This section covers:
- Review of Polynomials
- Polynomial Graphs
- Polynomial Characteristics and Sketching Graphs
- End Behavior of Polynomials
- Zeros (Roots) and Multiplicity
- Writing Equations for Polynomials
- Finding Roots of Polynomials
- Synthetic Division
- Rational Root Test
- Putting it All Together: Finding all Factors and Roots of a Polynomial Function
- Factor and Remainder Theorems
- DesCartes’ Rule of Signs
- Conjugate Zeros Theorem Problem
- Polynomial Applications
- More Practice
We learned what a Polynomial is here in the Introduction to Multiplying Polynomials section. Remember that polynomial is just a collection of terms with coefficients and/or variables, and none have variables in the denominator (these are Rational Expressions).
(Note that we will also review Finding Roots of Polynomials in the Solving by Factoring section).
Review of Polynomial Functions
As a review, here are some polynomials, their names, and their degrees. Remember that the degree of the polynomial is the highest exponent of one of the terms (add exponents if there are more than one variable in that term).
We learned that a Quadratic Function is a special type of polynomial with degree 2; these have either a cup-up or cup-down shape, depending on whether the leading term (one with the biggest exponent) is positive or negative, respectively.
Think of a polynomial graph of higher degrees (degree at least 3) as quadratic graphs, but with more twists and turns. As a matter of fact, the maximum number of top and bottom (cup-up and cup-down) turning points (turns) of a polynomial just happens to be one more than its degree! For example, a polynomial of degree 3, like , has 3 – 1 = 2 “turns”: . Notice that the negative part of the graph is more of a “cup down” and the positive is more of a “cup up”. Pretty cool!
The polynomial is in Factored Form, since we can “see all the factors”: If we were to multiply it out, it would become; this is called Standard Form since it’s in the form .
Now remember that we said that when a quadratic crosses the x axis (when y = 0), we call that point an x-intercept, root, zero, solution, value, or just “solving the quadratic”. And also remember that not all of the “solutions” were real – when the quadratic graph never touched the x axis. We learned about those Imaginary (Complex) Numbers here.
Here is an example of a polynomial graph that is degree 4 and has 3 “turns” (sort of 2 “cup up”s and 1 “cup down” in the middle). Notice that we have 3 real solutions, two of which pass through the x axis, and one “touches” it or “bounces” off of it:
Polynomial Characteristics and Sketching Graphs
There are certain rules for sketching polynomial functions, like we had for graphing rational functions. Let’s first talk about the characteristics we see in polynomials, and then we’ll learn how to graph them.
Again, the degree of a polynomial is the highest exponent if you look at all the terms (you may have to add exponents, if you have a factored form). The leading coefficient of the polynomial is the number before the variable that has the highest exponent (the highest degree).
So for, the degree is 4, and the leading coefficient is 5; for, the degree is 7 (add exponents since the polynomial isn’t multiplied out and don’t forget the x to the first power), and the leading coefficient is –10 (you can tell by the –5 in front and the 2x in the factor with the highest exponent).
Note: In factored form, sometimes you have to factor out a negative sign. Note though, as an example, that , but . So be careful if the factored form contains a negative x.
The end behavior of the polynomial can be determined by looking at the degree and leading coefficient. The shape of the graphs can be determined by the x and y intercepts, end behavior, and multiplicities of each factor. We’ll talk about end behavior and multiplicity of factors next.
End Behavior of Polynomials
The table below shows how to find the end behavior of a polynomial (which way the y is “heading” as x gets very small and x gets very large). Sorry; this is something you’ll have to memorize, but you always can figure it out by thinking about the parent functions given in the examples:
Zeros (Roots) and Multiplicity
Each factor in a polynomial has what we call a multiplicity, which just means how many times it’s multiplied by itself in the polynomial (its exponent). If there is no exponent for that factor, the multiplicity is 1 (which is actually its exponent!) And remember that if you sum up all the multiplicities of the polynomial, you will get the degree!
So for example, for the factored polynomial , the factors are x (root 0 with multiplicity 1), x – 4 (root 4 with multiplicity 2), and x + 8 (root –8 with multiplicity 3). We can ignore the leading coefficient 2, since it doesn’t have an x in it. Also, for just plain x, it’s just like the factor x – 0. So the total of all the multiplicities of the factors is 6, which is the degree.
Remember that x – 4 is a factor, while 4 is a root (zero, solution, x-intercept, or value).
Now we can use the multiplicity of each factor to know what happens to the graph for that root – it tells us the shape of the graph at that root. Factors with odd multiplicity go through the x axis, and factors with even multiplicity bounces or touches the x axis. We are only talking about real roots; imaginary roots have similar curve behavior, but don’t touch the x-axis.
