You are on page 1of 13

Exponents and Roots

Remember how we defined multiplication. It is addition done a given


number of times.
Similarly, the process of exponent is doing multiplication a given
number of times.
2 x 5 = 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 = 10
25 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32
----------------------5 times

The exponent function also called as the power function is defined


as a (Base)Power
In general terms it is defined as m n, where m and n are any real
numbers. Real numbers include all the numbers we have studied so far
natural numbers, whole numbers, integers, fractional numbers,
decimals, rational numbers and irrational numbers. All these numbers
combined are called real numbers
A few examples of exponents are
26 = 64
33 = 27
52 = 25
122 = 144
(-1)5 = -1
(2.2)2 = 4.84
and so on.
The idea of exponents is used across mathematics in varied number of
ways from calculating areas and volumes, to finding out bank
interests, to even finding the coordinates of a spaceship.
The GMAT poses questions on exponents both directly and indirectly.
An exponent has 2 parts the Base and the Power. Well first study
how powers impact the exponent and then explore about the bases.
The Power:
This is the number written in small size over a given number or an
expression. For instance in (x + 5)2, the expression (x + 5) is raised to
the power of 2.

The power of 2 is called as square, and the power of 3 is called as


cube.
For any number raised to the power 0, the result is 1, i.e. n 0 =
1, where n is any real number.
So, 42 is called as square of 4 (or 4 squared), and 5 3 is called as the
cube of 5 (or 5 cubed).
If a number is the square of an integer, then it is called a perfect
square.
For eg: 81 is a perfect square (of 9), but 88 is not!
Similarly, if a number is the cube of an integer, then it is called a
perfect cube.
For eg: 125 is a perfect cube (of 5), but 111 is not!
The major perfect squares and perfect cubes are highlighted later in
the chapter.
n2 is always positive, regardless of the fact whether n is positive or
negative.
Because any number positive or negative multiplied by itself even
number of times is always positive, i.e.
Xn is always positive if n is an even number!
Take a few examples and check. If X is -121 and n is 4, the result will
be
-121 x -121 x -121 x -121
This will always be positive because the ve sign is being multiplied
even number of times, and we know that -ve x ve is +ve
In simpler words, EVEN powers EAT the sign!
There are some standard (perfect) squares and cubes that you should
be familiar with, ideally remember them.
02
12
22
32

=
=
=
=

0
1
4
9

42 = 16
52 = 25
62 = 36
72 = 49
82 = 64
92 = 81
102 = 100
112 = 121
122 = 144
132 = 169
152 = 225
202 = 400
252 = 625
502 = 2500
1002 = 10000
03 = 0
13 = 1
23 = 8
33 = 27
43 = 64
53 = 125
63 = 216
103 = 1000
20 = 1
21 = 2
22 = 4
23 = 8
24 = 16
25 = 32
26 = 64
27 = 128
28 = 256
29 = 512
210 = 1024
The Roots:
We have dealt with positive powers, with negative powers and even
with 0 as a power. Now, well deal with fractional, or even decimal,
powers.
X1/n or

n X is called as the nth root of X

Remember roots are the same as powers, but roots are fractional
powers with the numerator as 1.
When you are looking for the n th root of X, you are basically looking for
a number that when multiplied by itself n number of times will give
you X as a result
Remember, when finding powers you were looking for the opposite, i.e.
you were trying to find X
Eg: 22 = 4, but 41/2 = 2
So, if you multiply 2 with itself 2 times you get 4 as a result. Therefore,
2 is the 2nd roots of 4.
Like powers, in roots too there are special names given to the 2 nd and
the 3rd roots.
The 2nd root is called the Square Root, and the 3rd root is called the
Cube Root.
If no number is mentioned on the root symbol, like this by default it is a square root.
Some standard square and cube roots are:

2 1 = 1
2 4 = 2
2 9 = 3
2 16 = 4
2 25 = 5
2 36 = 6
2 49 = 7
2 64 = 8
2 81 = 9
2 100 = 100
3 1 = 1
3 8 = 2
3 27 = 3
3 64 = 4
3 125 = 5
Also, for approximate calculation purposes,
2 2 = 1.4

n , then

2 3 = 1.7
If you notice carefully, this is the exact opposite of the standard
squares and cubes that we wrote earlier.
To find root (remember by default it means the square root), you just
need to break the number down.
Think of the process of finding root as escaping from a prison. Numbers
are trapped under the prison of the root symbol

125 , 3 56
To escape from this root-like prison, the numbers must form pairs.. If
its a square root, the numbers need to form pairs of 2, if its a cube
root, the numbers need to form pairs of 3, and so on.
So lets try this 125
125 can be broken into its factors as 25 x 5 or 5 x 5 x 5
=

5 x 5 x 5

<---->
1 pair of two 5s formed

Now, since 1 pair of 2 numbers can be formed, one 5 is able to escape


the prison, and we get
=5

Lets try, 3 56
56 can be factorized as 7 x 8 or 7 x 2 x 2 x 2
= 3 7 x 2 x 2 x 2
<-------->
1 pair of three 2s formed
= 2 3 7
Rationalization:
Roots can be applied to fractional numbers as well.
For eg:

3 =

Sometimes, its easier to simplify roots in the denominator by bringing


them up to the numerator.

