When a student says they’re studying algebra, a common reply from adults is, “I haven’t used that since I graduated from high school.” Responses like this can be discouraging to students who wonder why we learn algebra if it is not useful for life.
I have good news for algebra students: algebra does indeed enrich our life if we choose to understand it. Memorizing how to do algebra might get a course finished, but understanding algebra helps us notice when we can use it to solve everyday problems.
6 Reasons Why We Learn Algebra
1) Algebra is Faster And Better Than “Basic” Math
Just as multiplying two by twelve is faster than counting to 24 or adding 2 twelve times, algebra helps us solve problems more quickly and easily than we could otherwise. Algebra also opens up whole new areas of life problems, such as graphing curves that cannot be solved with only foundational math skills.
2) Algebra is Necessary to Master Statistics and Calculus
While learning one kind of math to learn more kinds of math may not be an immediately satisfying concept, statistics and calculus are used by many people in their jobs. For example, in my job as research analyst for Demme Learning, I use statistics every day. I help departments identify ways to measure their success. I also use statistics to predict how many books we will sell of each level of Math-U-See and Spelling You See in a year. In general, statistics are used in certain jobs within businesses, the media, health and wellness, politics, social sciences, and many other fields. Understanding statistics makes us wiser consumers of information and better employees and citizens.
Calculus helps us describe many complex processes, such as how the speed of an object changes over time. Scientists and engineers use calculus in research and in designing new technology, medical treatments, and consumer products. Learning calculus is a must for anyone interested in pursuing a career in science, medicine, computer modeling, or engineering.
3) Algebra May Be a Job Skill Later
A student may be confident they are not going into any career needing statistics or calculus, but many people change jobs and entire careers multiple times in their working life. Possessing a firm knowledge and understanding of algebra will make career-related changes smoother.
4) Algebra Can Be Useful in Life Outside of the Workplace
I have found algebra helpful in making financial decisions. For example, I use algebra every year to pick a health care plan for my family using two-variable equations to find the break-even point for each option. I have used it in choosing cell phone plans. I even used it when custom-ordering bookshelves for our home. My wife also regularly uses algebra in her crafting.
5) Algebra Reinforces Logical Thinking
I would not use algebra as the only means of teaching logic. There are more direct and effective means of doing so, but it is a nice side-benefit that the two subject areas reinforce one another.
6) Algebra is Beautiful
The beauty of algebra is an optional benefit because one has to truly choose to enjoy it, but algebra provides us with a basic language to describe so many types of real-world phenomena from gravity to the population growth of rabbits. That five letters can be used to describe how an entire category of matter, namely ideal gases, behaves is amazing and beautiful in its simplicity.
There is also a beauty when we start with a complex-looking problem and combine and simplify over and over until we have one value for each variable. The process can be enjoyable and the result immensely satisfying.
Algebra is an important life skill worth understanding well. It moves us beyond basic math and prepares us for statistics and calculus. It is useful for many jobs some of which a student may enter as a second career. Algebra is useful around the house and in analyzing information in the news. It also reinforces logical thinking and is beautiful.
So, keep an open mind about why we learn algebra and look for ways to share its applications with your student. Dispel the stigma that it is a boring list of rules and procedures to memorize. Instead, consider algebra as a gateway to exploring the world around us. Those are our top reasons why we learn algebra, and there are plenty more. What would you add to the list? Post your suggestions in the comments.
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Megan A says
I was fascinated by this article. I have heard two of the three reasons given for studying algebra, but still felt that i don’t truly understand why we study algebra. Just two weeks ago, a bank loan officer wanted to sell us a refinance. I am not sure if he had ever heard what I said next, “well, I will crunch the numbers and get back to you concerning whether or not we would like to proceed.” Sure enough, the numbers were not being twisted in our favor. God wants us to be discerning, and algebra can very well be that tool needed to decide if we are using God’s money wisely. Thank you!
Thanks for the comment, Megan, and great example of using math in everyday life.
When I was in the 5th., or 6th., grade, I looked at my friend’s older brother’s homework, and ask him what’s that ? !
