GCSE Maths Revision Tips: Using Algebra to Solve Problems in Maths

GCSE Maths Revision Tips: Using Algebra

Welcome to Beyond’s algebraic instalment of GCSE Maths revision tips: a helping hand for GCSE students in need. This time, we’re taking a look at using algebra to solve problems in GCSE Maths, exploring:

  • How to recognise when algebra can help you answer a question
  • Common methods of using algebra for GCSE maths problems

Without further ado, here’s our algebra GCSE Maths revision tips…

When to use algebra to answer a question

Sometimes, you’ll be given a problem-solving question and a letter will be introduced to represent a number. It’s obvious then that you’ll be using algebra to solve the problem. In other questions though, algebra can be a great tool to help you to solve the problem, but you’ll need to make that realisation. Here are some tips for recognising when algebra can help and when to use it.

When you’re asked to show or find something, but you’ve not been given any numbers:

  • Example 1: show that the shaded area is more than three-quarters of the entire area of the square.
Circle in square

Tip: It’s hard to proceed with this without further information. We know how to find the area of a square and of a circle, but only if we know side lengths and radius. We can introduce the radius of the circle, say as r, which gives a side length of 2r. The shaded area as a fraction of the entire area =

  • Example 2: prove that the sum of three consecutive numbers is always equal to three times the middle of those numbers.

Tip: Again, we have no numbers to work with. We could come up with three consecutive whole numbers, but then we’d just be illustrating it for one example, not proving it. Instead, we introduce letters to represent our numbers: Let the lowest number be n, an integer. The next two are n + 1 and n + 2. The sum of those numbers is n + n + 1 + n + 2 = 3n + 3, which is n + 1 multiplied by 3.

The problem suggests a calculation where the answer is given, but at least some of the numbers which go into the calculation are missing:

  • Example: Mike buys 5 identical multipacks of crisps and 3 individual packs. Bert buys 2 of the same multipacks and 16 individual packs. Mike has two more bags than Bert. How many bags are there in a multipack?

Tip: If we had a letter to represent the number of bags in a multipack, we could form some equations. Let’s say that’s m.

5m + 3 = 2m + 16 + 2

3m = 15

m = 5; there are 5 packs in a multipack.

Maths resources to accompany our GCSE Maths revision tips on algebra

Apply understanding of these approaches with our “15 minute” worksheets

GCSE Maths Revision Tips: Introducing Algebra to Solve Problems

Enhance understanding with our algebra lesson pack.

Functions Lesson 7: Proof - Using Algebra and Counterexamples

Use substitution methods with simultaneous equations with this worksheet.

GCSE Maths Revision Tips: Solving Linear Simultaneous Equations Worksheet

Practice mastering algebra understanding with this worksheet.

Mastery: KS3 Algebra Questions - KS3 Maths

So there you have it! Our GCSE Maths revision tips for using algebra to solve problems. If you found this helpful, check out our Monthly Maths Mastery blogs here and don’t forget to subscribe to Beyond from as little as £5 per month, giving you access to a range of resources. That’s £5 for as many resources as you can download with no limit! A bargain and a time-saver all in one! If you want to see what we offer first, sign up for a free Beyond account here and take a look around at our free resources.

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