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Marchofthefox's avatar

How come Algerbra is so hard?

Asked by Marchofthefox (787points) November 14th, 2010

I always get PEMDAS questions mixed up like the following:
0; 3x + 17=16
I sort of get how to do it, I know I have to plug in varibles and it has to equal to 16 but sometimes I confuse myself and forget how to do problems like this.

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10 Answers

jerv's avatar

It isn’t that Algebra is hard really. I find it quite simple most of the time.

The problem here is that different people have different aptitudes. I can troubleshoot many machines (cars, computers, household appliances…) without even thinking, but there are some things that most people consider simple that are beyond me, like how to deal with annoying people without telling them to fuck themselves.

Mariah's avatar

The way you phrased your last sentence makes it sound to me like you’re using a “guess and check” method, which makes it much harder (and more time consuming) than it needs to be! Try instead solving for the variable. Follow PEMDAS backwards with isolating the “x” as your goal, always making sure to that what you do to one side, you also do to the other. Subtract 17 from both sides, then divide both sides by three. Sorry for the redundancy if that’s what you were already doing.

Marchofthefox's avatar

@Mariah Mm, like you have to do 3 times 0, which is 0 plus 17 and its not equal to 16. But when the problems get longer I have a harder time.
Like I know how to do it, I just get confused how to set up the problem and solve.
Do you have any tips?

xxii's avatar

I think algebra is one of those things that is just completely mind-boggling and headache inducing at first, until you’ve worked at it for a certain amount of time, at which point it just goes CLICK and you just understand what the whole concept of variables means.

Practice, practice, practice is my number one tip.

When I was struggling with algebra, my dad would make me do ten algebra problems every night. I would have as much time as I wanted to complete them and check them for errors. For every problem I got wrong – even if it was the tiniest, most careless mistake – I would have to do another five problems. It made me so much more fastidious in checking my work (an essential in any math topic) and helped me grasp the concept in no time.

jerv's avatar

I immediately saw 3x = -1 without even thinking about it or calculating anything; I just saw it.

However, I believe that @xxii has a point that it does get easier with practice. I found it fairly easy back in high school, and in the twenty years since then, I have had a lot of jobs and hobbies that are fairly math-intensive, so I’ve been “practicing” for longer than most HS students have been on planet Earth. By now, I find simple problems to be practically intuitive.

BTW, to get an idea of what I do for fun, here is something from one of the RPG sourcebooks I have :

DV = ( ( ME * 0.735 ) / Diameter ) ^ 0.5, where ME = ( ( 4,500 * TL ) * efficiency )

After a bit of practice followed by some more practice, it all makes perfect sense as long as you don’t let it intimidate you.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Do you feel like you have a pretty good math foundation? Sometimes reviewing on your own can be helpful to make you feel like you’re standing on firm ground. The way math is taught in the US is not always conducive to understanding concepts. If the class moves too fast, students are often pushed ahead before they should be.

jerv's avatar

@BarnacleBill In the US, we often “teach to the test”; it doesn’t matter if you understand, only if you do well enough on standardized tests to keep the federal money pouring into the school.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@jerv Your comment calls to mind this

mattbrowne's avatar

See the connection to the real world. Like depending on the angle of your roof and the direction of your house, how many photons will reach your solar panels? Or before you play the lottery what are your chances of getting 6 out of 49 numbers right? I could go on for hours.

No real life connection, no motivation. And this is key. Math is not about memorizing formulas.

Once you’re motivated algebra becomes less hard.

jerv's avatar

Truth be told, I have very little interest in math for math’s sake.

However, I am interested in gaming, cars, and electronics. Now, can you tell me what effect switching from a 175/60R15 tire to a 185/55R15 tire will have on the effective final drive ratio? Unless you are a car nut, you won’t care, but more importantly, if you don’t have strong math skills, you won’t be able to figure it out. By the same token, if you don’t know probabilities well enough to know and understand the bell-curve of three six-sided dice (3d6) then you won’t know when it may or may not be worth busting your ass to get a +1 modifier to your effective skill in GURPS.

But even without being a geek, math can help you out on many jobs and in every day life. Is Pepsi being on a “buy two 12-packs, get two free” sale a better deal at $6.49 per 12-pack than Costco’s normal price of $9.87 for a 36-pack? Without good math skills, you won’t know, and may waste money. I like saving money, and I work as a machinist (a math-intensive job at times) so I have motivations to know math that don’t have anything to do with my geeky hobbies. Many real-life connections. Many motivations.

So @mattbrowne is entirely correct; once you find motivation, it will somehow all “click” and become easier.

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