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Question

Dear Mitch,

I read somewhere that a while back you had some trick for students who could get the nine-times table right every time if they used that famous finger trick, but who were not allowed to be seen using their fingers while taking a test.  Do you still have that trick handy?  Or can you come up with something else that would help my daughter?  She has a test on the multiplication table next week, and she still has trouble with some of them, so I thought if I could just point her in the right direction for the nine-times table, it would get her going.  So, anything you can come up with would be great!

Thank you,

Phoebe's Dad

Answer

Dear Phoebe's Dad,

I do recall writing about this very subject, but rather than search through the hundreds of questions I've answered since beginning this site three years ago, here are a few things she could try:

Since the whole trick, which I illustrated in detail and might be worth pulling up, is based on the student's use of all her ten fingers, the same magic can be done with any ten characters written on your daughter's test paper.

She might try:

MathIsCool

or

MathIsReal

or

ILikeMath!

Then, just like with the finger trick, she counts out the number that nine is being multiplied by, and covers that letter with the tip of her pencil.  The number of letters or characters on the left turns out to be the tens' column, and the number on the right of the covered letter turns out to be the one's column.  So, for example, if she is asked what nine times four is, then she counts out four letters from the left and covers it with the tip of her pencil.  And on one side of the gap caused by the pencil's tip she will have three letters, while on the right she will have six letters (or characters, such as the exclamation point).  So she will have 3  6, or thirty-six!  Show her how to do it once, and I guarantee she'll find it helpful.  The main thing to remember is that she pick a phrase that has ten letters or characters in it.  After that, it's magic!

Hope this helps,

Mitch