He said; That’s ” Algebra ” ! And I said ; How does it work ? / And he replied [ while I was looking at formula ] ; a+b=c / i.e. 1+2=3 .
And I said ; That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen in my life ? !! Why don’t they just say 1 plus 2 equals 3 / ? !
After that I just walked away from it, and never took it in school, because I thought that it was [ unnecessary ] nonsense !
I wish that someone could have introduced it by saying what it’s ” Purpose was ” !! I lost out, on a lot !
It is not too late “to win” rather than feel like you “lost out”. I was a “D” student at best when I was taking high school algebra. I could barely remember any of my math facts. So when my oldest son started algebra 1, I was at a loss to teach him. This was not a pleasant place to be as a homeschooling parent. So we put in place a tutor who was a high school math teacher and a friend. At the time, she was not employed by any school as she was a stay-at-home mom. With much regularity, she tutored students in math to supplement her husband’s income. Tutoring my son was not successful because he still did not understand the math and I still couldn’t help him. So we decided that I would get tutored so I could still help him at home. This worked very well and I realized that I was good in math and that I enjoyed math. Our oldest son is now 2 years out of high school and our other children are advancing to more difficult math. I am currently in Algebra 2 and have hope to study calculus. Slope intercept is no longer a foreign language. Math is beautiful and it is part of God’s creation. Get down with math and find a tutor if you need one. God Bless you, Pamelann
James ashford says
That super complicated stuff is useless, basic algebra is not, don’t feel bad.
Tom Cuthbertson says
It encourages us to use abstract reasoning
Thanks. This will help me explain to my child why he is taking algebra.
I’m glad we could help. 🙂
Sherri Estes says
I am 13 years old and I was really wondering why I was taking algebra 2 this helped me realize why
I teach 8th and 9th grade math. I will have all my students read and discuss this article. Teachers get this question everyday.
I never persued my love for math after high school but I find myself very curious about why the subject is so important in our lives, especially beyond those basics we all learned in high school . The above comments convinced me to learn more NOW.
I am 21 and I thought I should learn algebra and calculus , and here it opened my mind more for mathematics.
To solve a problem in algebra, you identify the problem, consider the variables, develop a plan to solve the problem, implement the plan, and assess your results. You use that same process to solve any problem in life. Algebra trains your brain to solve problems.
Jonathan Linn says
You have given one solid POSSIBLE reason. Variables for determining break even. The other five are arbitrary at best. Sooooo…..
All the reasons for learning algebra are possible reasons.
Like any other skill (whether it be learning to cook or learning to drive a car) you can choose to use algebra every day for the rest of your life or you can choose to never use it again (and get other people to do it for you). It’s really up to you.
Harry E. Keller says
Algebra provides the first real introduction to abstraction. Our mental skill set must include abstraction if we are to succeed in today’s world. Those six reasons seem quite nice and have value for many. Abstraction has value for anyone who does not do menial work and even for some who do.
Learn algebra for itself because it provides you with an important tool in your mental toolkit.
I was curious when I read the title however I still believe class time would be better spent teaching children to manage their own money. That is a maths skill they will use. Algebra should be taught on the job if you need it as most do not. Although I can appreciate you enjoy it which is lovely.
Yes indeed. Penn State has a class called The Mathematics of Money(Math 34)It teaches students about investments, credit card debt, stock options, and basic business math. Algebra is useful only if you’re a STEM person. Not for arts students.
So how do you manage your money if you can’t use algebra to determine which long term option is a better deal? Or determine how much of something you can buy at a given price? Algebra is part of budgeting and finances.
Late Responder says
Foundational mathematics does not require the use of formulas.
Math can easily be done through numeration no need to equate
12 eggs is 2.49 at store 1
18 eggs on sale for 2.99 at store 2
I always use all my eggs before they expire hence 18 is cheaper go to store 2
Cheese is 5.49 at store 1
Same brand same cheese 7.49 at store 2.
Go to Store 1
Now it comes down to how much I value my time to shop around and the distance between the stores.
In my own life, they are within walking distance so I shop around get eggs at Store 2, then walk and get cheese at Store 1.
I never need an algebraic equation to do this action. I just base it on the lowest cost for value no higher math needed.