For eg:
1 - 3
---------1 + 3

can be simplified like this

Step 1: Multiply both num and den by a number with opposite sign as
the den
1 - 3
1 - 3
---------x
---------1 + 3
1 - 3
Step 2: Apply basic algebraic theorems* and simplify
(1 -

3 )2

---------(12 - 3

12 +
=

4 + 2 3
-------------2

3 )2 + 2x1x 3

---------------------------1 -3
2 ( 2 + 3
----------------- =

1 + 3 + 2

----------------------2
-2 -

-2

* The 3 basic algebraic theorems are :


1) (a + b)2 = a2 + b2 + 2ab
2) (a b)2 = a2 + b2 2ab
3) (a2 b2) = (a-b) (a+b)
Lets try one more:
15
-------6 1
=

15
---------6 1

15 6
------------( 6 2 - 12

can be simplified like this

6 + 1

---------6 + 1
=

Negative Powers and roots

15 6
------------- =
61

Notice that we havent use negative powers so far. The process of


exponent changes with negative powers. Lets take an example and
see what happens
2-3

---------

(Please take care it is 1/(2)3 and NOT (1/2)3 !!!)

(2)
= 1/8

Observe that 2-3 is positive.


Lets try it with a different number.
10-4

1
1
------ =
------ = 0.0001
104
10000
Again a positive number is the result.
=

Infact no matter how bigger a negative power you put on a positive


number the result will always be positive, i.e.
Pn = +ve number, where P is any positive number and n is any real
number.
Similarly,
1
------ = 112 = 121
11-2
The key point to remember here is that when you need to change the
sign of powers move them from denominator to numerator (or vice
versa)
Negative roots go pretty much the same way as negative powers do.
However, remember like we saw before that the roots can be
negative, but the base (the number inside the root prison) HAS to be
positive if its a square root or any other even power root.

Negative Roots
Negative roots are a bit different. While 8- = 1/ (8) = 1/
But there is one major exception for ve roots!

One thing you must remember is 8 ,


any negative number is NOT DEFINED.

or

1 , or square root of

Infact, even roots of any negative number are NOT DEFINED!


For eg:

4 125 and

153 are not defined

12

The reason is very simple. The square (or even power) of any number
can never be negative. Therefore, the square (or the even root) can
never be negative as well!
However, odd roots of negative numbers are defined.
For eg:
And

1 = - 1
128 = -2

3
7

Thats because when you multiply -1 three times you get -1, and if you
multiply -2 seven times you get -128.
The common reason to the above observations can be defined like this
(-1)n = +1, if n is even
(-1)n = -1, if n is odd
This simple looking observation is mighty powerful and GMAT Loves
it!
Q) If n is any integer, then which is bigger: (-1)6n + 1 or (-1)82n ?
Ans: The only thing that matters here is whether the power is an odd
number or an even number
The 2 possible cases here are:
Case 1: n 0
Then, 6n + 1 is an odd number for any n (try it!), i.e. (-1)6n + 1 = -1
And, 82n is an even number for any n, i.e. (-1)82n = +1
Case 2: n = 0
Then, 6n + 1 = 1 which is an odd number, i.e. (-1)6n + 1 = -1
And, 82n = 0 which is an even number, i.e. (-1)82n = +1
Either way, (-1)82n > (-1)6n + 1

Extent of powers and roots:


A very important factor to consider when dealing with powers is to
notice the extent of powers.
For eg:
2 x 145 is different than (2 x 14)5
x3 + y3 is different than (x + y)3
(3/8)2 is way different than 3/82
A lot of candidates often get confused in this. The key to crack such
cases is to observe the brackets, see what all terms they contain and
whether the power is inside or outside the bracket.
So, 2 x 145 = 2 x 14 x 14 x 14 x 14 x 14
But, (2 x 14)5 = 285
Similarly, 3 / 8
Fractional Roots:
Fractional roots or even decimal roots are a combination of powers
and roots. The numerator tells the power and the denominator tells the
root.
So, 8 can be rewritten as (82)

