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The purpose of this section is for readers to review important algebraic concepts. It is necessary to understand algebra in order to do calculus. If you are confident of your ability, you may skim through this section.

Rules of arithmetic and algebra


The following laws are true for all   in   whether these are numbers, variables, functions, or more complex expressions involving numbers, variable and/or functions.


  • Commutative Law:   .
  • Associative Law:   .
  • Additive Identity:   .
  • Additive Inverse:   .


  • Definition:   .


  • Commutative law:   .
  • Associative law:   .
  • Multiplicative identity:   .
  • Multiplicative inverse:   , whenever  
  • Distributive law:  .


  • Definition:  , where r is the remainder of a when divided by b, and n is an integer.
  • Definition:   , whenever   .

Let's look at an example to see how these rules are used in practice.

    (from the definition of division)
  (from the associative law of multiplication)
  (from multiplicative inverse)
  (from multiplicative identity)

Of course, the above is much longer than simply cancelling   out in both the numerator and denominator. However, it is important to know what the rules are so as to know when you are allowed to cancel. Occasionally people do the following, for instance, which is incorrect:


The correct simplification is


where the number   cancels out in both the numerator and the denominator.

Interval notation


There are a few different ways that one can express with symbols a specific interval (all the numbers between two numbers). One way is with inequalities. If we wanted to denote the set of all numbers between, say, 2 and 4, we could write "all   satisfying  ". This excludes the endpoints 2 and 4 because we use   instead of  . If we wanted to include the endpoints, we would write "all   satisfying   ."

Another way to write these intervals would be with interval notation. If we wished to convey "all   satisfying  " we would write  . This does not include the endpoints 2 and 4. If we wanted to include the endpoints we would write  . If we wanted to include 2 and not 4 we would write  ; if we wanted to exclude 2 and include 4, we would write  .

Thus, we have the following table:

Endpoint conditions Inequality notation Interval notation
Including both 2 and 4 all   satisfying  
Not including 2 nor 4 all   satisfying  
Including 2 not 4 all   satisfying  
Including 4 not 2 all   satisfying  

In general, we have the following table, where  .

Meaning Interval Notation Set Notation
All values greater than or equal to   and less than or equal to      
All values greater than   and less than      
All values greater than or equal to   and less than      
All values greater than   and less than or equal to      
All values greater than or equal to      
All values greater than      
All values less than or equal to      
All values less than      
All values    

Note that   and   must always have an exclusive parenthesis rather than an inclusive bracket. This is because   is not a number, and therefore cannot be in our set.   is really just a symbol that makes things easier to write, like the intervals above.

The interval   is called an open interval, and the interval   is called a closed interval.

Intervals are sets and we can use set notation to show relations between values and intervals. If we want to say that a certain value is contained in an interval, we can use the symbol   to denote this. For example,   . Likewise, the symbol   denotes that a certain element is not in an interval. For example   .

Exponents and radicals


There are a few rules and properties involving exponents and radicals. As a definition we have that if   is a positive integer then   denotes   factors of   . That is,


If   then we say that   .

If   is a negative integer then we say that   .

If we have an exponent that is a fraction then we say that   . In the expression   ,   is called the index of the radical, the symbol   is called the radical sign, and   is called the radicand.

In addition to the previous definitions, the following rules apply:

Rule Example

Simplifying expressions involving radicals


We will use the following conventions for simplifying expressions involving radicals:

  1. Given the expression  , write this as  
  2. No fractions under the radical sign
  3. No radicals in the denominator
  4. The radicand has no exponentiated factors with exponent greater than or equal to the index of the radical
Example: Simplify the expression  

Using convention 1, we rewrite the given expression as


The expression now violates convention 2. To get rid of the fraction in the radical, apply the rule   and simplify the result:


The resulting expression violates convention 3. To get rid of the radical in the denominator, multiply by  :


Notice that  . Since the index of the radical is 2, our expression violates convention 4. We can reduce the exponent of the expression under the radical as follows:








Consider the equation


  is called the base and   is called the exponent. Suppose we would like to solve for   . We would like to apply an operation to both sides of the equation that will get rid of the base on the right-hand side of the equation. The operation we want is called the logarithm, or log for short, and it is defined as follows:

Definition: (Formal definition of a logarithm)
  exactly if   and  ,  , and  .

Logarithms are taken with respect to some base. What the equation is saying is that, when   is the exponent of  , the result will be  .


Example: Calculate  

  is the number   such that  . Well  , so  

Common bases for logarithms


When the base is not specified,   is taken to mean the base 10 logarithm. Later on in our study of calculus we will commonly work with logarithms with base   . In fact, the base   logarithm comes up so often that it has its own name and symbol. It is called the natural logarithm, and its symbol is   . In computer science the base 2 logarithm often comes up.

