Tag Archives: number sequences

Number sequences

2-4-6-8 ain't never too late...

2-4-6-8 ain’t never too late…

Number sequences appear in Nature all over the place, from sunflowers to conch shells. They can also crop up either in Maths or Verbal Reasoning, and both are essential parts of 11+ and other school examinations. The trick is to be able to recognise the most common sequences and, if you find a different one, to work out the pattern so that you can find the missing values (or ‘terms’).

Common sequences

Here are a few of the commonest number sequences. For each one, I’ve given the rule for working out the nth term, where n stands for its position in the sequence.

Even numbers: 2, 4, 6, 8 etc… Rule: 2n
Odd numbers: 1, 3, 5, 7 etc… Rule: 2n – 1
Powers of 2: 2, 4, 8, 16 etc… Rule: 2ⁿ
Prime numbers: 2, 3, 5, 7 etc… Rule: n/a (each number is only divisible by itself and one)
Square numbers: 1, 4, 9, 16 etc… Rule: n²
Triangular numbers: 1, 3, 6, 10 etc… Rule: sum of the numbers from 1 to n
Fibonacci sequence
: 1, 1, 2, 3 etc… Rule: n₋₂ + n₋₁ (ie each successive number is produced by adding the previous two numbers together, eg 1 + 1 = 2, 1 + 2 = 3)

Here are a few questions for you to try. What are the next two numbers in each of the following sequences?

  1. 14, 16, 18, 20…
  2. 9, 16, 25, 36…
  3. 3, 6, 12, 24…
  4. 7, 11, 13, 17…
  5. 5, 8, 13, 21…

Working out the pattern

The best way to approach an unfamiliar sequence is to calculate the gaps between the terms. Most sequences involve adding or subtracting a specific number, eg 4 in the case of 5, 9, 13, 17 etc. Sometimes, the difference will rise or fall, as in 1, 2, 4, 7 etc. If you draw a loop between each pair of numbers and write down the gaps (eg +1 or -2), the pattern should become obvious, enabling you to work out the missing terms.

  • If the missing terms are in the middle of the sequence, you can still work out the pattern by using whatever terms lie next to each other, eg 1, …, 5, 7, …, 11 etc. You can confirm it by checking that the gap between every other term is double that between the ones next to each other.
  • If the gaps between terms are not the same and don’t go up (or down) by one each time, it may be that you have to multiply or divide each term by a certain number to find the next one, eg 16, 8, 4, 2 etc.
  • If the gaps go up and down, there may be two sequences mixed together, which means you’ll have to look at every other term to spot the pattern, eg 1, 10, 2, 8 etc. Here, every odd term goes up by 1 and every even term falls by two.

Generating a formula

At more advanced levels, you may be asked to provide the formula for a number sequence.

Arithmetic sequences

If the gap between the terms is the same, the sequence is ‘arithmetic’. The formula for the nth term of an arithmetic sequence is xn ± k, where x is the gap, n is the position of the term in the sequence and k is a constant that is added or subtracted to make sure the sequence starts with the right number, eg the formula for 5, 8, 11, 14 etc is 3n + 2. The gap between each term is 3, which means you have to multiply n by 3 each time and add 2 to get the right term, eg for the first term, n = 1, so 3n would be 3, but it should be 5, so you have to add 2 to it. Working out the formula for a sequence is particularly useful at 13+ or GCSE level, when you might be given a drawing of the first few patterns in a sequence and asked to predict, say, the number of squares in the 50th pattern. You can also work out the position of the pattern in the sequence if you are given the number of elements. You do this by rearranging the formula, ie by adding or subtracting k to the number of elements and dividing by 𝒳. For example, if 3n +2 is the formula for the number of squares in a tiling pattern, and you have 50 squares in a particular pattern, the number of that pattern in the sequence = (50-2) ÷ 3 = 48 ÷ 3 = 16.

