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BASIC ALGEBRA REVIEW

Assume that letters such as a, b, x, y re present real numbers, unless otherwise specified.

I.
Subsets of the real numbers : Integers include whole numbers and their negatives . The rationals include all
integers AND all fractions, and have repeating decimals . Irrationals (e.g., π , , etc.) include all other
real numbers and have non-repeating decimals. A real number is either rational or irrational but not both.
II.
Order: a < b means that a is located to the left of b on the real number line ; a ≤ b means that either a is to
the left of b, or a and b coincide. 0 is greater than all negative numbers, and less than all positive numbers.
III.
Absolute value: is the distance (on number line) from a to b, disregarding direction (so the result of
an absolute value is always non-negative). If a > b , then ; else . If
b = 0 , then is the distance from 0 to a. Watch negative signs closely; but .
IV.
Exponents: for a ≠ 0 . Change negative exponents to positive by exchanging the position of the
associated factors from numerator to denominator or vice-versa; e.g.,(note: do not
exchange any factors that initially have positive exponents!). Other rules:
Fractional exponents are really radicals:
V.
Radicals (inverses of exponents): If then (read “the cube root of 216 equals 6”; note
that the same three numbers 6, 3, 216 appear in both equations, but in a different order). The small 3
above the radical is the index ; the 216 inside the radical is the radicand. If the index is 2, it is usually not
written; thus . Simplify radicals when possible by factoring; for a cube root , any group of 3
identical
factors is moved outside the radical and compressed into one factor; for fourth roots, any group
of 4 identical factors is moved and compressed, etc.; e.g., .
VI.
Operations involving radicals: Product ; quotientsum/difference
(similar to combining like terms); rationalizing denominators (one term)
; rationalizing denominators (two terms, using conjugate of denominator)
or ; if an expression
combines different indices (e.g., a cube root times a fourth root), convert radicals to fractional exponents
and use exponent rules to simplify (see IV above); result may be converted back to radicals afterwards.
VII.
Factoring polynomials: Simplify like terms (if any) and rewrite in descending- powers order . Then try
methods in the order listed: (1) GCF; (2) grouping (for four or more terms); (3) difference of squares , or
sum/difference of cubes (for certain binomials ); and (4) trinomial (“ac”) method. It may be necessary to
apply multiple methods (or repeatedly apply a single method) within a single expression, e.g.,
; the difference-of- squares method applies twice.
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