Also note that sometimes we have to factor the polynomial to get the roots and their multiplicity. We may even have to factor out any common factors and then do some “unfoiling” or other type of factoring (this has a difference of squares):
Here are the multiplicity behavior rules and examples:
Now, let’s put it all together to sketch graphs; let’s find the attributes and graph the following polynomials. Notice that when you graph the polynomials, they are sort of “self-correcting”; if you’ve done it correctly, the end behavior and bounces will “match up”.
Also note that you won’t be able to determine how low and high the curves are when you sketch the graph; you’ll just want to get the basic shape.
Writing Equations for Polynomials
You might have to go backwards and write an equation of a polynomial, given certain information about it:
Finding Roots (Zeros) of Polynomials
Many times we’re given a polynomial in Standard Form, and we need to find the zeros or roots. We typically do this by factoring, like we did with Quadratics in the Solving Quadratics by Factoring and Completing the Square section. We also did a little more factoring here, in the Rational Functions and Equations section.
For higher level polynomials, the factoring can be a bit trickier, but it can be sort of fun — like a puzzle!
We learned Polynomial Long Division here in the Graphing Rational Functions section, but let’s revisit and then I’ll show you a nifty way to the same thing that’s much easier!
Here is an example of Polynomial Long Division, where you can see how similar it is to “regular math” division:
Now let’s do the division on the right above using Synthetic Division:
Remember that if we divide a polynomial by “x – c” and get a remainder of 0, then “x – c” is a factor of the polynomial and “c” is a root.
Let’s use synthetic division to find all the factors and real (not imaginary) roots of the following polynomials. In these examples, one of the factors is given, so the remainder in synthetic division should be 0. Remember to take out a Greatest Common Factor (GFC) first, like in the second example. Notice that we can use synthetic division again by guessing another factor, as we do in the last problem:
Rational Root Test
When we want to factor and get the roots of a higher degree polynomial using synthetic division, it can be difficult to know where to start! In the examples so far, we’ve had a root to start, and then gone from there.
There’s this funny little rule that someone came up with to help guess the real rational (either an integer or fraction of integers) roots of a polynomial, and it’s called the rational root test (or rational zeros theorem):
For a polynomial function with integers as coefficients (no fractions or decimals), if p = the factors of the constant (in our case, d), and q = the factors of the highest degree coefficient (in our case, a), then the possible rational zeros or roots are where p are all the factors of d above, and q are all the factors of a above.
Remember that factors are numbers that divide perfectly into the larger number; for example, the factors of 12 are 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12.
Now this looks really confusing, but it’s not too bad; let’s do some examples. Notice how I like to organize the numbers on top and bottom to get the possible factors, and also notice how you don’t have repeat any of the quotients that you get:
The rational root test help us find initial roots to test with synthetic division, or even by evaluating the polynomial to see if we get 0. However, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to use this test unless there are just a few to try, like in the first case above.
Putting it All Together: Finding all Factors and Roots of a Polynomial Function
Now let’s try to find roots of polynomial functions without having a first root to try. Remember that if you get down to a quadratic that you can’t factor, you will have to use the Quadratic Formula to get the roots.
Also remember that you may end up with imaginary numbers as roots, like we did with quadratics.
Here are some guidelines to find the roots of a polynomial function:
- Take out any Greatest Common Factors (GCFs) of the polynomial, and you’ll have to set those to 0 too, to get any extra roots. For example, if you take an x out, you’ll add a root of “0”.
- If you have access to a graphing calculator, graph the function and determine if there are any rational zeros with which you can use synthetic division. If you don’t have a calculator, guess a possible rational zero using the method above.
- Perform synthetic division to determine if that root yields a remainder of zero. You can also just evaluate the possible root: plug it everywhere there is an x (or whatever variable you are using) to see if you end up with a y or of 0; if you do, it’s a root.
- Use synthetic division again if necessary with the bottom numbers (not the remainder), trying another possible root. Do this until you get down to the quadratic level. At that point, try to factor or use Quadratic Formula with what you have left.
- Remember that if you end up with an irrational root or non-real root, the conjugate is also a root. For example, if is a root, then is also a root, or if 3 + i is a root, then 3 – i is also a root (Conjugates Zeros Theorem). You will see this from the Quadratic Formula.
- (Optional) Use the DesCartes’ Rule of Signs (see below) to determine the number of positive and negative real roots.
- Remember again that a polynomial with degree n will have a total of n roots.
Here are examples (assuming we can’t use a graphing calculator to check for roots). When you do these, make sure you have your eraser handy!
Now let’s see some examples where we end up with irrational and complex roots. Note that in the second example, we say that is an irreducible quadratic factor, since it can’t be factored any further (therefore has imaginary roots).
Factor and Remainder Theorems
There are a couple of theorems that you’ll learn about that will help you evaluate polynomials (for a given x, find the y) and also be able to quickly tell if a given number is a root.