For investments, it’s quite simple if you’re not doing graphing vectors, simple formulas are again all you need.
I want a 5% return annually on my investment.
Stock A has averaged returns of 7% a year over 10 years and has a volatility of -10% to +10% per year.
Stock B has an average return of 3% a year over 10 years, with an appreciation of -5% to +5% a year, however, it consistently pays a dividend as well of 4% and has a long history of doing so an example of this is a utility company.
Algebra would help, however, now it comes down to intangibles your willingness to take risk and investors profile and time duration.
The law of averages would be all you need if you are looking for a stable investment –> the algebraic equivalent would be the law of large numbers. In this case, either work.
B has less volatility and risk, hence it is a more risk-averse investment.
If you want more risk and more return that would be more aggressive in a shorter duration and Stock A is best.
In the long run they both average 7%.
Writing equations for yourself in algebra is a step above where it would be needed.
That said there are cases for Algebra it’s just using the right tool for the right purpose.
Algebra would be needed if you want to know the maximum of the eggs you consume before expiration on average to reduce or mitigate any food waste based on your own consumption.
Or draw risk curves and time duration you want an asset to appreciate and calculate future interest if there is compounding.
Example setting up a DRIP (Dividend Reinvestment Plan on Stock B) versus pure stock appreciation in stock A and or if you want to Dollar Cost Average
Then formulas would be convenient to have to estimate the best return for the risk taken and time investment.
In the end, Algebra is a tool, not always needed however it can be a useful tool in your own toolkit however a foundation in simple math can handle most everyday decisions involving Finance.
I really hoped to find a good answer to sons’ question as to why he must learn algebra but sadly this was not the case. Number 2 is factual and therefor a reasonable explanation for why one should learn algebra; the other reasons are purely subjective. Yes, it is important to strengthen ones critical thinking skills, and may indeed be useful if one decides to pursue a science or math-based career, but otherwise the pursuit of conquering algebra is without long-lasting purpose.
Paula Poblete says
I agree wholeheartedly, and I had to endure advanced algebra, calculus and statistics to get my bachelors, totally unnecessary.
And my counselor said that if I had taking just two more semesters I could get a degree in mathematics, No, I declined the kind offer
And, yes the reasons are coming from a person who just likes algebra. Its like hearing the reason to learn knife skills from a Master Chef….
Karine Lutfiah Oktaviana says
In my opinion, there are many reasons why we must learn algebra. First, for beginners, algebra is foundational for advanced math classes. Algebra also can solve problems more quickly and easily that can’t be solved only with foundational math skills. Second, algebra is useful for our life. In the modern era, algebra is used in all modern technology, for examples google, internet, mobil phone, and digital television. Third, algebra can reinforces our logical thinking. Learning algebra help us to develop our critical thinking skills, including problem solving, logic, and pattern. In the university, many of major like statistic, pharmacy, and mathematic are required have a good knowledge of algebra. So, algebra is an important subject for our life in the next time.
Ken Cluck says
Student: Why do we need to learn algebra? I’ll never need it in my job.
Teacher: Do you lift weights or work out in the gym?
Student: Sure. It makes my muscles work better.
Teacher: Will you ever lift weights or exercise for a job?
Student: No. But it will help me have the stamina to do my job.
Teacher: Well, algebra is a work out for your brain which helps you think logically that will also help you do your job.
May be a good point …
But just like lifting weights isn’t the ONLY way to build muscles and stamina, Algebra certainly isn’t the ONLY way to build brain muscles. The best workouts for our own individual bodies are the ones we’ll actually do and enjoy doing! I may hate weightlifting but love dancing. I can surely get my body in shape doing either one, so why would I force myself (or my children) to do the exercise they hate. 🤔 I’d say that the same is true when it comes to working out our brains. Why would I force my brain to learn calculus just for the simple fact of it being a brain workout. Why not dig deep and workout my brain by learning concepts and ideas that are significant, important, meaningful, and interesting to myself, personally?
Paula Poblete says
I am a system engineer, an a successful one at that, working in technology every day. Other than the 4 basic operations, and percentages, I do not use any of the advanced calculus, or statistics I had to study to get my degree. I use fractions for cooking. Your reasons why we learn algebra are really reasons why you learn algebra.
