Strategies

Order of Operations: The Basics

The order of operations in algebra (also called operator precedence) is a very common source of questions; I count at least 50 archived discussions explicitly about the topic (not just mentioning it in passing), in addition to the Ask Dr. Math FAQ on the subject.  I’ll devote the next few posts to looking at various aspects …

Order of Operations: The Basics Read More »

Perimeter Magic Polygons

Last time we looked at the classic puzzle of magic squares. Many questions we get are about similar kinds of puzzles, and here I want to look at “magic polygons” (triangles, squares, pentagons) in which, unlike the traditional magic squares, only the edges count. These are a common subject of elementary-level questions. Four sides: corners …

Perimeter Magic Polygons Read More »

Equations with Fractions: Three Ways to Solve Them

Since we just looked at a complicated rational inequality, let’s look at some simpler rational equations, first a linear equation with fractions, and then truly rational equations, in which the variable(s) appear in the denominator. This discussion dealt with a common confusion I’ve seen in students. The problem The question came from Fairooz in 2017: …

Equations with Fractions: Three Ways to Solve Them Read More »

A Rational Inequality with Huge Exponents

When a challenging type of problem is written with unexpectedly large numbers, it can look impossible. Today’s discussion illustrates how to get past the hurdles. The problem The problem came from Arsh in April: Q) [x((x+5)^2016)((x-3)^2017)((6-x) ^1231)]/((x-2)^10000)((x+1)^2015)((4-x)^242) ≥ 0 Since our site doesn’t yet allow LaTeX formatting, and Arsh chose not to insert the problem …

A Rational Inequality with Huge Exponents Read More »

Non-routine Algebra Problems

(A new problem of the week) Last week I mentioned “non-routine problems” in connection with the idea of “guessing” at a method. Let’s look at a recent discussion in which the same issues came up. How do you approach a problem when you have no idea where to start? We’ll consider some interesting implications for …

Non-routine Algebra Problems Read More »