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You are on page 1of 5

Andrew Roberts

andyr@comp.leeds.ac.uk

4th March 2004

Introduction

Re-arranging equations is an essential skill in maths (and any applied maths subject

for that matter). Fortunately, it is fairly straightforward — it merely relies on a simple

principle, and a small set of rules. Once learned, it is a rather mechanical process to

get an equation in one form, into another. Finally, I can not stress enough that like any

mathematical skill, it also requires a decent amount of practise!

Principle of balance

I dare say that in maths textbooks, they will not refer to this principle, as I have

just made it up myself! However, this is the way I prefer to think about transposing

equations, and I think it helps make the process a lot easier (well, I would say that,

wouldn’t I?!)

Figure 1 shows a set of scales. As you will no doubt understand, if the scales are level

(that is, balanced) then the weight on the left-hand side (LHS) must be equal to the

weight on the right-hand side (RHS). Of course, it does not matter how those weights

are composed. So, you could have a kilo of sugar on one side and a kilo of flour on the

other, and the scales would balance. Alternatively, you could have a kilogram weight on

one side, and four 250g weights on the other. These two weights are equivalent, and

therefore the scales would balance.

So how does the scales analogy relate to equations? Well, an equation is composed

of two sides also. There is an expression on the LHS, and another on the RHS. They

are separated with an equals sign (=), which indicates that they are equal — or that

the equation is balanced. If you wish to alter the LHS expression, then you must also do

the exact same thing to the RHS to ensure that the equation remains balanced. Going

back to the balanced scales, and add 500g to the LHS, it is clearly now heavier on that

1

side. To regain the equilibrium, all you need to do is add 500g to the RHS, and the

scales will be balanced again.

Therefore, to summarise, the principle of balance is basically this: whatever you do

to one side of the equation, do the same to the other side!

An example

So far, all this guide has done was rambled on about balance! As important as I believe

that is, it is about time to get stuck in with a meaty example, from which I hope to

extract a set of rules. Here is our example:

µ ¶2

4y

x= 10 − −z

g

The goal is to re-arrange the equation to make it equal to y.

The first aim is to isolate the sub-expression that contains our target variable, y,

which is − 4y

g . To do this, you must approach from the outside, working inwards. The

approach:

You can see that the entire RHS expression is wrapped up in parentheses and is

squared. We must therefore remove this from the RHS. This is done by taking the

square-root (of both sides). This leaves us with:

√ 4y

x = 10 − −z

g

Our target sub-expression now has two constants either-side. It has 10 to its left,

and −z to its right. 10 is a positive number, and so to remove it from the RHS, we

must subtract 10 from both sides. Similarly, with −z, to remove it from the RHS, we

must add z to both sides.

√ 4y

⇒ x − 10 + z = (10 − 10) − + (−z + z)

g

√ 4y

⇒ x − 10 + z = 0− +0

g

√ 4y

⇒ x − 10 + z = −

g

Ok, so, we are now left with our sub-expression, which now means we can focus on

just isolating the y. Next, although not entirely necessary, I would normally prefer to

eliminate the negative in front of our target sub-expression. This is simply a matter of

multiplying both sides by −1.

¡√ ¢ 4y

⇒ − x − 10 + z =

g

√ 4y

⇒ − x + 10 − z =

g

√ 4y

⇒ 10 − x−z =

g

Our y is currently trapped because it is part of a fraction. Our target is part of the

numerator, and so we need to remove the denominator, which in this instance simply

consists of g. To remove denominators, all you do is multiply both sides by whatever

the denominator is. Therefore, for this example, we need to multiply both sides by g.

2

¡ √ ¢ 4y

⇒ g 10 − x − z = g

g

¡ √ ¢ 4yg

⇒ g 10 − x − z =

g

¡ √ ¢ 4y g¢

⇒ g 10 − x − z =

g¢

¡ √ ¢

⇒ g 10 − x − z = 4y

Only one step left before we reach our goal. As you can see, y is still being multiplied

by 4. We just want y, and so to get rid of the 4 from the RHS, simply divide both sides

by 4. This is because any number divided by itself always gives 1.

√

g (10 − x − z) 4y

⇒ =

4 4

√

⇒

g (10 − x − z)

= ¢4y

4

√ 4¢

g (10 − x − z)

⇒ = y

4

The end! We now have managed to re-arrange the original equation so that it is

equal to y.

What would have happened if our target variable was part of a fraction, but this time it

was within the denominator? For example, re-arrange the following so that it is equal

to y:

100g

x=

y

We can not remove the numerator in a single step. We first remove y from the

denominator by multiplying both sides by y.

100gy

⇒ xy =

y

100g y¢

⇒ xy =

y¢

⇒ xy = 100g

The result of this was to move cancel out y from the RHS, and move it over the the

LHS. Now, the remaining step is to uncouple xy so that we are just left with y. This

is done by dividing both sides by x.

xy 100g

⇒ =

x x

¢

xy 100g

⇒ =

¢

x x

100g

⇒ y =

x

3

Rules of re-arranging

Hopefully, from working through a couple of examples, you should begin to see a pattern

about how to approach each step. Whilst isolating your target variable, you need to

look at how the other sub-expressions are attached, you then do the opposite! So, if

there is an expression attached to your target expression by addition, then you subtract

from both sides. If there is an expression attached by multiplication, then you divide

both sides, etc. Here is a summary of the basic rules:

x=y+z y =x−z Because z − z = 0

x=y−z y =z−x Because −z + z = 0

x = yz y = xz Because zz = 1

x = yz y = xz Because z · z1 = 1

x = yz y = xz Because I just showed it above!

√ √

x = yz y= zx Because¡ z y z¢ = y

√ √ z

x= zy y = xz Because z y = y

Exercises

You will recall from the introduction, that it is all very well seeing this stuff in action,

but until you actually try it yourself and gain the necessary experience, you will not

actually possess this skill. So, here are some exercises to get the required practise.

Solutions are included afterwards, so you can check that you are doing things correctly.

(a) x = yz + 5

(b) x = zy 2

√

(c) 10x = 2 y

10+z

(d) x = yv

1 1 1

(b) f = u + v

mu2

(c) X = L3

4

Solutions

1.

x−5

(a) y = z

px

(b) y = z

¡ 10x ¢2 2

(c) y = 2 = (5x) = 25x2

10+z

(d) y = vx

2.

(a) m = cE2

q

E

c= m

1

= u1 + v1

¡ ¢−1

(b) f = 1 1

u+v

³ ´−1

1 1

u= f − v

³ ´−1

1 1

v= f − u

q

3 mu2

(c) L = x

q

XL3

u= m

L3 X

m= u2

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