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Posts tagged ‘Algebra Survival Guide’

“Algebra Survival” Program, v. 2.0, has just arrived!

The Second Edition of both the Algebra Survival Guide and its companion Workbook are officially here!

Check out this video for a full run-down on the new books, and see how — for a limited time — you can get them for a great discount at the Singing Turtle website.


Here’s the PDF with sample pages from the books: SAMPLER ASG2, ASW2.

And here’s the website where you can check out the books more fully and purchase the books.









Conquering Proportions, Part 2

In my first “Conquering Proportions” post, I showed how to save time by canceling terms horizontally as well as vertically. In this post you’ll learn how to save even more time with another shortcut. Let’s look at an example to refresh our memory.

Given a proportion such as this:

15   =   5  
 a         3

most people would do the traditional “cross-multiplying” step, to get:

5 x a = 15 x 3  (the x here is a true times sign; that’s why I’m using ‘a‘ as the variable, not ‘x.’)

If you follow the usual steps, the next thing would be to ÷ both sides by 5, to get:

a  =  (15 x 3) ÷ 5

But let’s look more closely at this answer expression:  (15 x 3) ÷ 5

We can conceptualize this expression better if we think of the original proportion:

15   =  5   
 a        3

as containing two DIAGONALS.

One diagonal holds the 15 and the 3; the other diagonal holds the ‘a’ and the 5.

Let’s call the diagonal with the ‘a’ the ‘first diagonal.’ And since ‘5’ accompanies ‘a’ in that diagonal, we’ll call 5 the “variable’s partner.”

We’ll call the other diagonal just that, the “other diagonal.”

Now I know you’re getting ‘antsy’ for the shortcut, so just know it’s right around “the bend.”

Using our new terms, we can better understand the expression we got up above:

a = (15 x 3) ÷ 5

The (15 x 3) is the product (result of multiplication) of the “other diagonal,”
and ‘5’ is the “variable’s partner.

So the answer,

                                      (15 x 3)                     ÷              5

is simply (and here’s the shortcut):

         (product of other diagonal) ÷ by  (“variable’s partner.”)

We’ll call this the Proportion Shortcut Formula, or the PSF, for short.

The PSF saves a BIG STEP; using it, we no longer need to write out the cross-multiplication product the usual way, as:

5 x a = 15 x 3

Instead, using the PSF, we can go straight from the proportion to an expression for ‘a‘:

a  =  (15 x 3) ÷ 5

Let’s see how the PSF works in another proportion, such as:

 9    =   45  
13         a

What’s the “variable’s partner”?  9.
What’s in the “other diagonal”? 13 and 45.

So using PSF, the answer is this:

a  =  (13 x 45) ÷ 9

This simplifies to 65, of course. Isn’t it nice not to have to “cross-multiply” any more?

Another nice thing: the PSF works no matter where the variable is located in the original proportion. All you need to do is identify the “variable’s partner,” and the “other diagonal,” and then you’re all good go with the PSF.

Try a few of these to see how easy and convenient the PSF makes it to solve proportions.


1)   a   =      15  
     12          36

2)   18   =    a  
      24         4

3)   21   =   75  
      14          a

ANSWERS (using the PSF first):

1)   a  =  (12 x 15) ÷ 36
  a  =  5

2)   a  =  (18 x 4) ÷ 24
      a  =  3

3)   a  =  (14 x 75) ÷ 21
      a  =  50

“Hack” for Simplifying Fractions

So c’mon … everything that can be said about simplifying fractions has been said … right?

Not quite! Here’s something that might just be original … a hack to smack those fractions down to size.

Suppose you’re staring at an annoying-looking fraction:  96/104, and it’s annoying the heck out of you, particularly because it’s smirking at you!

But it won’t smirk for long. For you open up your bag of hacks (obtained @ and …

1st)  Subtract to get the difference between numerator and denominator. I also like to call this the gap between the numbers. Difference (aka, gap) = 104 – 96 = 8.

NOTE: Turns out that this gap, 8, is the upper limit for any numbers that can possibly go into BOTH 96 and 104. No number larger than 8 can go into both. And this is a … HACK FACT:  The gap represents the largest number that could possibly go into BOTH numerator and denominator. In other words, the gap is the largest possible greatest common factor (GCF).

2nd)  Try 8. Does 8 go into both 96 and 104? Turns out it does, so smack the numerator and denominator down to size:  96 ÷ 8 = 12, and 104 ÷ 8 = 13.

3rd)  State the answer:  96/104 = 12/13.

Is it still smirking? I think … NOT!

Try another. Say you’re now puzzling over:  74/80.

1st)  Subtract to get the gap. 80 – 74 = 6. So 6 is the largest number that can possibly go into BOTH 74 and 80.

2nd)  So try 6. Does it go into both 74 and 80? No, in fact it goes into neither number.

