Every March 14, numerically expressed as 3/14, math nerds and test prep instructors celebrate the time-honored tradition of “Pi Day,” deriving plenty of happiness from the fact that the date looks like the number 3.14, the approximation of π. Pi (π) is, of course, the lynchpin value in all circle calculations. The area of a circle is π(r^2), and the circumference of a circle is 2πr or πd.
As you study for a major standardized test, you know that you’ll be working with circles at some point, so here are 3.14 reasons that you should learn to love the number π:
1) Pi should make you salivate.
On any standardized test question, if you see the value π, whether in the question itself of in the answer choices, that π tells you that you’re dealing with a circle. Some test questions disguise what they want you to do – you may have to draw in a triangle to find the diagonal of a square, for example – but circle problems cannot hide from you! π is a dead giveaway that you’re dealing with a circle, so like Pavlov’s Dog, when you see that signal, π, you should respond with a biological response and conjure up all your knowledge of circles immediately.
2) Pi can be easily cut into slices.
Whether you’re dealing with a section of the area of a circle or a section of the circumference (arc length), the fact that a circle is perfectly symmetrical makes the job of cutting that circle into slices an easy one. With arc length, all you end up doing is using the central angle to determine the proportion of that section (angle/360 = proportion of what you want), making it very easy to slice up a circle using π. With the area of a section, as long as the arms of that section are equal to the radius of the circle, you can do the exact same thing. Just like an apple pie or pizza pie, if you’re cutting into slices from the center of the circle, cutting that pie into slices is a relatively simple task.
3) You can take your pi to go.
You will almost never have to calculate the value of pi on a standardized test: almost always, the symbol π will appear in the answer choices (e.g. 5π, 7π, etc.), meaning that you can just carry π through your calculations and bring it with you to the answer choices. If, for example, you need to calculate the area of a circle with radius 3, you’ll plug the radius into your formula [π(3^2)] and just end up with 9π, which you’ll find in the answer choices. With most other symbols (x, y, r, etc.) you’ll need to do some work to turn them into numbers. Pi is great because you can take it to go.
3.14) The decimals in pi are just a sliver.
If you ever are asked to “calculate” pi (which typically means that the question is asking you to approximate a value, not to directly calculate it), you can use the fact that the .14 in 3.14 is a tiny sliver of a decimal. For example, if you had to estimate a value for 5π, 5 times 3 is clearly 15, but 5 times .14 is so small that it won’t require you to go all the way to 16. So if your answer choices were 15.7, 16.1, 16.4, etc., you could rely on the fact that the decimal .14 is so small that you can eliminate all the 16s.
Other irrational numbers like the square root of 2 and square root of 3 have decimal places more in the neighborhood of .5, so you will probably need to work a little harder to estimate how they’ll react when you multiply them even by relatively small numbers. But π’s decimals come in small slivers, allowing you to manage your calculations in bite size pieces.
So remember – there are 3.14 (and counting) reasons to love pi, and learning to love pi can help turn your test day into a piece of cake.
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By Brian Galvin.