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Posts tagged ‘GCF’

Math Trick: Find the GCF for 3 or More Numbers

Find the GCF, your teacher says … not just for 2 numbers, but for 5 of them.

And yes, you need to do it by prime factorizing.

Can’t you just hear the students’ groans?!

But what if there were a way to do this without prime factorizing? Could it really be?


What I’m about to teach you is a technique that lets you find the GCF of as many numbers as you wish, and with much greater ease than the old factoring technique. (by the way, I don’t really hate the factoring technique … it actually teaches you a lot about numbers … but it can get annoying!).

So why don’t they teach this new way in school? No idea. But let’s just focus on the technique because once you do, you’ll be so much faster at finding the GCF …  you’ll be amazing your friends and your teacher, too!

So just kick back, watch the video — and learn …. then do the practice problems at the end of the video, to become a whiz! And remember, if you ever want extra help in the form of tutoring, I’m available — worldwide — thanks to the power of online videoconferencing.


— Josh





Fun Math Trick: Find the GCF for Any Two Numbers

“Get the GCF for these two numbers,” your teacher says.

“How?” you ask.

“Easy,” your teacher replies. “Do what I told you yesterday.”

But perhaps you don’t remember. Or maybe you don’t like the technique your teacher used, telling you to prime factorize the numbers …

Even though that felt awful, now you’re in luck because I’m going to show you another way to find the GCF, one that’s more intuitive and easier than the prime factoring technique. So just sit back and watch the following video. Then do the practice problems at the end of the video. And you’ll know something that even your teacher probably doesn’t know … a thoroughly original way to find the GCF of two numbers.




How to Simplify Fractions — FAST

So c’mon … everything that can be said about simplifying fractions has been said … right?

Not quite! Here’s something that might just be original … a hack to smack those fractions down to size.

Suppose you’re staring at an annoying-looking fraction:  96/104, and it’s annoying the heck out of you, particularly because it’s smirking at you!

But it won’t smirk for long. For you open up your bag of hacks (obtained @ and …

1st)  Subtract to get the difference between numerator and denominator. I also like to call this the gap between the numbers. Difference (aka, gap) = 104 – 96 = 8.

NOTE: Turns out that this gap, 8, is the upper limit for any numbers that can possibly go into BOTH 96 and 104. No number larger than 8 can go into both. And this is a … HACK FACT:  The gap represents the largest number that could possibly go into BOTH numerator and denominator. In other words, the gap is the largest possible greatest common factor (GCF).

2nd)  Try 8. Does 8 go into both 96 and 104? Turns out it does, so smack the numerator and denominator down to size:  96 ÷ 8 = 12, and 104 ÷ 8 = 13.

3rd)  State the answer:  96/104 = 12/13.

Is it still smirking? I think … NOT!

Try another. Say you’re now puzzling over:  74/80.

1st)  Subtract to get the gap. 80 – 74 = 6. So 6 is the largest number that can possibly go into BOTH 74 and 80.

2nd)  So try 6. Does it go into both 74 and 80? No, in fact it goes into neither number.

NOTE:  Turns out that even though 6 does NOT go into 74 OR 80, the fact that the gap is 6 still says something. It tells us that the only numbers that can possibly go into both 74 and 80 are the factors of 6:  6, 3 and 2. This, it turns out, is another … HACK FACT:  Once you know the gap, the only numbers that can possibly go into the two numbers that make the gap are either the factors of the gap, or the gap number itself.

3rd)  So now, try the next largest factor of 6, which just happens to be 3. Does 3 go into both 74 and 80? No. Like 6, 3 goes into neither 74 nor 80. But that’s actually a good thing because now there’s only one last factor to test, 2. Does 2 go into both 74 and 80? Yes! At last you’ve found a number that goes into both numerator and denominator.

4th)  Hack the numbers down to size:  74 ÷ 2 = 37, and 80 ÷ 2 = 40.

5th)  State the answer. 74/80 gets hacked down to 37/40, and that fraction, my dear friends, is the answer. 37/40 the final, simplified form of 74/80. 

O.K., are you ready to smack some of those fractions down to size? I believe you are. So here are some problems that will let you test out your new hack.

As you slash these numbers down, remember this rule. In some of these problems the gap number itself is the number that divides into numerator and denominator. But in other problems, it’s not the gap number itself, but rather a factor of the gap number that slashes both numbers down to size. So if the gap number itself doesn’t work, don’t forget to check out its factors.

