What is an Exponent?

As we begin our study of pre-algebra and algebraic expressions, you will need to learn and understand the use of exponents. So, let's begin by defining the term exponent.

An exponent is a number (small and raised) that represents the "shortcut method" to showing how many times a number is multiplied by itself.

That sounds complicated, so let's look at a few examples:

Example 1

Two to the third power is 2 times 2 times 2, which equals 8.

Example 2

Four to the second power is equal to four times four, which is equal to 16.

Special Exponents

When a power has an exponent of 2, it can be read as "to the second power" OR "squared".

52 is read as: "5 to the second power" OR "5 squared".

When a power has an exponent of 3, it can be read as "to the third power" OR "cubed".

53 is read as: "5 to the third power" OR "5 cubed."

Example 3

Write the product as a power.

With this direction, you are working backwards and writing the product (multiplication problem) as a power.

Six to the seventh power is equal to six times six times six times six times six times six times six.

Summing it up

When working with powers, you have a base number. That base number is then raised to a "power" (this is the exponent). The exponent tells you how many times to multiply the base by itself.

The main number is called the base. The small raised number is called the exponent. This is all called a power.

So, don't let exponents intimidate you - all you really need to know is how to multiply!

Check out the next lesson on the order of operations to see how powers are calculated in a numerical expression.

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