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IB DP Maths AA SL Study Notes

1.4.2 Higher-degree Expansions

Introduction to Higher-degree Expansions

Higher-degree expansions, involving expressions raised to a power greater than two, play a pivotal role in algebra and calculus. They provide a systematic approach to simplifying complex expressions and solving equations, thereby enabling mathematicians and students alike to navigate through algebraic complexities with ease.

Characteristics of Higher-degree Expansions

  • Degree: The highest power to which a variable is raised, determining the degree of the polynomial.
  • Polynomial: An algebraic expression involving variables raised to whole number powers and multiplied by coefficients.
  • Expansion: The process of expressing a compact algebraic expression in an extended form, facilitating easier manipulation and understanding of the expression.

Importance in Mathematics

  • Solving Equations: Higher-degree expansions facilitate the solving of equations, providing insights into the roots and solutions of algebraic expressions.
  • Graphing Functions: They assist in understanding the behaviour of polynomial functions graphically, revealing the nuances of their shapes and intercepts.
  • Calculus: Higher-degree expansions are vital in determining limits, derivatives, and integrals of polynomial functions, providing a gateway to understanding rates of change and areas under curves.

Binomial Theorem for Higher Degrees

The Binomial Theorem, initially formulated for expressions of degree two, can be extended to expressions of higher degrees, providing a structured and systematic approach to expanding polynomials.

General Form of Higher-degree Expansions

  • Cubic (Degree 3): (a + b)3 = a3 + 3a2b + 3ab2 + b3
  • Quartic (Degree 4): (a + b)4 = a4 + 4a3b + 6a2b2 + 4ab3 + b4
  • Quintic (Degree 5): (a + b)5 = a5 + 5a4b + 10a3b2 + 10a2b3 + 5ab4 + b5

Utilising Pascal’s Triangle

Pascal’s Triangle, a triangular array of binomial coefficients, can be employed to determine the coefficients in higher-degree expansions, ensuring accurate and efficient expansions. Each row represents the coefficients of the expanded powers of (a + b), starting from n=0.

Multinomial Theorem

The Multinomial Theorem extends the Binomial Theorem to expressions with more than two terms, providing a systematic approach to expanding polynomials of higher degrees.

Multinomial Coefficients

  • Definition: Multinomial coefficients represent the number of ways to divide a set of items into multiple subsets.
  • Formula: C(n; n1, n2, ..., nk) = n! / (n1! * n2! * ... * nk!), where n1 + n2 + ... + nk = n.

Multinomial Expansion Formula

(a + b + c + ...)n = Σ [C(n; n1, n2, ..., nk) * an1 * bn2 * cn3 * ...], where the sum (Σ) is over all sets of non-negative integers n1, n2, ..., nk such that n1 + n2 + ... + nk = n.

Example Questions

Example 1: Expand (x + y + z)3

Using the Multinomial Theorem, we can expand (x + y + z)3 as follows:

(x + y + z)3 = x3 + y3 + z3 + 3x2y + 3xy2 + 3x2z + 3xz2 + 3y2z + 3yz2 + 6xyz

Example 2: Expand and Simplify (2x - 3)4

Using the Binomial Theorem and Pascal’s Triangle, we get:

(2x - 3)4 = (2x)4 + 4(2x)3(-3) + 6(2x)2(-3)2 + 4(2x)(-3)3 + (-3)4 = 16x4 - 96x3 + 216x2 - 216x + 81


Yes, the Binomial Theorem can be extended to expressions with negative or fractional exponents, though this involves more advanced mathematics, specifically using the concept of a binomial series. The general form of the theorem (a + b)n can be applied with negative or fractional n, but it results in an infinite series rather than a finite polynomial. This is often explored in calculus and advanced algebra to evaluate limits and approximate values of expressions, providing a powerful tool for dealing with more complex algebraic and analytical problems.

Pascal's Triangle is a triangular array of numbers where each number is the sum of the two numbers directly above it. The nth row of Pascal's Triangle gives the coefficients of the expanded terms in the expression (a + b)n. Starting from n=0, each row provides the coefficients for each term in the expansion, in order. For example, the 4th row is 1, 4, 6, 4, 1, which are the coefficients for the expansion of (a + b)4 = a4 + 4a3b + 6a2b2 + 4ab3 + b4. Pascal’s Triangle thus provides a quick and systematic way to determine the coefficients in binomial expansions.

Higher-degree expansions are pivotal in various real-world scenarios, particularly in physics, engineering, and finance, where polynomial functions are used to model phenomena or calculate quantities. For instance, in finance, polynomial equations might be used to calculate compound interest over multiple periods. In physics, they can model trajectories or motions influenced by various forces. Understanding higher-degree expansions allows us to manipulate and solve these polynomial equations, providing insights into the system being modelled and facilitating predictions and decision-making in practical contexts.

The degree of a polynomial is the highest power to which the variable is raised in the expression. When a binomial expression is expanded using the Binomial Theorem, the number of terms in the expanded form is directly related to the degree of the polynomial. Specifically, when a binomial expression of the form (a + b)n is expanded, it will have (n + 1) terms in its expanded form. This is because the exponents on a and b in each term of the expansion decrease and increase, respectively, by 1 in each successive term, starting from n for a and 0 for b, and ending with 0 for a and n for b.

The Multinomial Theorem extends the Binomial Theorem from expressions with two terms (binomials) to expressions with three or more terms (multinomials). While the Binomial Theorem provides a method for expanding expressions of the form (a + b)n, the Multinomial Theorem allows for the expansion of expressions of the form (x1 + x2 + x3 + ... + xk)n, making it applicable to a wider range of algebraic expressions. This extended utility is crucial in expanding and simplifying more complex algebraic expressions encountered in advanced mathematical problems and applications.

Practice Questions

Expand and simplify the expression (x - 2)^5.

The expansion of (x - 2)5 using the Binomial Theorem and Pascal's Triangle can be written as follows: (x - 2)5 = x5 - 5x4 * 2 + 10x3 * 22 - 10x2 * 23 + 5x * 24 - 25. Simplifying further, we get x5 - 10x4 + 40x3 - 80x2 + 80x - 32. It's crucial to remember the alternating signs in the expansion and to apply the power to both the terms x and -2 respectively. The coefficients can be determined using Pascal's Triangle or the binomial coefficient formula.

Using the Multinomial Theorem, expand the expression (x + y + z)^4 and identify the term which contains x^2y^2.

To expand (x + y + z)4 using the Multinomial Theorem, we consider all possible combinations of the powers of x, y, and z that add up to 4. The term containing x2y2 can be found by considering the multinomial coefficient with n1=2, n2=2, and n3=0 in the formula: C(n; n1, n2, n3) = n! / (n1! * n2! * n3!) where n1 + n2 + n3 = n. Substituting the values we get: C(4; 2, 2, 0) = 4! / (2! * 2! * 0!) = 6. Therefore, the term containing x2y2 in the expansion of (x + y + z)4 is 6x2y2.

Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa avatar
Written by: Dr Rahil Sachak-Patwa
Oxford University - PhD Mathematics

Rahil spent ten years working as private tutor, teaching students for GCSEs, A-Levels, and university admissions. During his PhD he published papers on modelling infectious disease epidemics and was a tutor to undergraduate and masters students for mathematics courses.

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