Ready then? Here you go … For each problem, state the gap and find the largest number that goes into both numerator and denominator. Then write the simplified version of the fraction.

a)   46/54
b)   42/51
c)   48/60
d)   45/51
e)   63/77


a)   46/54:  gap = 8. Largest common factor (GCF) = 2. Simplified form = 23/27
b)   42/51:  gap = 9. Largest common factor (GCF) = 3. Simplified form = 14/17
c)   48/60:  gap = 12. Largest common factor (GCF) = 12. Simplified form = 4/5
d)   45/51:  gap = 6. Largest common factor (GCF) = 3. Simplified form = 15/17
e)   63/77:  gap = 14. Largest common factor (GCF) = 7. Simplified form = 9/11

Josh Rappaport is the author of five math books, including the wildly popular Algebra Survival Guide and its trusty sidekick, the Algebra Survival Workbook. Josh has been tutoring math for more years than he can count — even though he’s pretty good at counting after all that tutoring — and he now tutors students in math, nationwide, by Skype. Josh and his remarkably helpful wife, Kathy, use Skype to tutor students in the U.S. and Canada, preparing them for the “semi-evil” ACT and SAT college entrance tests. If you’d be interested in seeing your ACT or SAT scores rise dramatically, shoot an email to Josh, addressing it to:  We’ll keep an eye out for your email, and our tutoring light will always be ON.

How to Find the LCM for 3+ Numbers — FAST!

Is there a quick-and-easy way to find the LCM for three or more numbers … WITHOUT prime factorizing?

Of course! We’ll demonstrate the technique by finding the LCM for 10, 14, 20.

High-Octane Boost for Math

High-Octane Boost for Math Ed

To begin, use the technique for finding the GCF for 10, 14, 20 that’s shown in my post:  How to Find GCF for 3+ Numbers — FAST … no prime factorizing. If you don’t want to go to that post, no worries. I’ll re-show the technique here.

1st)   Write the numbers from left to right:

……….   10     14     20

[The periods: …… are just to indent the lines. They have no mathematical meaning.]

2nd)  If possible, rip out a factor common to all numbers. The factor 2 is common. So divide the three numbers by 2 [10 ÷ 2 = 5 and 20 ÷ 2 = 10] and show the result below:

2   |       10     14     20
……….   5      7      10

3rd)  At this point, notice there’s no number that goes into the remaining numbers: 5, 7, 10. That means you’ve found that the GCF is the number pulled out, 2. At this point we’re at a crossroads. We’re done finding the GCF, but now we’re at the start of a new process, finding the LCM.
To proceed toward getting the LCM, see if there’s any number that goes into any pair of remaining numbers. Well, 5 goes into 5 and 10. So divide both those numbers by 5 [5 ÷ 5 = 1 and 10 ÷ 5 = 2] , and show the results below:

2   |       10     14     20
5   |         5      7      10
………..  1       7       2

Notice that if there’s a number 5 doesn’t go into, you leave that number as is. So leave the 7 as 7.

4th)  Repeat. See if there’s a number that goes into two of the remaining numbers. Since nothing goes into 1, 7, and 2, we’re done. To get the LCM, multiply all of the outer numbers. That means you multiply the numbers you pulled out on the left (2 and 5), and also multiply the numbers at the bottom (1, 7 and 2). Ignoring the meaningless 1, you have:  2 x 5 x 7 x 2 = 140, and that’s the LCM.

To see the process in more depth, let’s find the LCM for … not three, not four … but five numbers:
6, 12, 18, 30, 36.

1st)   Write the numbers left to right:

………  6     12     18     30     36

2nd)  If possible, rip out a common factor.  2 is common, so divide all by 2 and show the results below:

2     |    6     12     18     30     36
………. 3      6       9     15     18

3rd)  Repeat. See if there’s a number that goes into the five remaining numbers. 3 goes into all, so divide all by 3 and show the results below:

2     |    6     12     18     30     36
3     |    3       6       9     15     18
……..   1       2       3       5       6

4th)  Repeat. See if any number goes into the last remaining numbers. Nothing goes into all of them, so now you get the GCF by multiplying the left-hand column numbers. GCF = 2 x 3 = 6.
Proceeding to find the LCM, look for any number that goes into two or more of the remaining numbers. One such number is 3, which goes into the remaining 3 and 6. Divide those numbers by 3 and leave the other numbers as they are.

