


Math IIC Algebra Strategies
There are several ways to answer most algebra problems
on the Math IIC. You could try to solve a problem by setting up
and solving an equation. Alternatively, you can look for shortcuts
in the problem that allow you to find the solution without a lot
of math. Finally, you can often substitute numbers from the answer
choice and use the process of elimination to discover the right
answer.
None of these methods is necessarily better than the others.
Remain flexible in your approach to each question and choose the
method that best suits the problem. For a problem you know how to
solve, using algebra is probably the quickest method. In contrast,
a problem that has you stumped might become easy if you try to plug
in some answers. When you study your practice tests and look over
the algebra questions you got wrong, you should think about the
method you employed. To really get the most out of your practice
tests, you should analyze not only the questions you get wrong,
but also the questions you get right to make sure that you solved
them in the quickest way.
We’ll thoroughly explain the different problemsolving
approaches, and you can decide for yourself which method to choose.
Let’s use a sample algebra problem to illustrate these
varying approaches:

Using Algebra
This question is a simple rate problem that can be solved
with a few basic equations. Since traveling time = distance speed, it took him:
to drive to Giambia City. To find the duration of his
flight, we use the same rate formula:
It took the player:
longer to drive. D is the correct answer.
Substitution
Sometimes you might be unsure about how to approach a
problem or don’t have the time to think out the proper equations.
In such instances, substitution might be the best method, especially
with the more difficult questions at the end of the test. All you
have to do is substitute the answer choices back into the problem
and see whether the given information holds true.
The process of plugging in is simple. First, you should
make full use of the fact that the answer choices on the Math IIC
are always presented in ascending or descending value. So you should
almost always start by plugging in answer choice C,
since if it doesn’t turn out to be the answer, you can usually tell
whether to try a smaller or larger answer choice. Now, to solve
the question: it takes the baseball player 25050 = 5 hours to drive to Giambia
City. So, if it takes him C 4 hours more to drive,
then it takes him 5 – 4 = 1 hour to fly back to Jasonville. But
the question tells us that in 1 hour, he could fly 500 miles. Therefore,
it must take him longer than 4 hours more to drive than to fly.
Next, we try D 4.5. It takes him 5 – 4.5 = .5 hours
to fly, which means that he travels 500 .5 = 250 miles on his flight. D is
the answer.
Picking Numbers
Picking numbers is a variation of plugging in and should
only be used when the answer choices contain variables. A modified
version of our original sample question shows what kind of problems
lend themselves to picking numbers.

This question asks you to figure out which set of variables
correctly solves the problem. But thinking in terms of variables
can sometimes be unintuitive. Picking numbers allows you to transform
variables into concrete numbers.
To use the picking numbers method, you need to select
numbers and plug them into the answer choices. You’re essentially
trying to eliminate the variables from the problem by replacing
them with numbers that retain the relationships of the variables.
It doesn’t matter what specific numbers you plug into a problem.
The same answer choice will always surface as long as you plug in
consistently and follow all guidelines given by the problem.
For example, in the above problem, let’s choose to let m = 5, v = 100,
and p = 10. Clearly, these numbers aren’t realistic
(who flies at 10 miles an hour?), but your goal is to pick numbers
that are easy to manipulate. Using these numbers, you’ll see it
takes the baseball player 100_{}5 = 20 hours
to drive and 10010 = 10 hours to
fly. So, it takes him 20 – 10 = 10 hours longer to drive. Now all
you have to do is replace v, p,
and m in each of the answer choices with 5, 100,
and 10, respectively. You are left with simple arithmetic expressions,
and only D produces an answer of 10.
Very rarely, more than one answer choice will result in
the correct answer for the first set of numbers you picked. When
this occurs, simply plug in a different set of numbers. You will
almost never have to plug in more than two sets of numbers.
When picking numbers, you must check through all the answer
solutions with your chosen numbers. Obviously, this will slow you
down, but that’s the price you pay for using this method. Picking
numbers gives you a mechanical method for solving tricky problems
and also allows you to check your math for careless calculations.
Finally, when you are picking numbers, avoid 0, 1, or
any numbers that already appear in the answer choices. You should
also make sure that you try to use a unique number for each variable.
Otherwise, you can oversimplify the expressions you are dealing
with and accidentally pick the wrong answer.
The Bottom Line
As you can see, there is no “right” method to solving
all algebra problems. Some methods work better than others, depending
on the question. Part of your practice for the Math IIC test will
help get you comfortable with algebra questions so that you can
quickly choose which method you want to use for each question.
Now we’ll review the algebra topics covered in the Math
IIC Subject Test.
