Simple Tips for Solving Algebra Problems

Solving algebra problems isn't so tough when you look at them in the right way. These simple tips can help you solve any algebra problem.

  • Simplify the problem. The starting point for most algebra problem solving is to simplify the problem. Combine any like terms. Sort out multiple signs. Determine the order of operations. Isolate the variables. Simplifying an algebra problem puts it in terms you can actually work with, and gives you a way to tackle the problem step-by-step.
  • Remember: what you do to one side, you must do to the other. If you make changes to one side of the equation in order to solve it, you've got to do the same thing on the other side. When you subtract a number or variable from one side, you must do it on the other side. Forgetting to keep an equation balanced can mean you get a wrong answer down the road.
  • Pay attention to the order of operations. One of the easiest ways to mess up an algebra problem is to solve things in the wrong order. Become very familiar with the order of operations, and make sure you always solve in the correct order. One way to help you remember the order of operations is to think of the sentence: "Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally." PEMDAS is the order of operations: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. Move from left to right when solving within a step.
  • Know the rules of signs. One way to keep track of whether you're dealing with a positive or negative number is to remember the rules of signs in addition and subtraction. When you have two like signs, either two positive signs or two negative signs, your answer is positive. When you have two unlike signs, a positive and a negative, your answer will be negative. Take a quick look at the addition and subtraction signs and you'll always know whether you should have a positive or negative number.
  • Spend some time studying properties. If you learn to recognize properties, you can get a leg up on algebra problem solving. Each of the mathematical operations has several properties; for example, the associative property of addition, which states that you can redistribute the equation in the same manner every time you see it. Learning properties helps you recognize repetitive algebra problems quickly, so you can solve the algebra problem simply by recognizing the property.
  • Beware of software that helps you solve algebra equations. Software to help you solve algebra problems is all over the place. In theory, the software is designed to help you learn how to do algebra, by solving an equation and then giving you step-by-step explanations for each step you don't understand. In practice, it can be tempting to let the software solve all of your homework problems without really learning the explanations. Be extremely careful to actually do the work if you use software that helps you solve algebra equations, or else you may find yourself failing tests and not learning the math.
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