Problem: Evaluate the following arithmetic expression:
3 + 4 x 2
It seems that each student interpreted the problem differently, resulting in two different answers. Student 1 performed the operation of addition first, then multiplication; whereas student 2 performed multiplication first, then addition. When performing arithmetic operations there can be only one correct answer. We need a set of rules in order to avoid this kind of confusion. Mathematicians have devised a standard order of operations for calculations involving more than one arithmetic operation.
Rule 1: First perform any calculations inside parentheses.
Rule 2: Next perform all multiplications and divisions, working from left to right.
Rule 3: Lastly, perform all additions and subtractions, working from left to right.
The above problem was solved correctly by Student 2 since she followed Rules 2 and 3. Let’s look at some examples of solving arithmetic expressions using these rules.