Algebraic Expressions: Factoring Quadratics

How good are you at factoring quadratics? In this video we will explore this algebraic concept in detail.

FREE Math Video Lessons from Magoosh! Start here.

Transcript: Factoring Quadratics

The most challenging topic in factoring is knowing how to factor a quadratic trinomial into the product of two linear binomials.

So for example, here’s a quadratic pronominal. Three terms highest power is X squared and we want to factor this into two linear binomials. Each one of course, has just a highest power of x that is the factored form. For example on the test we might have to factor something like x squared + 4x — 21.

Now I will point out this is probably not going to be an entire test problem. Yes, there may be an entire test problem that says here is a quadratic–factor it. But more likely factoring the quadratic is a skill that you’re going to need in solving a much larger question.

Remember the FOIL Process

But this is definitely a skill you will need. Let’s think about the details of the FOIL process.

factoring quadratics, foil process - magoosh

Image by Picsfive

Understanding factoring really comes down to understanding the mechanics of foiling.

Suppose we start with two generic linear binomials, x + p and x + q. So we’ll FOIL these out. Of course, product of the first is x squared product of the outer qx, product of the inner px, and product of the last pq. Now notice pq, that’s two numbers that’s the constant term, x squared is the quadratic term, and the two middle terms are linear terms and they are like terms.

We can combine the like terms, and we get this. Now this is very interesting. Imagine we look at our quadratic trinomial and we see this. So really that linear coefficient is p plus q and that constant term is p times q. In other words, the linear coefficient of the quadratic is the sum of the two unknowns we are looking for.

And the constant term of the quadratic is the product of the two unknowns. Very interesting.

Factoring Quadratics Practice Example One

Let’s apply this in a problem. Suppose we have to factor this. So, in other words we’re looking for two numbers whose sum is 8, and whose product is 15.

Well, there aren’t many numbers we can multiply together that can make 15, we can do 1 times 15, that was another right sum, or we can do 3 times 5. 3 and 5 are clearly the numbers. And that means we can factor this into x plus 3 and x plus 5. That is the factored form. Notice here we have a statement that is true for every number on the number line.

That’s why we can set an equal sign between these two expressions. We’ll factor this one. We need a pair they have a sum of 14 and a product is 24. A little bit trickier because there are many factor pairs that multiply to 24. If we try 4 times 6, we see that’s not the right sum. We could do 3 times 8 but that’s not the right sum.

We could do 2 times 12, that’s the right sum. And so the numbers that we need are two and 12, and this the factored form x plus 2 and x plus 12.

Factoring Quadratics Practice Example Two

factoring quadratics, example - magoosh

Image by nelzajama

This one’s a little trickier, we have a negative sign. So here we’re looking for a sum of positive 4 and a product of negative 21, let’s think about this.

So if the product is negative, one of the two numbers must be positive, and one is negative. Since the sum is positive, it means we’re adding these two numbers and getting a positive. That means the larger number, the number with the larger absolute value, must be positive. So, we’ll think about this.

First of all, think about factors of 21, certainly 3 and 7 multiply to positive 21. So let’s make the larger of those two a positive number, and the smaller of those two a negative number. If we have positive 7 and negative 3, those multiply to negative 21 and they add to positive 4. So those are the two numbers that we are looking for, positive 7 and negative 3.

And so that means that we can factor this into x plus 7 times x minus 3. And for all of these incidentally, as you’re practicing factoring, I would suggest once you think you have the factored form, a very good way to practice is foil those two on the right and make sure you wind up back at the form on the left.

In other words, if you can factor one way and then foil back to what you got, you really understand this very well.

Factoring Quadratics Practice Example Three

Here’s another one. Here we need a sum of negative 2 and a product of negative 35. So we know that one is negative and one is positive of the two numbers we are looking for because they have a negative product and the one with a bigger absolute value is negative. So what can we multiply to get 35, first of all?

Well, one obvious choice is 5 times 7, so let’s make the one with the bigger absolute value negative. So we’ll have positive 5 and negative 7 being multiplied to negative 35 and they add to negative 2. So these are the numbers that we need, and we can factor it into x minus 7 and x plus 5.

Now this one is interesting. Here we have a positive product but a negative sum. Well how does that happen? Well, this means that both the numbers are negative. Because in other words, if you have negative times negative that will give you a positive. But if you have positive plus negative that will give you a negative.

Both numbers must be negative. So we need two numbers that multiply to 48. And really one way to think about it is they multiply to 40 and have a sum of positive 60 and then we’ll just make them both negative. Well, certainly 6 times 8, 6 times 8 has the sum of, 6 of 8 has the sum of 14 that doesn’t work.

We could do 4(12) is the sum of 16 so negative 4 times negative 12 would be positive 48 but negative 4 plus negative 12 would have a sum of negative 16. These are the two numbers that we need so we can factor this into x minus 12 and x minus 4. Incidentally, notice once again with multiplication it doesn’t matter the order that we write things in, I could have written this as X-4 (x)- 12) same thing.

Doesn’t matter at all because multiplication is community we can write the factors in any order.

Practice Problems

Here’s some practice problems. Pause the video and factor all of these. And here are the answers. Notice that this method only works if the coefficient of x squared the quadratic coefficient is 1.

If the quadratic coefficient is something other than one, chances are very good that one of these other factoring methods can be used. So the difference of two squares, or greatest common factor, may mean that we have to factor out of greatest common factor, then we get an ordinary quadratic. So, we’ll have to talk about combined factoring techniques if something like that comes comes into play.

And that’s what we’ll talk about in our next video. In this lesson we learned the methods for factoring a basic quadratic into a product to two linear binomials. The linear coefficient of the quadratic is the sum of the two unknown numbers, and the constant term of the quadratic is the product of the two unknown numbers.

FREE Math Video Lessons from Magoosh! Start here.


  • Mike MᶜGarry

    Mike served as a GMAT Expert at Magoosh, helping create hundreds of lesson videos and practice questions to help guide GMAT students to success. He was also featured as "member of the month" for over two years at GMAT Club. Mike holds an A.B. in Physics (graduating magna cum laude) and an M.T.S. in Religions of the World, both from Harvard. Beyond standardized testing, Mike has over 20 years of both private and public high school teaching experience specializing in math and physics. In his free time, Mike likes smashing foosballs into orbit, and despite having no obvious cranial deficiency, he insists on rooting for the NY Mets. Learn more about the GMAT through Mike's Youtube video explanations and resources like What is a Good GMAT Score? and the GMAT Diagnostic Test.

No comments yet.

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