2     |    6     12     18     30     36
3     |    3       6       9     15     18
3     |    1       2       3       5       6
……… 1       2       1       5       2

5th)  Interesting! Notice that 2 goes into the two remaining 2s, so pull out a 2 and show the results below:

2     |    6     12     18     30     36
3     |    3       6       9     15     18
3     |    1       2       3       5       6
2     |    1       2       1       5       2
……..   1      1        1       5       1

6th)  We’ve whittled the bottom row’s numbers so far down that finally there’s no number that goes into two or more of them (except 1, which doesn’t help). So we have all the numbers we need to find the LCM. Multiply them together. The left column gives us:  2 x 3 x 3 x 2. The bottom row gives us 1 x 1 x 1 x 5 x 1. Multiply all of those (non-1) numbers together, you get:
2 x 2 x 3 x 3 x 5 = 180, and that is the LCM! Pretty amazing, huh? And no prime factorizing, to boot.

Some people find that this process takes a bit of practice to get used to it. So here are a few problems to help you become an LCM-finding expert!

a)  12, 18, 30
b)   8, 18, 24
c)  15, 20, 30, 35
d)  16, 24, 40, 56
e)   16, 48, 64, 80, 112

And the answers. LCM for each set is:

a)   180
b)   72
c)   420
d)   1680
e)   6720

How to find the GCF of 3+ Numbers — FAST … no prime factorizing

Suppose you need to find the GCF of three or more numbers, and you’d really prefer to avoid prime factorizing. Is there a way? Sure there is … here’s how.


High-Octane Boost for Math

High-Octane Boost for Math Ed

Example:  Find the GCF for  18, 42 and 96

Step 1)  Write the numbers down from left to right, like this:

………. 18     42     96

[FYI, the periods: …. are there just to indent the numbers. They have no mathematical meaning.]

Step 2)  Find any number that goes into all three numbers. You don’t need to choose the largest such number. Suppose we use the number 2. Write that number to the left of the three numbers. Then divide all three numbers by 2 and write the results below the numbers like this:

2    |  18     42     96
……..  9     21     48

Step 3)  Find another number that goes into all three remaining numbers. It could be the same number. If it is, use that. If not, use any other number that goes into the remaining numbers. In this example, 3 goes into all of them. So write down the 3 to the left and once again show the results of dividing, like this:

2    |  18     42     96
3    |    9     21     48
……… 3      7      16

Step 4)  You’ll eventually reach a stage at which there’s no other number that goes into all of the remaining numbers. Once at that stage, just multiply the numbers in the far-left column, the numbers you pulled out. In this case, those are the numbers:  2 and 3. Just multiply those numbers together, and that’s the GCF. So in this example, the GCF is 2 x 3 = 6, and that’s all there is to it.

Now try this yourself by doing these problems. Answers are below.

a)   18, 45, 108
b)   48, 80, 112
c)   32, 72, 112
d)   24, 60, 84, 132
e)   28,  42, 70, 126, 154

a)   GCF =  9
b)   GCF =  16
c)   GCF =  8
d)   GCF =  12
e)   GCF =  14

How to Find the GCF for Three or More Numbers

To find the GCF for three or more numbers,  follow these steps:

1)  Determine which of the given numbers is smallest, then find the smallest difference between any pair of numbers.

2)  See what is smaller:  the smallest number, or the smallest difference. Whichever one  is smallest, that number is the GPGCF (Greatest Possible GCF). That means that this is the biggest number that the GCF could possibly be. Or, more formally we would say:  The GCF, if it exists, must be less than or equal to the GPGCF.

3)  Check if the GPGCF itself goes into all of the given numbers. If so, then it is the GCF. If not, list the factors of the GPGCF from  largest to the smallest and test them until you find the largest one that does divide evenly into the given numbers. The first factor (i.e., the largest factor) that divides evenly into the given numbers is, by definition, the GCF.


Problem:  Find the GCF for 18, 30,  54.

1)  Note that the smallest number is 18, and  the smallest difference between the pairs is 12 [54 – 30 = 24;  54 – 18 = 36;  30 – 18 = 12] .

2)  Of those four quantities (the smallest number and the three differences), 12 is the least. This means that the
GPGCF = 12.

3) Check if 12 divides evenly into the three given numbers: 18, 30 and 54. In fact, 12 doesn’t divide evenly into ANY of these  numbers. Next we check the factors of 12, in order from largest to smallest. Those factors are: 6, 4, 3 and 2. The first of those that divides evenly into all three numbers is 6. [18 ÷ 6 = 3;  30 ÷ 6 = 5;  54 ÷ 6 = 9]. So the GCF = 6. And we are done.

