The Other Nightmare: Algebra for College Students

Algebra for college students is oftentimes a nightmare, especially for older students who have probably forgotten how to do, for example, algebraic equations. That x+7=10 horror show? Obviously, the answer is 3.

I spent most of my time in algebra class passing notes to one of the students sitting next to me because I was clueless the first time around. Notice I said the first time around? Yep. That’s because I failed the algebra class then had to take it again. The second time I received a B grade. The good thing about taking it the second time around was that I was hearing the rules of algebra all over again. So don’t feel bad if you share the same fate–getting on with business …

Oftentimes, in an algebra class, the professor will want you to “show your work.” This simply means instead of doing the problems in your head, you will have to write down each step on a sheet of paper, as shown in the college algebra tutorial. Here is the correct way to do so:

College Algebra Tutorial: Cracking the Gobbledygook

• In an exercise like this, you want to solve for X because “X” is unknown.

• Take whatever is on the same side of the equal sign as X, which is “7,” shown in Fig. 1, and subtract it by its opposite. The opposite of “7″ is “-7.” And +7-7 equals 0; they cancel each other out. Next, subtract that same number from the numeral on the other side of the equal sign. Do the rest of your calculations (you will now be subtracting/adding vertically instead of horizontally).

• Bring the remaining calculations down, shown by the arrows: “X” equals “3.” Then, divide the “3″–or whatever number is on the other side of the equal sign–by the “coefficient” of “X.” Coefficient, you say, what in the hullabaloo is that? The coefficient is the number placed before the letter variable, the “X” in this illustration. There’s no number there, right? Well, no and yes. Clearly, there is no number there. Anyone with 20/40 vision can see that. But in algebra, if no number represents the “X,” there is ALWAYS a “1″ in front of it. Plus, “X” itself is “1″ too. This rule looped me into a tree when I encountered it the second time around, although it had been too long ago to remember it from high school.

Fig. 2 shows a more complicated version, with more steps, to jiggle your brain a bit. Now practice.

I recommend Cliff’s Notes: Algebra I as a stellar review guide for us nontraditional students. Also, see the “Books” page for more recommended readings.

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