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Algebra: Getting Off to the Right Start

A Sequential Step by Step Process

From Deb,

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beginner algebra
basics of algebra


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First of all, math cannot be fully understood or learned well without practicing. Algebra is no
different. If you just remember all the rules and procedures without truly understanding the
concepts, you will no doubt have difficulty learning algebra. Algebra can begin to make sense with
the determination to take small steps, practice and increase the difficulty in the types of equations
you solve in a step-by-step sequential process.

Sometimes it helps to treat algebra like driving a car. You learn to drive with practice and there are
certain rules to follow, knowing the rules makes driving easier and you avoid making mistakes.
Algebra requires you to apply certain rules and the better you become at following the rules -
which takes practice, the better you become a solving algebraic equations. Don't let the rules and
procedures throw you off - those are part of life, you use them to drive, to follow recipes, to use a
computer and to play games. Don't let rules and procedures throw you off algebra - treat it like a
game and most of us seem to like games!

Why learn Algebra?

For starters - it's math! Careers today demand skills like problem solving, reasoning, decision
making, and applying solid strategies etc. Algebra provides you with a wonderful grounding in
those skills - not to mention that it can prepare you for a wide range of careers. Algebra is a great
mental workout and it's the only path to moving on to more advanced maths. And....believe it or
not algebra IS much easier to learn than many of us think!

The Basics of Algebra

1. Take the real situation and turn it into an equation.

2. Find out what the unknown is.
For example.........Here's the 'real' situation: Tabitha was carrying 20 balloons until the wind carried
a few away and she was left with 15.

Now you need to take this and turn it into an equation:


That's the first step! Now this is pretty easy to figure out, however, when the problems get harder
you will want to understand exactly what you do to solve the problem. That's when the balance
scale comes into effect. Algebra is like a balance scale. To keep a balance scale balanced you will
need to do the same to each side. If you have an 8 ounce block on both sides and add a 4 oz. block
to one, you'll need to add it to the other side to keep it balanced. Let's apply this strategy to solve
our equation.


We need to isolate x. So, if we subtract 15 from one side and subtract 15 from the other side, we'll
solve x

What happens? You've taken 15 from the left side leaving nothing. You've taken 15 from 20 which
gives you x=5

Easy? Well, that's step 1 and as I stated earlier, you will want to progress solving algebraic
equations in an increasing level of difficulty.

You'll also need to apply the order of operations and you'll want to remember the following:

You keep trying to manipulate the equation to try to isolate the unknown.

Always do the same thing to each side whether you add, subtract, multiply or divide.

Learning algebra is a sequential process. Remember, there's lots of full year courses at a variety of
levels devoted to Algebra!

A slow steady approach with lots of practice will provide you with the path to success! Good luck!

Order of Operations
A Review
Improving Math Skills

Tutorial Adding & Subtracting

Algebra Tutorials
This tutorial is designed to help you solve problems correctly by Polynomial Worksheets
Polynomial Identities
using the 'Order of Operations'. When there is more than one Test Preparation
operation involved in a mathematical problem, it must be
solved by using the correct order of operations. A number of
teachers use acronyms with their students to help them to
retain the order. Remember, calculators will perform operations
in the order which you enter them, therefore, you will need to
enter the operations in the correct order for the calculator to
give you the right answer.

* In Mathematics, the order in which mathematical problems Order of Operations

are solved is extremely important. Exercises
More Exercises
Operation Order Game
Rules Tutorial
Several Examples
Calculator Examples
1. Calculations must be done from left to right.

2. Calculations in brackets (parenthesis) are done first. When

you have more than one set of brackets, do the inner brackets

3. Exponents (or radicals) must be done next.

4. Multiply and divide in the order the operations occur.

5. Add and subtract in the order the operations occur.


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Rememer to:

Simplify inside groupings of parentheses, brackets

and braces first. Work with the innermost pair, moving
Simplify the exponents.
Do the multiplication and division in order from
left to right.
Do the addition and subtraction in order from left
to right.

Acronyms to Help you Remember

How will you remember this order?

Try the following Acronyms:

Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (Parenthesis, Exponents, Multiply, Divide, Add,

BEDMAS (Brackets, Exponents, Divide, Multiply, Add, Subtract)

Big Elephants Destroy Mice And Snails (Brackets, Exponents, Divide, Multiply, Add,

Pink Elephants Destroy Mice And Snails (Parenthesis, Exponents, Divide, Multiply,Add,


12 4 + 32
12 4 + 9 Rule 3: Exponent first
3+9 Rule 4: Multiply or Divide as
12 they appear
Rule 5: Add or Subtract as
they appear
(42 + 5) - 3 Rule 2: Everything in the
21 - 3 brackets first
18 Rule 5: Add or Subtract as
they appear
20 (12 - 2) X
32 - 2 Rule 2: Everything in the
20 10 X 32 - 2 brackets first
20 10 X 9 - 2 Rule 3: Exponents
18 - 2 Rule 4: Multiply and Divide as
16 they appear
Rule 5: Add or Subtract as
they appear

Does It Make a Difference? What If I Don't Use the Order of Operations?

Mathematicians were very careful when they developed the order of operations.
Without the correct order, watch what happens:

15 + 5 X 10 -- Without following the correct order, I know that 15+5=20 multiplied by 10

gives me the answer of 200.

15 + 5 X 10 -- Following the order of operations, I know that 5X10 = 50 plus 15 = 65.

This is the correct answer, the above is not!
You can see that it is absolutely critical to follow the order of operations. Some of the
most frequent errors students make occur when they do not follow the order of
operations when solving mathematical problems. Students can often be fluent in
computational work yet do not follow procedures. Use the handy acronyms to ensure that
you never make this mistake again.