The Factor Theorem basically repeats something that we already know from above: if a number is a root of a polynomial (like if 3 is a root of , which it is), then when you divide 3 into (like with synthetic division), you get a remainder of 0. Also, . Also, if 3 if a root of , then (x – 3) is a factor.
So it’s really many ways to say the same thing: a root of a polynomial makes the remainder 0, and also produces 0 when you plug in that number into the polynomial. And if a number a is a root of a polynomial, then (x – a) is a factor.
The Remainder Theorem is a little less obvious and pretty cool! It says that if you evaluate a polynomial with a, the answer (y value) will be the remainder if you were to divide the polynomial by . For example, if you have the polynomial , and if you put a number like 3 in for x, the value for or y will be the same as the remainder of dividing by (x – 3).
Let’s do the math; pretty cool, isn’t it?
DesCartes’ Rule of Signs
There’s another really neat trick out there that you may not talk about in High School, but it’s good to talk about and pretty easy to understand. Yes, and it was named after a French guy!
The DesCartes’ Rule of Signs will tell you the number of positive and negative real roots of a polynomial by looking at the sign changes of the terms of that polynomial. DesCartes’ Rule of Signs is most helpful if you’ve used the method and you want to know whether to hone in on the positive roots or negative roots to test roots. It says:
- The number of positive real zeros equals the number of sign changes in (or less by 2 down to 0 or 1 roots)
- The number of negative real zeros equals the number of sign changes in (or less by 2 down to 0 or 1 roots)
Conjugate Zeros Theorem Problem
We talked a little bit about the Conjugate Zeros Theorem here when we talked about all the steps required to find all the factors and roots of a polynomial.
Here’s a type of problem that you might see that requires using synthetic division using complex roots. The problem is based on the Conjugate Zeros Theorem.
Earlier we worked with Quadratic Applications, but now we can branch out and look at applications with higher level polynomials.
Shannon, a cabinetmaker, started out with a block of wood, and then she hollowed out the center of the block. The dimensions of the block and the cutout is shown below.
(a) Write (as polynomials in standard form) the volume of the original block, and the volume of the hole. (Ignore units for this problem.)
(b) Write the polynomial for the volume of the wood remaining.
A cosmetics company needs a storage box that has twice the volume of its largest box. Its largest box measures 5 inches by 4 inches by 3 inches. The larger box needs to be made larger by adding the same amount (an integer) to each to each dimension. Find the increase to each dimension.
Maximum Volume Problem:
A piece of cardboard 30 inches by 15 inches is made into an open donut box by cutting out squares of side x from each corner.
(a) Write a polynomial that represents the volume of this open box in factored form, and and then in standard form.
(b) What would be a reasonable domain for the polynomial? (Hint: Each side of the three-dimensional box has to have a length of at least 0 inches).
(c) Find the value of x for which has the greatest volume. Round to 2 decimal places.
(d) What is that maximum volume? Round to 2 decimal places.
(e) What are the dimensions of the three-dimensional open donut box with that maximum volume? Round to 2 decimal places.
If we were to fold up the sides, the new length of the box will be , the new width of the box will be , and the height up of the box will “x” (since the outside pieces are folded up). The volume is length x width x height, so the volume of the box is the polynomial .
Now let’s answer the questions with a little help from a graphing calculator:
Cost Revenue Profit Problem
The price p that a makeup company can charge for a certain kit is , where x is the number (in thousands) of kits produced. It costs the makeup company $15 to make each kit.
(a) Write a function of the company’s profit P by subtracting the total cost to make x kits from the total revenue (in terms of x).
(b) Currently, the company makes 1.5 thousand (1500) kits and makes a profit of $24,000. Write an equation and solve to find a lesser number of kits to make and still make the same profit.
(a) Profit is total revenue to make all x thousand kits minus the cost to make all x thousand kits. The total revenue is price per kit times the number of kits (in thousands), or . The cost to make x thousand kits is 15x. So the total profit of is .
(b) Since the company makes 1.5 thousand kits and makes a profit of 24 thousand dollars, we know that when x is 1.5, must be 24, or . From this, we know that 1.5 is a root or solution to the equation (since ). Now we need to find a different root for the equation . We could find the other roots by using a graphing calculator, but let’s do it without:
Learn these rules, and practice, practice, practice!
For more practice, try the problem below. You can type in more problems (by hitting the “x” to clear this problem), or click on the “?” to drill down for example problems.
If you click on the “View Steps” box on the widget’s answer screen, you will go to the Mathway site, where you can register for a free seven-day trial of the full version (steps included) of the software. You can even get math worksheets.
You can also go to the Mathway site here, where you can register for the trial, or just use the software for free without the detailed solutions. There is even a Mathway App for your mobile device. Enjoy!
On to Solving by Factoring – you are ready!