + 7) + (50 + 1)$ Rename each number: tens plus ones.
$\ \ = (40 + 50) + (7 + 1)$ Re-order and re-group. When you do this mentally, you'll work with the tens first, ones last.
$\ \ = 90 + (7 + 1)$ ‘Hold’ the tens sum in your head, while you add the ones.
$\ \ = 98$ Finally, add the ones sum to the tens sum.

To practice, press the buttons below in the order they are numbered:

  Hold this sum in your head:  
  With the tens sum still in your head, add the ones digits:  
  Add the ones sum to the tens sum for your final answer:  

The prior exercise was carefully constructed so that no carrying was required. As an example of carrying, consider this problem:

Add:   $37 + 56$  
$30 + 50 = 80$ Add tens: hold this in your head
$7 + 6 = 13$ Add ones: this gives you $\,1\,$ ten and $\,3\,$ ones
$\displaystyle \begin{align} &80 + 13\cr &\ \ = 80 + 10 + 3\cr &\ \ = 93 \end{align}$ $80\,$ plus $\,10\,$ is $\,90\,...\,$ plus $\,3\,...\,$ is $\,93$

The next exercise extends the previous one; you may need to do some carrying. No hints this time. Click the ‘New Problem’ button, think, and then check your answer:


Remember this key idea: Always move from left (greatest place value) to right. Compare this with traditional hand-computation methods, where you move from right to left.

One last idea. Multiples of ten are easier to deal with than other numbers. For example, $\,120 + 80\,$ is an easier problem than $\,119 + 79\,.$ For this reason, you'll sometimes want to use the ‘Turn it Into a Simpler Problem and Then Adjust’ rule.

Here's the math behind the method:

$119 + 79$  
$\ \ = (120 - 1) + (80 - 1)$ Rename $\,119\,$ as $\,(120 - 1)\,.$ Rename $\,79\,$ as $\,(80 - 1)\,.$
$\ \ = (120 + 80) - 1 - 1$ Re-order, re-group.
$\ \ = 200 - 2$ Compute the new (easier) problem ...
$\ \ = 198$ ... and adjust!

Thought process:

The technique can be applied to just one of the numbers being added:

Consider: $459 + 36\,.$ Think: $\,460 + 36\,$ is $\,496\,...$   But you added $\,1\,...$   Subtract $\,1\,$ to adjust $...\,$   So the answer is $\,495\,.$

To practice the ‘Turn it Into a Simpler Problem and Then Adjust’ method, press the buttons below in the order they are numbered:

  Combining, you went:  
  And the answer is:  


On this final exercise, the problems are all mixed up. Remember: No calculator! This is mental math! Have fun!