Practice Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

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  • 0:03 Practice Makes Perfect
  • 0:46 Simplifying Algebraic…
  • 2:25 Practice Problems
  • 8:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jeff Calareso

Jeff teaches high school English, math and other subjects. He has a master's degree in writing and literature.

In this lesson, we'll practice simplifying a variety of algebraic expressions. We'll use two key concepts, combining like terms and the distributive property, to help us simplify.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you've ever played a sport, you know the importance of practice. No track star just shows up at a meet and expects to run a record-breaking 100 meters without training. The more challenging the concept, the more practice you need. If you ever watch professional football, you know that even with an incredible amount of practice, athletes can still make mistakes sometimes; a receiver may forget a route or a punt returner may drop the ball.

But we know we can get better at whatever we're trying to accomplish with practice. What's true in sports is also true in algebra. Simplifying algebraic expressions can be as tricky as mastering a play in football. Fortunately, when we practice algebra, we're unlikely to get knocked to the ground - unless you're playing full-contact algebra. But let's not do that here.

Simplifying Algebraic Expressions

Here we're going to practice simplifying algebraic expressions. Simplifying algebraic expressions is more or less defined by its title. It involves distributing terms across parentheses and combining like terms in order to make an expression simpler. By simpler, we usually mean shorter, or more condensed.

Why is this useful? Algebraic expressions can get cumbersome with all their various bits and pieces. Think of it like food. What if every time you wanted a cookie, you had to ask for it by its parts - flour, sugar, butter, eggs, etc. - as opposed to just saying 'I want a cookie'? That would be tedious, and it would interfere with your cookie eating. When we simplify an expression, we're combining what we can so we're just dealing with cookies, not the things that make up cookies.

There are two main skills involved in simplifying algebraic expressions. First, there's combining like terms. This is the process of simplifying expressions by joining terms that have the same variable. So if you have x + 2x, you can combine them to get 3x. If you have 5x^2 + 3x^2 + 9x, you can only combine the 5x^2 and 3x^2 since they are the only terms that share the same exponent. But we can still make that expression simpler by saying 8x^2 + 9x.

Second, there's the distributive property. This helpful law tells us that a(b + c) = (ab) + (ac). So, let's say we have 7(x + 2y). Since they're not like terms, we can't add that x and 2y. But the distributive property tells us we can distribute the 7 across the parentheses, giving us 7x + 14y.

Practice Problems

Okay, time for some practice. Let's start simple: 2y + 4y + 9. How can we simplify this? Well, we have two like terms: 2y and 4y. Both of these terms have the same exponent, y. Let's combine them to get 6y + 9. Can we go any further? No. The 6y and 9 don't share an exponent, so that's as far as we can simplify this one.

Here's a good one: 9 + 3t - 5. In this one, all we can combine are the 9 and the -5. So our final expression is 4 + 3t. That's it.

Those first two were a good warm-up. Let's try a longer one. What if we have 3x^2 + 4x + x^2 + 2 + 11x? A good first step is to get like terms next to each other. What are our like terms? 4x and 11x both have an x. What about 3x^2 and x^2? They are like terms as well. If we move things around, we get 3x^2 + x^2 + 4x + 11x + 2. Now we just need to combine the like terms. We add 3x^2 and x^2 to get 4x^2. Then we combine 4x and 11x to get 15x. So our simplified expression is 4x^2 + 15x + 2. That's much better!

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