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Factoring when the Leading Coefficient Equals 1

Factor simple trinomials and difference of squares binomials

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Factoring When the Leading Coefficient Equals 1

The area of a rectangle is \begin{align*}x^2-3x-28\end{align*}. What are the length and width of the rectangle?

Factoring a Quadratic Equation

A quadratic equation has the form \begin{align*}ax^2+bx+c\end{align*}, where \begin{align*}a \ne 0\end{align*} (If \begin{align*}a = 0\end{align*}, then the equation would be linear). For all quadratic equations, the 2 is the largest and only exponent. A quadratic equation can also be called a trinomial when all three terms are present.

There are four ways to solve a quadratic equation. The easiest is factoring. In this concept, we are going to focus on factoring when \begin{align*}a = 1\end{align*} or when there is no number in front of \begin{align*}x^2\end{align*}.

To review the process of multiplying two factors together, let's multiply \begin{align*}(x+4)(x-5)\end{align*}.

Even though this is not a quadratic, the product of the two factors will be. Remember from previous math classes that a factor is a number that goes evenly into a larger number. For example, 4 and 5 are factors of 20. So, to determine the larger number that \begin{align*}(x + 4)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(x-5)\end{align*} go into, we need to multiply them together. One method for multiplying two polynomial factors together is called FOIL. To do this, you need to multiply the FIRST terms, OUTSIDE terms, INSIDE terms, and the LAST terms together and then combine like terms.

Therefore \begin{align*}(x+4)(x-5)=x^2-x-20\end{align*}. We can also say that \begin{align*}(x+4)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}(x-5)\end{align*} are factors of \begin{align*}x^2-x-20\end{align*}.

Now, we will “undo” the multiplication of two factors by factoring. In this concept, we will only address quadratic equations in the form \begin{align*}x^2+bx+c\end{align*}, or when \begin{align*}a = 1\end{align*}.


Step 1: From the previous problem, we know that \begin{align*}(x+m)(x+n)=x^2+bx+c\end{align*}.

FOIL \begin{align*}(x+m)(x+n)\end{align*}.

\begin{align*}(x+m)(x+n) \Rightarrow x^2+\underbrace{nx+mx}_{bx}+\underbrace{mn}_{c}\end{align*}

Step 2: This shows us that the constant term, or \begin{align*}c\end{align*}, is equal to the product of the constant numbers inside each factor. It also shows us that the coefficient in front of \begin{align*}x\end{align*}, or \begin{align*}b\end{align*}, is equal to the sum of these numbers.

Step 3: Group together the first two terms and the last two terms. Find the Greatest Common Factor, or GCF, for each pair.

\begin{align*}& (x^2+nx)+(mx+mn)\\ & x(x+n)+m(x+n)\end{align*}

Step 4: Notice that what is inside both sets of parenthesis in Step 3 is the same. This number, \begin{align*}(x + n)\end{align*}, is the GCF of \begin{align*}x(x + n)\end{align*} and \begin{align*}m(x + n)\end{align*}. You can pull it out in front of the two terms and leave the \begin{align*}x + m\end{align*}.

\begin{align*}& x(x+n)+m(x+n)\\ & (x+n)(x+m)\end{align*}

We have now shown how to go from FOIL-ing to factoring and back.

Let’s apply this idea to a practice problem and factor \begin{align*}x^2+6x+8\end{align*}.

Use the steps above for help.


So, from Step 2, \begin{align*}b\end{align*} will be equal to the sum of \begin{align*}m\end{align*} and \begin{align*}n\end{align*} and \begin{align*}c\end{align*} will be equal to their product. Applying this to our problem, \begin{align*}6 = m + n\end{align*} and \begin{align*}8 = mn\end{align*}. To organize this, use an “\begin{align*}X\end{align*}”. Place the sum in the top and the product in the bottom.

The green pair above is the only one that also adds up to 6. Now, move on to Step 3. We need to rewrite the \begin{align*}x-\end{align*}term, or \begin{align*}b\end{align*}, as a sum of \begin{align*}m\end{align*} and \begin{align*}n\end{align*}.

\begin{align*}& \quad \ x^2+{\color{red}6x}+8\\ & \qquad \quad {\color{red} \swarrow}{\color{red} \searrow}\\ & x^2+{\color{red}4x+2x}+8\\ & (x^2+4x)+(2x+8)\\ & x(x+4)+2(x+4)\end{align*}

Moving on to Step 4, we notice that the \begin{align*}(x + 4)\end{align*} term is the same. Pull this out and we are done.

Therefore, the factors of \begin{align*}x^2+6x+8\end{align*} are \begin{align*}(x+4)(x+2)\end{align*}. You can FOIL this to check your answer.

Let's factor \begin{align*}x^2+12x-28\end{align*}.

We can approach this problem in exactly the same way we did in the previous problem. This time, we will not use the “\begin{align*}X\end{align*}.” What are the factors of -28 that also add up to 12? Let’s list them out to see:

\begin{align*}-4 \cdot 7, 4 \cdot -7, 2 \cdot -14, {\color{red}-2 \cdot 14}, 1 \cdot -28, -1 \cdot 28\end{align*}

The \begin{align*}{\color{red}\mathbf{red}}\end{align*} pair above is the one that works. Notice that we only listed the factors of negative 28.

\begin{align*}& \ \ x^2+{\color{red}12x}-28\\ & \qquad \ \ {\color{red} \swarrow}{\color{blue} \searrow}\\ & x^2{\color{red}-2x+14x}-28\\ & (x^2-2x)+(14x-28)\\ & x(x-2)+14(x-2)\\ & (x-2)(x+14)\end{align*}

A couple of notes:

Does it matter which \begin{align*}x-\end{align*}term you put first? No, order does not matter. In the previous problem, we could have put \begin{align*}14x\end{align*} followed by \begin{align*}-2x\end{align*}. We would still end up with the same answer.

