Intro to Algebra

New to Algebra? It may seem a bit scary for some, but algebra is perfectly comprehensible if you take the time to learn the concepts. I hope you enjoy this intro to algebra video!

Transcript: Intro to Algebra

We’ll be starting our discussion of algebra with algebraic expressions. So let’s start at the very beginning.

First of all just, what is algebra? Well as it turns out, the word actually has a sophisticated definition of mathematics overall but that doesn’t concern us.

For our purposes, algebra is a part of math that involves variables. So as soon as variables show up in math problems, that’s algebra.

Algebraic Terms and Expressions — Basics

Let’s define some terms. A variable is a letter that represents other specific number or all numbers. This is a subtle distinction here. In algebraic expression, the variable represents either all numbers or all numbers with very few exceptions.

And the point in algebraic expressions is to find or use patterns true for all numbers. In algebraic equations, by contrast, the variable represent one or two initially unknown variable values. And the point is to solve for those specific values. So with equations we’re trying to solve.

Algebraic Expressions

With expressions we’re just trying to find patterns that are true for all numbers, with the variables representing all numbers. So, this is a subtle distinction and we’ll talk about this more. So, more terms. A constant is a number or a symbol, such as pi, that doesn’t change in value. So, constant is just a fancy word we use for ordinary numbers.

A term is a product of constants and variables, including powers of variables. So for example, all of these are terms. It could be just a single number by itself, a single variable by itself, or numbers times variables and that includes powers of variables. The coefficient is the constant factor of a term. So, for example, 6y squared, the variable y squared is being multiplied by the number 6, so 6 is the coefficient.

Now, if we look at x, just x by itself, you might think, “well gee, that has no coefficient.” And this is subtle. When no coefficient is written, the coefficient is 1, because of course, x equals 1 times x. We wouldn’t write the 1.

That would be kind of redundant. But the point is x has a coefficient of 1. And in fact, that last 1 x to the 5th, y to the 6th, z to the 7th. That last term also has a coefficient of one. Now these three terms, constant term and coefficient are terms that could show up on a test. Image by Martial Red

A test question might actually mention one of these in asking the question. So these are very important to know. All the other terms that will come in this video are terms that we will need in our discussion of algebra, but will not be things you’ll need to know for the test. An expression is a collection of one or more terms joined by addition or subtraction.

So all of these are examples of algebraic expressions. Notice expressions don’t have equal signs. So once we get into the business of taking an expression and setting it equal to a number and solving, well then we’re talking about algebraic equations.

We’ll get there but that’s not what these first few videos are about. Here we’re talking about individual expressions. Image by thesomeday123

Monomials

Now we may say, that one expression is always equal to another expression. But the point is each expression by itself is a thing without an equal sign. That’s very important to realize. A monomial is an expression with exactly one term. All of these are monomials. They are single terms.

Could be just a number. Could be just a variable. Or a product of numbers and variables. A binomial is an expression with exactly two terms. Here are a bunch of binomials. Some of them simple, some of them not so simple.

Trinomials

A trinomial is an expression with exactly three terms. And those are some examples of trinomials. Now we don’t have to worry about what if there are four terms? What if there are five terms? We don’t have to worry about the words for those. A polynomial is an expression with any number of terms involving only one variable.

Polynomial Example

So for example, this one here is a polynomial because the only variable is x. This one involves more than one variable, so technically, that’s not a polynomial. A linear term is a term with a single power of a variable. So, this no exponent written. So, just when you have a variable by it’s self or a number times a variable, that’s a linear term. Image by Creative Stall

A quadratic is a term with the squared variable–x squared or y squared. A cubic term is a term with the cube of a single variable, y3 or y3. We will not need terms for higher degrees.

Tricky Distinction

Now we’ll make a distinction and this is a little tricky. The words linear and quadratic can describe individual terms, but they can also describe the entire expression involving a single variable.

In a linear expression the highest power of the variable is 1. So 17x is a linear monomial, 3x- 5 is a linear binomial. So, one of them, it’s a one term thing, the other is a two term thing. And notice we don’t have many options here. A linear binomial must have one linear term and one constant term.

As long as we’re dealing with only one variable, those of the only two options for the two terms. Gets a little more interesting when we talk about quadratics. In a quadratic expression the highest power of the variable is 2. So 14x squared, that is a quadratic monomial, a single term where the highest power is 2.

X squared minus 4 is a quadratic binomial with a quadratic term, x squared and a constant term -4. 2x squared plus 8x is a quadratic binomial with a quadratic term, 2x squared, and a linear term, 8x. X squared- 10x + 25 is a quadratic trinomial with a quadratic term, the x squared, a linear term -10x, and a constant term.

And so for example, we could ask what is the coefficient of the linear term? The coefficient of the linear term here is -10 Many of the upcoming videos concern quadratic trinomials. That’s a very, very big topic in algebraic expressions. We have a bunch of videos on that topic. In the study of algebraic expressions, we’re looking for rules or patterns true for all numbers.

Intro to Algebra: Conclusion

In the study of algebraic equations, our goal is to solve. Again, these first few videos are about algebraic expression. Then well get to algebraic equations. We discuss several terms, variable, constant term, coefficient, expression, monomial, binomial, trinomial, polynomial, linear, quadratic and cubic. And these are terms important to know because we will be using these terms in our discussion of algebra.

Author

• 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.