1) I don’t need faster math, I really don’t.
2) Algebra is needed for calculus and statistics, agree, but I don’t need calculus or statistics
3)To make career change smoother, learn coding, learn finance, unless you like algebra, it is unlikely to be used for a career change
4) No, simply no, not worth the effort to learn it in order to figure out health plans, I’ll take the long route for comparisons, ask questions, etc.
5) There are many ways to reinforce critical thinking by solving puzzled, problem solving, team work
6) It can be beautiful, for you, and that is great. But some of us are just not into it.
Advance math should be all elective followed by those who discovered a passion for it.
The rest of us can be left alone with the 4 operators, very useful, percentages, and fractions.
this article has been helpful to me ..am a mechanical engineering student and am glad to achieve my goals through algebra
EXACTLY!!! THANK YOU!!! Algebra need not be forced down children’s throats by making it mandatory to learn in junior high and high school. Every child is different in what they want & need to learn. Algebra should not be made to be a one size fits all subject to learn. It should not be mandated as a graduation requirement, either. Not every one uses algebra to problem solve & for critical thinking in every day life. Most ppl don’t! There are other ways to do that without the use of algebraic equations.
Elaine Siebers says
Thank you for this article. It has been 50 years since I asked this question to my algebra teacher in class. She did not answer me.😪. I was serious. What would a homemaker do with this skill? What she should of done was tell the whole class this information. Plus she could of said if you ever want to be a nurse or dental hygienist this will be a prerequisite. Tell the world
Marty Maxwell says
Lots of theory but I would like a specific application, please. The one about refinancing can be done easily without algebra. Are there basic rules and applications that are ingrained in your mind, like how to multiply and divide. Please enlighten me
Richard C Swanson says
Here is one that an owner of a coffee shop asked me. I have a $12.31 per pound coffee that I want to blend with a $5.04 per pound cheaper coffee. I want to sell it for $9.00 per lb. How much of each should I` use? Not only doe algebra easily solve this problem but we learned that the only factor that matters is the edifference in price between the $ coffee and the $$$ coffee! Algebra was invented by the Arabs in the 9th century to avoid squabbles and keep people from feeling cheated. You have to understand it to use it of course.
Basic Billy says
I hate algebra. It gives me a headache. Who wants to sit there and figure out what y or g or a is. First of all why would you be given half of the information of something in the first place. Maybe for measurements it can save you time and physical work but to not know how much sue gets payed a hour if she gets payed 250 a week, basic division works just fine.
Andy ZInk says
I am a High School Math teacher and I strongly believe that most of the reasons for Algebra here are bogus. Furthermore, more students are polite and go along with it but do not really buy it. However, the reason I teach Algebra and stress to kids the importance of it is simply this. To get even associate’s degree from the local community college, they will require you to take Algebra II level class. That means to be a dental hygenist or a cop (in some districts), you will need to pass that Math class. Many of their peers find out years later the roadblock that math becomes. It can either open doors or close doors. Why that is is a bigger question but that is a fact.
Ginny A. Rosenthal says
I love the idea about Algebra Can Be Useful in Life Outside of the Workplace
i’m 12 and still don’t get algebra
I’m a high school student and I don’t think any of this is true
1) In the first reason, it states that algebra is better than ‘basic math’ but 2×24 isn’t algebra. THAT’S basic math
2) Why and when will I ever use calculus?? Only mathematicians and physicists (and others similar to these professions) will need to know x3 + y3 = 9y = 3. And how many people become mathematicians? Not many. Yet still calculus and algebra are being taught to everyone!
3) Where is the evidence to this? What ‘career related changes’ will need such complicated use of mathematics and algebraic formula?
4) Even if I do need algebra a few times in my life, there are things I like to call a ‘calculator’. Fascinating right? Teachers used to say that we won’t carry a calculator everywhere we go, but we do.