3 8 x 8 = 3 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2

=2x2=4

<---------> <-------->

Alternatively, you could have also done (8)2 = 22 = 4


Lets try one more example with (144)
144 can be broken into its factors as -> 24 x 32
(144) = (24 x 32) = ( 24) x (32) = (2)4 x x 33/2 = (2)3 x
27

27 = 8

Base:
Now, lets try playing with the base of an exponent. Remember the
whole thing is (Base)power
A few standard base values first.
(0)n = 0, i.e. 0 to the power anything (except 1) is 0

00 = 1
Also, 1n = 1, i.e. 1 to the power anything (including 0) is 1
And, -1n = 1, if n is even
-1n = -1, if n is odd
Which means that,
(negative number)n = +ve , if n is even, and
(negative number)n = -ve , if n is odd
The GMAT LOVES to play with these 3 standard values and form
questions around them.
For eg: if x = x2, then x must be either 0 or 1
And, if x = xx, then x must be either -1 or 1
You can break down the base too.
For eg: 562 = (7 x 8)2 = 72 x 82 = 49 x 64 = 3136
The base can be fractional too. So you can have something like this
()2 = (42/52) = 16/25
Or the base can be decimal like this
(0.5)2 = 0.25, (0.15)3 = 0.003375 or (1.3)2 = 1.69
Roots also work with decimal bases like this
0.25 = 0.5
If you have trouble finding roots in decimals, you can convert the
decimal value into fractions and solve it then

0.0009 =

9
10000

= 3/100 = 0.03

Notice that, proper fractions or a decimals between 0 and 1 decrease


as the power increases. Normally, that is not the case.
This happens because of the decimal value. Try
Q) Which is bigger:
(i) (0.2) or (0.2)3
(ii) 2 or 23

Q) Solve:
i) (625)4/7
ii) (-72)2/5
iii) (2.88)3/2
Operations on Exponents
Operations on Exponents can happen ONLY WHEN THE BASE IS
SAME!!!
When multiplied, Powers get Added!:
na x nb = n(a + b)
That makes sense because
23 x 22 = 8 x 4 = 32 = 25 = 2(3 + 2)
When divided, Powers get Subtracted!:
na nb = n(a - b)
That makes sense because
33 32 = 27 9 = 3 = 31 = 3(3 - 2)
Power inside a Power gets multiplied!:
(na)b = nab
That makes sense because
(52)3 = 253 = 25 x 25 x 25 = 15625 = 56 = 52x3
Make sure you dont confuse this with
Power on top of a power stays!:
ab

(n)
eg:

22

(2)

= 24 = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16

Be careful
1) You remember that these operations can be applied ONLY when
the base is Same.
2) You understand and appreciate the difference between each of
the operations illustrated above.
In our experience, GMAT LOVES posing questions on this concept. A
question exploiting this concept and its tricky nature is very likely to
appear in the test.

Thats about performing operations on powers. However, operations on


roots are a bit tricky.
First thing ->

a b

a b

For eg:
72+24 72+ 24
7224 72 24
However, a b = a b , and
a b = a b
For eg: 125 5
125 5 = 5

= 625=25
5 x 5 = 5 x 5 = 25

125 5 = 25 = 5
125 5 = 5 5 5 = 5
Therefore, you can split up roots only in case of multiplication and
division and NOT in addition and subtraction. These techniques can be
used to solve roots that may otherwise seem difficult to solve at first.
For eg:

45 x 20 = 900 = 30
Solving Exponents:
A few handy techniques that would help you solve exponents
1) You can take out the common term, provided that the base is
same.
Eg: 174 +175 = 174 (1 + 17) = 18 x 174
2) Sometimes if the base is not same, you can make it same
132 + 262 = 132 + (13x2)2 = 132 + (132 x 22) = 132 (1 + 4) = 5 x
132
Or, 83 x 442 = (23)3 x (2 x 11)2 = 29 x 22 x 112 = 211 x 112
3) The square (or even power) Eats the sign!
And so they disguise the real number beneath them.
Eg: if x2 = 9
Then x can be either +3 or -3

However, if x3 = 27
Then x has to be +3
You can use this in an equation too, like this
x2 5 = 21
x2 = 26
x = + 26 or -

26

Make sure you always know that x2 gives 2 solutions and NOT 1
solution
This concept would DEFINITELY be tested in the GMAT
The only exception is x 2 = 0, this has only 1 solution which is x =
0
However, odd powers show the real sign of the base!
Q) Solve for x:
i) x4 = 82
ii) x3 = 120 112
Q) Solve: 237 x 325 42 - 466