definition
An equation states that numerical expressions or algebraic expressions are equal.
Linear equations are equations of degree one, where the variable's exponent is one.

If you need to review your skills on solving simple equations see Solving One-Step Linear Equations.

Remember: Solving a linear equation is a process of undoing operations that are affecting the variable. The goal is to isolate the variable (get it alone) on one side of the equal sign.

Remember: You must always make the same changes to BOTH sides of the equal sign to "balance the equation".


Let's take a look at the types of equations we may be asked to solve:

equationsmilepic
bullet Solving two-step equations:
Solve for x   4x - 7 = 37
 
Analysis: More than one operation has been applied to the variable (4 has been multiplied and 7 has been subtracted). We need to undo these operations in the correct order.
First, isolate the "term" containing the x. Get 4x by itself by
adding 7 to both sides.
Next, undo the multiplication by 4, by
dividing both sides by 4.
This 2-step process is (1) using the additive inverse property to create a 0 on the left side (-7 + 7 = 0), and using the additive identity to isolate the 4x, since 4x - 0 = 4x.
Then (2) the process is using the multiplicative inverse to create a value of 1 and the multiplicative identity to isolate x.
2step1a
reminder
Undo any addition or subtraction first, then undo multiplication or division.
Just remember that we never divide by zero.
Check answer: A nice bonus to solving equations is that you always know if you have the correct answer. Simply substitute your answer into the original equation and see if the result is true.
Check:
4x - 7 = 37
4(11) - 7 = 37
37 = 37 True!

hint gal
When solving an equation, if your x's drop out and you end up with a statement like 12 = 12, then your equation is an identity and ALL values make it true.
If you end up with a statement like 1 = 2, then your equation is a
contradiction and NO values make it true.
Read more about Truth Values of Equations.

 

bullet Solving equations with variables on both sides of the equal sign:
Solve for x   6x + 8 = x - 12
 
Analysis: This equation has variables on both sides of the equal sign. We need to get the x's combined into one term on one side.

"Move" the variable with the smaller coefficient (the number attached to it), which in this case is the x term on the right. The sign in front of this x-term is implied to be a positive one, and one is smaller than 6, so move this term.

Subtract x from both sides.

Now, proceed as shown in the example above.

2step2
reminder
When like-variables are scattered throughout a problem, you must get the variables together on one side of the equal sign before you can solve.
Check answer:
Check:
6x + 8 = x - 12
6(-4) + 8 = (-4) - 12
-24 + 8 = -4 - 12
-16 = -16 True!

hint gal
Rather than showing all of the steps in solving an equation, some students simply think of "moving" terms across the equal sign. If you think of equations in this manner, remember that moving any term across the "equal sign" changes the term's sign.

 

bullet Solving equations with multiple variables on one side of equal sign:
Solve for x   8a + 1 - 4a + 7 = 3a + 10
 
Analysis: This equation has more than one term containing "a" on the left side of the equal sign. We need to get the a's combined into one term on the left side before continuing.

"Make the problem as simple as possible by combining any like terms on either side before solving."

8a + 1 - 4a + 7 = 3a + 10
8a - 4a + 1 + 7 = 3a + 10
4a + 8 = 3a + 10

Now, proceed as in the last example.

eqneq
reminder
When combining terms, be sure to "take along" the sign in front of the term. If there is no visible sign in front of a term, it is considered to be +.
Check answer:
Always check back into the original equation:
8a + 1 - 4a + 7 = 3a + 10
Do not use the combined equation: 4a + 8 = 3a + 10
You may have made an error in the creation of the "combined equation" that will not show up unless you check in the original equation.
Check:
8a + 1 - 4a + 7 = 3a + 10
8(2) + 1 - 4(2) + 7 = 3(2) + 10
16 + 1 - 8 + 7 = 6 + 10
16 = 16 True!

 

bullet Solving equations containing parentheses:
Solve for m   2(m + 10) = 4(m - 15)
 
Analysis: This equation contains parentheses.

The first step is to get rid of the parentheses. In this problem, you need to multiply through (or across) the parentheses.
Distribute across the parentheses to get rid of the parentheses.

Now, proceed as shown in the examples above.

2step3a
reminder
When parentheses are involved in the solution of an equation, remember the distributive property.
Check answer:
Check:
2(m + 10) = 4(m - 15)
2(40 + 10) =4(40 - 15)
2(50) = 4(25)
100 = 100 True!

hint gal
If you see an equation like 5x - (3x + 2) = 14, remember that there is an implied "1" in front of the parentheses.
5x - 1(3x + 2) = 14
Distribute "-1", being careful of the signs.
5x - 3x - 2 = 14 (the solution is x = 8.)

 

bullet Solving equations containing decimals:
Solve for x   4x + 2.6 = 3x + 8.1
 
Analysis: Equations may contain decimals as constants (as seen here) or as coefficients.

There is no secret to solving problems with decimals. Simply solve as you would solve an equation with integer values.

Proceed as shown in the examples above.

2step4
Check answer:
Check:
4x + 2.6 = 3x + 8.1
4(5.5) + 2.6 =3(5.5) + 8.1
22 + 2.6 =16.5 + 8.1
24.6 = 24.6 True!

hint gal
When solving equations with decimals, you can multiply all terms by a power of 10 that will remove the decimal points from the problem. Be sure you remove any parentheses from a problem before attempting this approach. Be sure to multiply carefully. The example above needs the use of 10 to the power of one.
10 • 4x +10 • 2.6 = 10 • 3x + 10 • 8.1
40x + 26 = 30x + 81 ; 10x = 55 ; x = 5.5


bullet Solving equations containing fractions:
Solve for x  eqfrac
Method 1:
working with the fractions.
Analysis: This equation contains a fraction. Remember that a fraction is a perfectly good number.

In solution Method 1, we will simply treat the fraction as a number and solve as we did in the previous examples.

Remember how division of fractions is working:
fracyes

The correct answer could be written as an improper fraction, 218, or as a mixed number, 258. The preferred method, however, is usually a mixed number.

solvYes
Check answer:fraccheck
Solve for x:   eqfrac
Method 2:
removing fractions.
Analysis: This equation contains a fraction. We want to remove the fraction from the problem.

In solution Method 2, we will remove the fraction.
It is possible to remove fractions from an equation before solving. Find the common denominator for all fractions within the equation, and then multiply EACH term by that value.

There is only one fraction in this example with a denominator of 4. So, we will multiply EACH term times 4 to create a new usable equation.
neweq Now, solve this equation.

neweq2
Check answer: [Always "check" back into the original equation, NOT the new equation.]fraccheck

hint gal
Yes, this example could also have been solved by changing 3475.
Changing fractions to decimals is a good solution method when the conversion gives a "nice" ending decimal, like 0.75, instead of a non-ending decimal such as 1333.



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