Systems of Equations on the GRE

GRE Algebra - image by Magoosh

The Power of Elimination

How would you solve the system of linear equations below?

                   xy = 5

                   2x + y = 13

There are two primary approaches for solving systems of linear equations:

1)   Substitution Method

2)   Elimination Method

Improve your GRE score with Magoosh.


The Substitution Method

With this method, we take one of the equations and solve for a certain variable. For example, we might take xy = 5 and add y to both sides to get x = y + 5.

Then we take the second equation (2x + y = 13) and replace x with y + 5 to get: 2(y + 5)+ y = 13

From here, we have an equation we can solve for y: y = 1

Now that we know the value of y, we can take one of the equations and replace y with 1 to find the value of x: x = 6

So, the solution is x = 6 and y = 1.


The Elimination Method

With this method, we notice that, if we add the two original equations (xy = 5  and 2x + y = 13), the y’s cancel out (i.e., they are eliminated), leaving us with: 3x = 18.

From here, when we divide both sides by 3, we get: x = 6, and from here we can find the value of y: y = 1.


Okay, so that’s how the two methods work. What’s my point?

The point I want to make is that, although both methods get the job done, the Elimination method is superior to the Substitution method. And by “superior,” I mean “faster.”

First, the Elimination method can often help us avoid using fractions. Consider this system:

                   5x – 2y = 7

                   3x + 2y = 17

To use the Substitution method here, we’d have to deal with messy fractions. For example, if we take the equation 5x – 2y = 7 and solve for x, we get x = (2/5)y + 7/5. Then when we take the second equation (3x + 2y = 17) and replace x with (2/5)y + 7/5, we get: 3[(2/5)y + 7/5] + 2y = 17. Yikes!!

Alternatively, we can use the Elimination method and add the two original equations (5x – 2y = 7 and 3x + 2y = 17). When we do this, the y’s cancel, leaving us with: 8x = 24, which means x = 3. No messy fractions.

It has been my experience that many students rely solely on the Substitution method to solve systems of equations, and this can potentially eat up a lot of time on test day. So, be sure to learn the Elimination method soon. In fact, if I were you, I’d drop the Substitution method from my repertoire; it isn’t very useful.

P.S. Ready to improve your GRE score? Get started today.

Most Popular Resources

9 Responses to Systems of Equations on the GRE

  1. Hussain February 22, 2019 at 8:51 pm #

    What would happen if both lines are parallel ?

    how would we solve the unknowns ?

    • David Recine
      David Recine February 25, 2019 at 2:37 pm #

      Substitution and elimination should work both for equations of parallel lines and equations of lines that are not parallel. Hope this helps. 🙂

  2. Myles Brawer October 15, 2018 at 3:27 pm #

    In the first example of the Elimination Method you ADDED the two linear equations but on the second example displayed on the hyperlinked page you used SUBTRACTION. Is there a rule for this or are you simply combining the equations with either addition or subtraction exclusively as best fits the particular problem?

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert October 24, 2018 at 9:37 am #

      Hi Myles,

      You can use add or subtract the equations according to the method that best fits each question. As long as you do the same thing across the entire equation (you can’t add one part of the equation and subtract another part), it is perfectly fine!

  3. George August 21, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

    Both are straight line eq’s-a even faster way would be just to graph both mentally and get an intercept.

    • Brent Hanneson August 24, 2013 at 7:41 am #

      Hi George,

      Yes, mentally graphing the lines and finding their point of intersection will, indeed, work. I’m just not sure how many people are able to do this. It would certainly be difficult to do so with this system:
      5x – 8y = 11
      4x – 9y = 4


  4. sanket July 10, 2012 at 7:21 am #

    In example 1; the value of x is 6.
    as the calculated value of y is 1, x-1=5
    which makes x=6.

    • Brent Hanneson July 10, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

      You’re absolutely right, sanket.
      We’ll fix that right away.


  5. Ahmad December 28, 2011 at 10:56 am #


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will only approve comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! 😄 Due to the high volume of comments across all of our blogs, we cannot promise that all comments will receive responses from our instructors.

We highly encourage students to help each other out and respond to other students' comments if you can!

If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service from our instructors, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!

Leave a Reply