Properties of logarithms


Logarithmic addition and subtraction


Logarithms have the property that   . To see why this is true, suppose that:


These assumptions imply that


Then by the properties of exponents


According to the definition of the logarithm


Similarly, the property that   also hold true using the same method.

Historically, the development of logarithms was motivated by the usefulness of this fact for simplifying hand calculations by replacing tedious multiplication by table look-ups and addition.

Logarithmic powers and roots


Another useful property of logarithms is that   . To see why, consider the expression   . Let us assume that


By the definition of the logarithm


Now raise each side of the equation to the power   and simplify to get


Now if you take the base   log of both sides, you get


Solving for   shows that


Similarly, the expression   holds true using the same methods.

Converting between bases


Most scientific calculators have the   and   functions built in, which do not include logarithms with other bases. Consider how one might compute  , where   and   are given known numbers, when we can only compute logarithms in some base  . First, let us assume that


Then the definition of logarithm implies that


If we take the base   log of each side, we get


Solving for   , we find that


For example, if we only use base 10 to calculate  , we get   .

Identities of logarithms summary


A table is provided below for a summary of logarithmic identities.

Formula Example
Change of base    

Factoring and roots


Given the expression   , one may ask "what are the values of   that make this expression 0?" If we factor we obtain



If   , then one of the factors on the right becomes zero. Therefore, the whole must be zero. So, by factoring we have discovered the values of   that render the expression zero. These values are termed "roots." In general, given a quadratic polynomial   that factors as


then we have that   and   are roots of the original polynomial.

A special case to be on the look out for is the difference of two squares,   . In this case, we are always able to factor as


For example, consider   . On initial inspection we would see that both   and   are squares of   and  , respectively. Applying the previous rule we have


The AC method


There is a way of simplifying the process of factoring using the AC method. Suppose that a quadratic polynomial has a formula of


If there are numbers   and   that satisfy both


Then, the result of factoring will be


The quadratic formula


The quadratic formula
Given any quadratic equation  , all solutions of the equation are given by the quadratic formula:


Note that the value of   will affect the number of real solutions of the equation.

If Then
  There are two real solutions to the equation
  There is only one real solution to the equation
  There are no real solutions to the equation
Example: Find all the roots of  

Finding the roots is equivalent to solving the equation   . Applying the quadratic formula with   , we have:






The quadratic formula can also help with factoring, as the next example demonstrates.

Example: Factor the polynomial  

We already know from the previous example that the polynomial has roots   and   . Our factorization will take the form
All we have to do is set this expression equal to our polynomial and solve for the unknown constant C:



You can see that   solves the equation. So the factorization is

Vieta's formulae


Vieta's formulae relate the coefficients of a polynomial to sums and products of its roots. It is very convenient because under certain circumstances when the sums and products of the quadratic's roots are provided, one does not require to solve the whole quadratic polynomial.

Vieta's formulae in quadratic polynomials
Given any quadratic equation  , The roots   of the quadratic polynomial satisfy


Simplifying rational expressions


Consider the two polynomials




When we take the quotient of the two we obtain


The ratio of two polynomials is called a rational expression. Many times we would like to simplify such a beast. For example, say we are given   . We may simplify this in the following way:


This is nice because we have obtained something we understand quite well,   , from something we didn't.

Formulas of multiplication of polynomials


Here are some formulas that can be quite useful for solving polynomial problems:


Polynomial Long Division


Suppose we would like to divide one polynomial by another. The procedure is similar to long division of numbers and is illustrated in the following example:


Divide   (the dividend or numerator) by   (the divisor or denominator)

Similar to long division of numbers, we set up our problem as follows:


First we have to answer the question, how many times does   go into  ? To find out, divide the leading term of the dividend by leading term of the divisor. So it goes in   times. We record this above the leading term of the dividend:


, and we multiply   by   and write this below the dividend as follows:


Now we perform the subtraction, bringing down any terms in the dividend that aren't matched in our subtrahend:


Now we repeat, treating the bottom line as our new dividend:


In this case we have no remainder.

Application: Factoring Polynomials


We can use polynomial long division to factor a polynomial if we know one of the factors in advance. For example, suppose we have a polynomial   and we know that   is a root of   . If we perform polynomial long division using P(x) as the dividend and   as the divisor, we will obtain a polynomial   such that   , where the degree of   is one less than the degree of  .



Use ^ to write exponents:

Factor   out of  .

Application: Breaking up a rational function


Similar to the way one can convert an improper fraction into an integer plus a proper fraction, one can convert a rational function   whose numerator   has degree   and whose denominator   has degree   with   into a polynomial plus a rational function whose numerator has degree   and denominator has degree   with   .

Suppose that   divided by   has quotient   and remainder   . That is


Dividing both sides by   gives


  will have degree less than   .


Write   as a polynomial plus a rational function with numerator having degree less than the denominator.


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