Find the GCF for 24, 148, 200.

1)  Note that the smallest number is 24, and that the smallest difference between the pairs is 52 [200 – 148 = 52;  200 – 24 = 176;  148 – 24 = 124] .

2)  Of those four quantities (the smallest number and the three differences), 24 is the least. This means that for this problem, the GPGCF = 24.

3) Check if 24 divides evenly into the three given numbers: 24, 148 and 200. While 24 does divide evenly into 24, it does not divide evenly into 148 or 200. So next we check the factors of 24, in order from largest to smallest. Those factors are: 12, 8, 6, 4, 3 and 2. The first of those that divides evenly into the three given numbers is 4. [24 ÷ 4 = 6;  148 ÷ 4 = 37;  200 ÷ 4 = 50]. So the GCF = 4. And, once again, we are done.

The process may seem a bit long, but once you get used to it and start doing it in your mind, not on paper, you should find that it actually is quite fast. And you’ll find yourself figuring out the GCF for three or more numbers all in your mind — with no need for pencil and paper — while everyone around you will be making prime factor trees or using calculators. And surely that is a good feeling.

Josh Rappaport is the author of five books on math, including the Parents Choice-award winning Algebra Survival Guide. If you like how Josh explains these problems, you’ll certainly  like the Algebra Survival Guide and companion Workbook, both of which are available on  Just click the links in the sidebar for more information! 

How to Find the LCM (aka LCD) in Two Easy Steps

This is really the “Week of the LCM” for me.

Just as I was finishing my last post, on a new way to find the LCM for a pair of numbers, I discovered another way to do the same thing.

Coffee, Pi and More

Coffee, Pi and More

I was looking at the problems at the end of my last post, these problems:

b)   15 and 20;  LCM  =  60

c)   18 and 20;  LCM  =  180

d)   24 and 28;  LCM  =  168, ….

… when I noticed something.


Find the LCM in a way that makes sense! (Part 2)

In yesterday’s post on the LCM, I wrote about 375 pages on the topic, and then I said that I left out an idea. Hahaha, you probably thought. Very funny, Josh.

But never fear. I am not going to write another 375 pages on the topic.

What I do need to bring to your attention, though, is that there are two LCM situations that I did not take into account yesterday. So to present a complete picture, I need to explain (for those who have not already figured this out by themselves) how to use my new technique in those two situations.

Coffee, Pi and More

Coffee, Pi and More

You will notice that in my write-up yesterday — and in the practice problems I provided — the gap always divided evenly into the smaller number. How convenient, right? In the first example, we had a gap of 3 dividing into 12; in the next, a gap of 4 going into 20. Of course this does not always happen. Consider a situation in which we want to find the LCM for 10 and 16. The gap of 6 (16 – 10 = 6) does NOT divide evenly into the smaller number, 10. So what would we do here? (more…)

How to Understand the LCM (Part 1)

I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve always been a bit disappointed by the various techniques for finding the Least Common Multiple (LCM) for a pair of numbers.

While there are several techniques that “work” — by which I mean techniques we can teach to students and have them learn quickly — I’ve known of no technique that makes good intuitive sense. In other words, I’ve known no technique whose underlying principle felt obvious.

Feeling frustrated, I started looking for a technique that would have that undeniable “ring of truth.”

Coffee, Pi and More

Coffee, Pi and More

And so, after playing around in my “sandbox of numbers” for quite a while,  I’m happy to report that I’ve finally found what I had been looking for.

In today’s post I will show you a way to find the least common multiple that makes sense, at least to me. I hope it will make sense to you as well.


How to factor out the GCF with stories

At various times when I tutor, I find myself explaining the same concept repeatedly over several weeks.

Recently it has been that way with — drumroll please … factoring out the GCF from polynomials.

One reason I’m getting so much “experience” with this is that many kids find this process very difficult. It’s not hard to see why. First of all, the process of finding the GCF is, in itself, somewhat tricky. Then too, factoring out the GCF from all terms in a polynomial is a multi-step process; students need to get each step right, and then they need to perform the steps in the correct order. If that alone were not enough to tax children’s minds, students also get confused by the difference between how to multiply pure numbers (constants and coefficients), and how to multiply variables. (more…)