Can I skip the “expanded” part (Steps 3 and 4 above)? Yes and No. Yes, if \begin{align*}a = 1\end{align*}If \begin{align*}a = 1\end{align*}, then \begin{align*}x^2+bx+c=(x+m)(x+n)\end{align*} such that \begin{align*}m + n = b\end{align*} and \begin{align*}mn = c\end{align*}. Consider this a shortcut. No, if \begin{align*}a \ne 1\end{align*}.

Let's factor \begin{align*}x^2-4x\end{align*}.

This is an example of a quadratic that is not a trinomial because it only has two terms, also called a binomial. There is no \begin{align*}c\end{align*}, or constant term. To factor this, we need to look for the GCF. In this case, the largest number that can be taken out of both terms is an \begin{align*}x\end{align*}.


Therefore, the factors are \begin{align*}x\end{align*} and \begin{align*}x-4\end{align*}.


Example 1

Earlier, you were asked to find the length and width of the rectangle. 

Recall that the area of a rectangle is \begin{align*}A = lw\end{align*}, where l is the length and w is the width. To find the length and width, we can therefore factor the area \begin{align*}x^2-3x-28\end{align*}.

What are the factors of –28 that add up to –3? Testing the various possibilities, we find that \begin{align*}-7 \cdot 4 = -28\end{align*} and \begin{align*}-7 + 4 = -3\end{align*}.

Therefore, \begin{align*}x^2-3x-28\end{align*} factors to \begin{align*}(x - 7)(x + 4)\end{align*}, and one of these factors is the rectangle's length while the other is its width.

Example 2

Multiply \begin{align*}(x-3)(x + 8)\end{align*}.

FOIL-ing our factors together, we get:

\begin{align*}(x-3)(x+8)= x^2+8x-3x-24 = x^2+5x-24\end{align*}

Factor the following quadratics, if possible.

Example 3


Using the “\begin{align*}X\end{align*},” we have:

From the shortcut above, \begin{align*}-4 + -5 = -9\end{align*} and \begin{align*}-4 \cdot -5 = 20\end{align*}.


Example 4


Let’s list out all the factors of -30 and their sums. The sums are in red.

\begin{align*}-10 \cdot 3 \ {\color{red}(-7)}, -3 \cdot 10 \ {\color{red}(7)}, -2 \cdot 15 \ {\color{red}(13)}, -15 \cdot 2 \ {\color{red}(-13)}, -1 \cdot 30 \ {\color{red}(29)}, -30 \cdot 1 \ {\color{red}(-29)}\end{align*}

From this, the factors of -30 that add up to 7 are -3 and 10. \begin{align*}x^2+7x-30 = (x-3)(x+10)\end{align*}

Example 5


There are no factors of 6 that add up to 1. If we had -6, then the trinomial would be factorable. But, as is, this is not a factorable trinomial.

Example 6


The only thing we can do here is to take out the GCF. \begin{align*}x^2+10x=x(x+10)\end{align*}


Multiply the following factors together.

  1. \begin{align*}(x+2)(x-8)\end{align*}
  2. \begin{align*}(x-9)(x-1)\end{align*}
  3. \begin{align*}(x+7)(x+3)\end{align*}

Factor the following quadratic equations. If it cannot be factored, write not factorable. You can use either method presented in the examples.

  1. \begin{align*}x^2-x-2\end{align*}
  2. \begin{align*}x^2+2x-24\end{align*}
  3. \begin{align*}x^2-6x\end{align*}
  4. \begin{align*}x^2+6x+9\end{align*}
  5. \begin{align*}x^2+8x-10\end{align*}
  6. \begin{align*}x^2-11x+30\end{align*}
  7. \begin{align*}x^2+13x-30\end{align*}
  8. \begin{align*}x^2+11x+28\end{align*}
  9. \begin{align*}x^2-8x+12\end{align*}
  10. \begin{align*}x^2-7x-44\end{align*}
  11. \begin{align*}x^2-8x-20\end{align*}
  12. \begin{align*}x^2+4x+3\end{align*}
  13. \begin{align*}x^2-5x+36\end{align*}
  14. \begin{align*}x^2-5x-36\end{align*}
  15. \begin{align*}x^2+x\end{align*}

Challenge Fill in the \begin{align*}X\end{align*}’s below with the correct numbers.

Answers for Review Problems

To see the Review answers, open this PDF file and look for section 5.1. 

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Binomial A binomial is an expression with two terms. The prefix 'bi' means 'two'.
Coefficient A coefficient is the number in front of a variable.
constant A constant is a value that does not change. In Algebra, this is a number such as 3, 12, 342, etc., as opposed to a variable such as x, y or a.
factor Factors are the numbers being multiplied to equal a product. To factor means to rewrite a mathematical expression as a product of factors.
Factoring Factoring is the process of dividing a number or expression into a product of smaller numbers or expressions.
FOIL FOIL is an acronym used to remember a technique for multiplying two binomials. You multiply the FIRST terms, OUTSIDE terms, INSIDE terms, and LAST terms and then combine any like terms.
Quadratic Equation A quadratic equation is an equation that can be written in the form =ax^2 + bx + c = 0, where a, b, and c are real constants and a\ne 0.
Trinomial A trinomial is a mathematical expression with three terms.

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