5) I actually won’t really argue this one much, yes there are better ways of logical thinking, and this may be a point where I use SOME algebra. Key word is some. I don’t really need to be taught such complicated formulas to improve critical thinking, I know a lot of basic stuff, but I think that’s all I’ll really use. Algebra takes up a very large amount of brain power and capacity, yet I’m still being fed more and more.
6) So yes, algebra is very interesting in some aspects. In its ‘raw’ form, it isn’t to me. This is the form I am being taught. And going back to one of my main arguments, when will I need to know statistics and calculus or calculate the population growth of rabbits? My job won’t have much to do with that.
I know it may seem like I’m not being open, but this reply took me 30 minutes to type, so I really am committed to showing people why schools should be teaching us about money, taxes, how to get our dream job, happiness, social skills, there’s so much more!
So in my opinion, the school system is broken
Dear Aidan, Thank you so much for you thorough response. I am a mother of two exceptional students both who have dyslexia and one with ADHD and physical special needs. I am currently searching the internet for ways of trying to break through the current learning block especially for my youngest child who is struggling the greatest with Algebra and seeking a real life need. He is 12. Yes the school system is broken. I am sorry for that. I feel my generation has failed yours in so many ways but would like to again thank you for your addition to my search and the sharing of your thoughts and feelings on this topic. They are relevant, well written and should be a wake up call to the school system and how one size does not fit all and how your time could have been used wiser pursuing other forms of education to a greater advantage.
I don’t need Algebra but I love it.
Not good in school why, the technical school had two options, career and advanced. Career was all the shop things cars, plumbing, machine shop, woodshop, electronics, electricity. These would produce 4 years of apprentices or technical colleges. I did advanced, University or College bound. The only problem was the Teachers in the Music department thought it would be a good idea to hijack the student time in the band by having them come in 2 hours early and stay 2 hours late. That makes for a long day and for what! I would have otherwise been doing my homework.
Now let’s get real. Landed a .gov job right out of high school great did that for 35 years no change in career.
I go to college while working and take the non-math course…turn down other jobs that are tech-driven, and end up doing upgrades for high school courses to keep my brain active. I was doing math all the time and never knew I was making up for lost time and misdirection(you can always change direction). I always had computer and programming skills learned in High School and when I finally took my College Analyst Programming courses I was old enough to say Algebra didn’t make a difference. If you come to me with a problem I will program it I don’t need to know the math just how to make the code do what you want it to do. It’s all mathematical linguistic.
In the end, I look at my HP Prime V2 and Swift and say this whats left I sit with an Algebra, Calculus, Physics, Electrical etc book and think shall I revisit this one more time.
I take one book and fly through it a month and then the next repeating it all year long.
I don’t need Algebra but I love it.
I really like your article because it is very nice and correct.
I wish I asserted myself in learning algebra in Jr High it’s used in electronics and brings you up to level of understanding of how computers operate
Camilla Davis says
I am 34 years old and I work as a part-time tutor and full time 5th grade teacher. Not to be rude but these points aren’t a obvious in the real world. A 9th grade student asked me when I use algebra and I responded, “Only when I need to teach it.” In a sense, algebra is unneeded
Thanks for the explanation
Keith Davis says
The problem of course is that you’re either a maths person or you’re not
History, English, Geography are to me much more beautiful and interesting subjects to study.
Maths is naturally a cold, soulless pursuit.
Watch Robin Williams speech in Dead Poets Society to understand
Sorry to disagree. Not everyone things Algebra is “beautiful.” I am a language person not a math person. I know the basics of math without Algebra. In my life I have done many jobs. I was a Corpsman in the Navy. That is the only job I had to use algebra and really it was just plug in numbers to calculate drip rate for an IV. Only one formula and easy to use without having to know Algebra beyond that one formula.
I have worked in the Broadcast Industry where I created video production. Writing script, shooting and editing video. No Algebra there. I have worked in sales. Basic math but again, no Algebra. I was rather excellent in sales. I have worked as a school teacher for 3rd and 4th grades. No Algebra with that job. And I currently work in psychology as a therapist. Thanks to Algebra, I have had a client or two who needed help with anxiety and depression caused by their college Algebra. But no real use of Algebra for this job.