NOTE:  Turns out that even though 6 does NOT go into 74 OR 80, the fact that the gap is 6 still says something. It tells us that the only numbers that can possibly go into both 74 and 80 are the factors of 6:  6, 3 and 2. This, it turns out, is another … HACK FACT:  Once you know the gap, the only numbers that can possibly go into the two numbers that make the gap are either the factors of the gap, or the gap number itself.

3rd)  So now, try the next largest factor of 6, which just happens to be 3. Does 3 go into both 74 and 80? No. Like 6, 3 goes into neither 74 nor 80. But that’s actually a good thing because now there’s only one last factor to test, 2. Does 2 go into both 74 and 80? Yes! At last you’ve found a number that goes into both numerator and denominator.

4th)  Hack the numbers down to size:  74 ÷ 2 = 37, and 80 ÷ 2 = 40.

5th)  State the answer. 74/80 gets hacked down to 37/40, and that fraction, my dear friends, is the answer. 37/40 the final, simplified form of 74/80. 

O.K., are you ready to smack some of those fractions down to size? I believe you are. So here are some problems that will let you test out your new hack.

As you slash these numbers down, remember this rule. In some of these problems the gap number itself is the number that divides into numerator and denominator. But in other problems, it’s not the gap number itself, but rather a factor of the gap number that slashes both numbers down to size. So if the gap number itself doesn’t work, don’t forget to check out its factors.

Ready then? Here you go … For each problem, state the gap and find the largest number that goes into both numerator and denominator. Then write the simplified version of the fraction.

a)   46/54
b)   42/51
c)   48/60
d)   45/51
e)   63/77


a)   46/54:  gap = 8. Largest common factor (GCF) = 2. Simplified form = 23/27
b)   42/51:  gap = 9. Largest common factor (GCF) = 3. Simplified form = 14/17
c)   48/60:  gap = 12. Largest common factor (GCF) = 12. Simplified form = 4/5
d)   45/51:  gap = 6. Largest common factor (GCF) = 3. Simplified form = 15/17
e)   63/77:  gap = 14. Largest common factor (GCF) = 7. Simplified form = 9/11

Josh Rappaport is the author of five math books, including the wildly popular Algebra Survival Guide and its trusty sidekick, the Algebra Survival Workbook. Josh has been tutoring math for more years than he can count — even though he’s pretty good at counting after all that tutoring — and he now tutors students in math, nationwide, by Skype. Josh and his remarkably helpful wife, Kathy, use Skype to tutor students in the U.S. and Canada, preparing them for the “semi-evil” ACT and SAT college entrance tests. If you’d be interested in seeing your ACT or SAT scores rise dramatically, shoot an email to Josh, addressing it to:  We’ll keep an eye out for your email, and our tutoring light will always be ON.

Algebra Survival Guide — Second Edition — Fresh Off The Presses!

Algebra Survival Guide — Second Edition
by Josh Rappaport
illustrated by Sally Blakemore

The Algebra Survival Guide — Second Edition is here, but not yet released to the general public. Now’s your chance to order it at a 25% discount through April 10th. Just go to

But first, let me tell you about what’s new … a massive, 62-page chapter on advanced story problems.

It’s no secret that algebra gives students the ‘jitters,’ and word problems give them the ‘shakes.’ As a dastardly duo, the word problems of algebra are just about as nerve-wracking as anything in the teenage years.

The Algebra Survival Guide — Second Edition takes a hard look at algebra’s word problems and offers time-tested advice for cracking them. With a new 62-page chapter devoted to these word problems, the new edition tackles the ultimate math nightmares of the puberty years: problems involving rate, time and distance, work performed, and mixture formulas, among others. Added to the pre-existing 20-page introduction-to-story-problems chapter (in the Algebra Survival Guide — 1st Edition), it’s like having a book within a book.

The Algebra Survival Guide — Second Edition also includes:
  • 12 additional content chapters that explain fundamental and advanced areas of algebra
  • a unique question/answer format so students hear their own questions echoed in the text
  • conversational style written in the voice of a friendly tutor
  • step-by-step instructions
  • practice problems after each new concept
  • chapter tests
  • an expanded glossay and index
  • lively illustrations by award-winning artist Sally Blakemore
Finished Spit Fire
The many cartoons not only provide well-deserved comic relief for math learners, they also offer a visual way to grasp algebra’s challenging abstractions. Example: The above cartoon illustrates a real-world mixture problem by showing different percent concentrations of paint.

With all of these features, the Second Edition Algebra Survival Guide is ideal for homeschoolers, tutors and students striving for algebra excellence.

The Second Edition also aligns with the current Common Core State Standards for Math, so it’s ideal for today’s teachers, as well. Its content chapters tackle the trickiest topics of algebra:

Properties, Sets of Numbers, Order of Operations, Absolute Value, Exponents, Radicals, Factoring, Cancelling, Solving Equations, and the Coordinate Plane.

