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Algebra basics

Algebra basics: 7 important things to know before you start

The foundation of algebra begins with understanding the basic building blocks of the discipline. Knowing these fundamental principles will make learning algebra easier for beginners.

Here are 7 algebra basics that form the starting point for learning algebra.

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7 Algebra basics

Variables and constants

The concept of variables (often represented by letters like x, y, and z) and constants (specific, unchanging values like 2, 5, π) is fundamental to the study of algebra.

Variables serve as placeholders for unknown or changing quantities, allowing us to express mathematical relationships in a generalised form.

Constants, on the other hand, are fixed values that remain unchanged throughout the problem-solving process.


Expressions are combinations of numbers, variables, and mathematical operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and exponentiation. Unlike equations, expressions do not have an equal sign and are a key component in building more complex algebraic structures. Examples include 3x + 7 or 2a – 5b.


Equations bring together two expressions with an equal sign, demonstrating that the two sides are equivalent.

Solving equations often involves finding the variable’s value that satisfies the equality.

For instance, 2x = 10 or 3y + 4 = 16.


Solving for unknowns

Learning to solve for unknowns (variables) in equations is a fundamental skill in algebra.

This process requires isolating the variable on one side of the equation by performing inverse operations, essentially working backwards to find the unknown value.

Order of operations

Understanding the correct sequence of performing mathematical operations is crucial.

The acronym PEMDAS/BODMAS (Parentheses/Brackets, Exponents/Orders, Multiplication and Division, Addition and Subtraction) serves as a guide for the proper order in which operations should be carried out in a given expression.

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Graphing and coordinates

Graphing and coordinates familiarity with the Cartesian coordinate system and the ability to plot points on a graph is essential in algebra.

This skill aids in visualising and understanding relationships between variables and equations in two or more dimensions.

Linear equations and inequalities

Exploring linear equations (expressions with a degree of 1) and inequalities (expressions showing a relationship between two expressions) is a foundational step in algebra.

These concepts set the stage for more advanced topics, providing a solid understanding of relationships between variables.

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Mastering these seven algebra basics lays a solid foundation for more advanced concepts, paving the way for a deeper comprehension of algebraic principles and their applications. By grasping these fundamental building blocks, beginners can navigate the world of algebra with greater confidence and proficiency.

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