Equations 101: Understanding the Basics

Equations 101: Understanding the Basics

If you’ve ever watched a mathematician scribble a bunch of numbers, variables, and symbols on a piece of paper and hoped to understand what they were doing, this post is for you. At its core, mathematics is a study of relationships and patterns, and equations are the tools we use to describe those relationships. In this beginner’s guide to equations, we’ll explore the basics of what equations are, how they work, and why they matter.

What are Equations?

An equation is a statement that two expressions are equal. At its simplest, an equation might look like this:

x = 5

This equation tells us that a variable called “x” is equal to the number 5. But equations can also be much more complex, involving multiple variables, exponents, fractions, and other mathematical symbols.

How do Equations Work?

An equation works by balancing the two sides of the equal sign. That is, whatever mathematical operation we perform on one side of the equation, we must perform on the other side as well. This keeps the equation balanced and maintains the relationship between the two expressions.

For example, let’s say we have the following equation:

2x + 4 = 10

To solve for x, we need to isolate it on one side of the equation. We can do this by subtracting 4 from both sides, yielding:

2x = 6

Then, dividing both sides by 2, we get:

x = 3

Now, we have solved for x and found that it is equal to 3. We can check our solution by plugging it back into the original equation:

2(3) + 4 = 10

Which simplifies to:

6 + 4 = 10

So, the equation is balanced and our solution is correct!

Why do Equations Matter?

Equations are incredibly useful for solving all kinds of problems, from calculating the distance between two points to modeling the behavior of complex systems. They allow us to express relationships between different variables and make predictions about how those relationships might change over time.

For example, consider the equation for the area of a circle:

A = πr^2

This equation tells us that the area of a circle is equal to the product of pi and the square of its radius. Using this equation, we can calculate the area of any circle, regardless of its size or shape. We can also use it to model how the area of a circle changes as its radius changes, helping us understand the properties of circles more deeply.

Examples of Equations

Here are a few more examples of equations you might encounter in your math studies:

y = mx + b (the equation of a line)

E = mc^2 (Einstein’s famous equation linking mass and energy)

a^2 + b^2 = c^2 (the Pythagorean theorem)

F = ma (Newton’s second law of motion)


Q: What’s the difference between an expression and an equation?

A: An expression contains numbers, variables, and mathematical operations, but it does not assert that two expressions are equal. An equation always asserts that two expressions are equal.

Q: Are there different types of equations?

A: Yes! Equations can be linear or nonlinear, polynomial or rational, algebraic or transcendental, and more.

Q: Why do we use letters for variables in equations?

A: We use letters as variables to represent unknown quantities or values. This allows us to solve for those values using algebraic operations.


Equations are essential tools for understanding relationships and patterns in mathematics. They allow us to describe complex systems, make predictions, and solve problems of all kinds. By mastering the basics of equations, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a confident and capable math student.


Equations are at the heart of mathematical thinking, and understanding their basics is crucial for every math student. Although they may seem daunting at first, equations are actually just a way of expressing relationships between different values, and they can be used to solve problems of all kinds. By mastering the fundamentals of equations, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle even the most complex mathematical challenges.

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