I have traveled the world, done my budgeting, and done many things outside of work. Not once have I ever had to use Algebra. I obviously learned it to get my BA, but it has been useless for my life. I feel if you are not in a science or STEM degree that Algebra in College should not be necessary for your degree. Again, just my opinion. But an opinion based on a lifetime of not using or needing Algebra.
Michael Dudek says
I was really bad at mathdoes matter fact I did not like it math teacher said we would never use algebra or calculus and now after reading this I understand a whole lot more than I ever have thank you
Tray Harrison says
I did eventually pass the algebra class required in order to acquire a degree.
So many of us were so completely lost.
I actually wound up tutoring my fellow students. But it was only in how to jump the hurdles . Ask an instructor what is the purpose or application for algebra-and you get much of what I have seen here. Nobody seems to know.
I see no need to re-represent a number with a letter-do the math and go buy the required amount of fencing. Still do not understand the need for inserting variables. I know you are laughing- but none of my instructors could say more than- uhhm? Well – – moving on.
I aced that class, after the third attempt, $$$$ , and helped a lot of my fellow students through it. I simply worked out what they were looking for, and developed a way to meet those needs. Interesting that I had no such struggles in any of the other courses. – complete the square, apply the quadratic- cheese and crackers-
None of us could remotely explain the need for or use for understand the algebra. If indeed it exists. True story.
Maybe if someone could explain it’s necessity and application- students would be a bit more receptive.
What it appears to accomplish _ most of the non math oriented students, understand without the added need for adding more confusion- (Xs and Ys- etc-“ adding this and that- by the time you have set up a problem- I have the answer.
Just real world experience- plus I have incorporated all sorts of mitigating factors.
Resulting in a solution that is real world, applicable and I did it when it mattered in my head.
Retired firefighter/ paramedic./ 30 years service.
Please- after all I these years- explain to me the need for algebra? I simply want to know.
And please- just an actual real world application that I could not figure out without the clumsy eqattions.
This is nonsense. It’s so pointless. There’s no need for it at all if you’re not pursuing more math classes beyond it or if you’re a math teacher.
Thanks for this. I learnt basic algebra at a public school but never did understand that there was any advantage as we were taught how, but never given any reason why or rather what it achieved that simple maths did not. A failing of the authoritative approach of ‘learn this’ possibly common to most public schools at that time 65 years ago. I have always wondered about this until now!
I was always by far from being a mathematical genius, but I always prefer maths above language at school, despite never really excelling at either. Mathematics just seemed more understandable, in general. I recall enjoying in particular learning negative numbers and algebra. I remember my first encounter with equations being daunting with seeing characters as opposed to figures being introduced in mathematics, but I remember quite quickly taking a shine to them. Balancing equations I picked up and took some real pleasure in, but I haven’t applied them practically since I left academic education. Even now I feel an affinity towards algebra, but I don’t even quite know why. I wish I had the mind, education, and time to pursue and
develop a deeper understanding of this branch of mathematics. For some reason I never took as well to trigonometry or geometry.
Paul Brennan says
This is my first Comment on Demme., and here’s what I think re. Algebra !!
More than anything else, schools nowadays need to teach children at all ages (1) the need for and (2) the value of “RESPECT” ; fo self, for others and for society.
In school I was consistently weak in each component of mathematics, except arithmetic (incl. mental arithmetic). Now over 80, I can still surprise cashiers whose registers might not work properly, how much change to give me out of a 20-dollar bill, and they look at me with wide eyes.
I’m long retired from a successful career which was heavily technical and scientific, including executive management ; none of which was never compromised due to my weakness in algebra, geometry, trig., and calculus.
BTW, I still convert mentally from Imperial to Metric.
In addition to what my parents taught me, I still received further emphasis throughout school on RESPECT. It was virtually “drilled” into us.
This is what so many young people lack nowadays, e.g. they walk 3&4 abreast on sidewalks and would force me to walk on the street … if I were to let them.
Many walk while typing text messages, so I now allow any such person to walk right into me. It seems to surprise the daylights out of them when I don’t get out of their way .. and most of them are young enough to be my grandchildren.
They show no regard for anyone but themselves. I submit that it is RESPECT which is lacking in their education ; not algebra.