So, have some fun learning algebra!

• Updated version of Josh and snake

The “Unknown” Order of Operations

Talk about a major point that’s usually unspoken …

We make such a big deal out of the Order of Operations in Algebra, and yet there’s a second order of operations, equally important but seldom mentioned.

First, to clarify, the standard Order of Operations (caps on the two O’s to indicate this one) helps us simplify mathematical expressions. It tells us how to take a group of math terms and boil them down to a simpler expression. And it works great for that, as it should, as that’s what it’s designed for.

EXAMPLE:  this Order of Operations tells us that, given an expression like:  – 2 – 3(4 – 10), we’d first do the operations inside PARENTHESES to get – 6, then we’d MULTIPLY the 3 by that – 6 to get – 18. Then we would SUBTRACT the – 18 from the – 2, to get 16. You know, PEMDAS.

But it turns out that there’s another order of operations, the one used for solving equations. And students need to know this order as well.

In fact, a confusing thing is that the PEMDAS order is in a sense the very opposite of the order for solving equations. And yet, FEW people hear about this. In fact, I have yet to see any textbook make this critical point.  That’s why I’m making it here and now: so none of you  suffer the confusion.

In the Order of Operations, we learn that we work the operations of multiplication and division before the operations of addition and subtraction. But when solving equations we do the exact opposite: we work with terms connected by addition and subtraction before we work with the terms connected by multiplication and division.

Example: Suppose we need to solve the equation,
4x – 10 = 22

What to do first? Recalling that our goal is to get the ‘x’ term alone, we see that two numbers stand in the way: the 4 and the 10. We might  think of them as x’s bodyguards, and our job is to get x alone so we can have a private chat with him.

To do this, we need to ask how each of those numbers is connected to the equation’s left side. The 4 is connected by multiplication, and the 10 is connected by subtraction. A key rule comes into play here. To undo a number from an equation, we use the opposite operation to how it’s connected.

So to undo the 4 — connected by multiplication — we do division since division is the opposite of multiplication. And to undo the 10 — connected by subtraction — we do addition since addition is the  opposite of subtraction.

So far, so good. But here’s “the rub.” If we were relying on the PEMDAS Order of Operations, it would be logical to undo the 4 by division BEFORE we undo the 10 with addition … because that Order of Operations says you do division before addition.

But the polar opposite is the truth when solving equations!


Just take a look at how crazy things would get if we followed PEMDAS here.

We have:  4x – 10 = 22

Undoing the 4 by division, we would have to divide all of the equation’s terms by 4, getting this:

x – 10/4 = 22/4

What a mess! In fact, now we can no longer even see the 10 we were going to deal with. The mess this creates impels us to undo the terms connected by addition or subtraction before we undo those connected by multiplication or division.

For many, the “Aunt Sally” memory trick works for PEMDAS. I suggest that for solving equations order of operations, we use a different memory trick.

I just remind students that in elementary school, they learned how to do addition and subtraction before multiplication and division. So I tell them that when solving equations, they go back to the elementary school order and UNDO terms connected by addition/subtraction BEFORE they UNDO terms connected by multiplication/division.

And this works quite well for most students. Try it and see if it works for you as well.

Josh Rappaport is the author of the Algebra Survival Guide and Workbook, which together comprise an award-winning program that makes algebra do-able! Josh also is the author of PreAlgebra Blastoff!, an engaging, hands-on approach to working with integers. All of Josh’s books, published by Singing Turtle Press, are available on

Algebra Survival Guide wins an AWARD!

My book, the Algebra Survival Guide, has just won an award from a student tutoring organization in Detroit, Michigan.

The “Front Porch,” of Detroit, Michigan, has given the Algebra Survival Guide its distinguished “Golden Porch Award” for helping “kids in Detroit through their first year of algebra successfully.”

Here is the notification about the award:

Algebra Survival Guide Wins AWARD!

GOLDEN PORCH AWARD for Algebra Survival Guide


eVersion of Algebra Survival Guide ARRIVES!

The eVersion of the Algebra Survival Guide is HERE! just listed the eBook TODAY, and so you can now get this book for just $9.95, and read it on ANY of these devices:

Kindle / iPhone / iPad / Android / Blackberry / PC / MAC

The standard price of the paperback book is $19.95, but now you can get the eVersion of this book, and have it with you electronically, for HALF the price  $9.95!

Algebra Survival Guide, now in convenient eVersion!

The Algebra Survival Guide, which debuted in 2000, has sold more than a quarter of a million copies. It has also garnered a Parents Choice award, and it has been used in school districts all across the country as the cornerstone curriculum for Algebra Professional Development Workshops.

The book is read and used by struggling students, teachers, tutors, homeschoolers, and parents. It is an easy book to read, as it is written in a friendly Q&A conversational style. The companion workbook, soon to be available in an eVersion as well, provides thousands of additional practice problems.

Check this book out on at this site!