Quadratic sequences

If the gap between the terms changes by the same amount each time, the sequence is ‘quadratic’, which just means there is a square number involved. The formula for a quadratic sequence is 𝒳n² ± k, where 𝒳 is half the difference between the gaps (or ‘second difference’), n is the position of the term in the sequence and k is a constant that is added or subtracted to make sure the sequence starts with the right number, eg the formula for 3, 9, 19, 33 etc is 2n² + 1. The differences between the terms are 6, 10, 14, so the second difference is 4, which means you need to multiply the square of n by 4 ÷ 2 = 2 and add 1, eg for the first term, n = 1, so 2n² would be 2, but it should be 3, so you have to add 1 to it.

Geometric sequences

If each term is calculated by multiplying the previous term by the same number each time, the sequence is ‘geometric’. The formula for the nth term of a geometric sequence (or progression) is ar(n-1), where a is the first term, r is the multiplier (or ‘common ratio’) and n is the position of the term in the sequence, eg the formula for 2, 8, 32, 128 etc is 2 x 4(n-1). The first term is 2, and each term is a power of 4 multiplied by 2, eg the fourth term = 2 x 4(4-1) = 2 x 43 = 2 x 64 = 128.

Here are a few questions for you to try. What is the formula for the nth term in each of the following sequences?

  1. 14, 16, 18, 20…
  2. -1, 3, 7, 11…
  3. 4, 6, 10, 16…
  4. 9, 7, 5, 3…
  5. 2, 6, 18, 54…
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Useful formulas

Useful formulas

Which one of these is it again…?

What is a problem? A problem = a fact + a judgment. That is a simple formula that tells us something about the way the world works. Maths is full of formulas, and that can intimidate some people if they don’t understand them or can’t remember the right one to use. However, formulas should be our friends, as they help us to do sometimes complex calculations accurately and repeatably in a consistent and straightforward way. The following is a list of the most useful ones I’ve come across while teaching Maths to a variety of students at a variety of ages and at a variety of stages in their education.

Averages

  • The mean is found by adding up all the values and dividing the total by how many there are, eg the mean of the numbers 1-10 is 5.5, as 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 + 9 + 10 = 55, and 55 ÷ 10 = 5.5.
  • The mode is the most common value (or values), eg the mode of 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5 is 2.
  • The median of an odd number of values sorted by size is the one in the middle, eg the median of the numbers 1-5 is 3. The median of an even number of values is the mean of the two numbers in the middle, eg the median of the numbers 1-10 is 5.5, as 5 and 6 are the numbers in the middle, and 11 ÷ 2 = 5.5.
  • The range is the highest value minus the lowest, eg the range of the numbers 1-10 = 10 – 1 = 9.

Geometry

  • Angles around a point add up to 360º
  • Angles on a straight line add up to 180º
  • Opposite angles are equal, ie the two pairs of angles opposite each other when two straight lines bisect (or cross) each other
  • Alternate angles are equal, ie the angles under the arms of a ‘Z’ formed by a line (or ‘transversal’) bisecting two parallel lines
  • Corresponding angles are equal, ie the angles under the arms of an ‘F’ formed by a line (or ‘transversal’) bisecting two parallel lines
  • Complementary angles add up to 90º
  • Any straight line can be drawn using y = mx + c, where m is the gradient and c is the point where the line crosses the y-axis (the ‘y-intercept’)
  • The gradient of a straight line is shown by δy/δx (ie the difference in the y-values divided by the difference in the x-values of any two points on the line, usually found by drawing a triangle underneath it)

Polygons

  • Number of diagonals in a polygon = (n-3)(n÷2) where n is the number of sides
  • The sum of the internal angles of a polygon = (n-2)180º, where n is the number of sides
  • Any internal angle of a regular polygon = (n-2)180º ÷ n, where n is the number of sides

Rectangles

  • Perimeter of a rectangle = 2(l + w), where l = length and w = width
  • Area of a rectangle = lw, where l = length and w = width

Triangles

  • Area of a triangle = ½bh, where b = base and h = height
  • Angles in a triangle add up to 180º
  • In a right-angled triangle, a² + b² = c², ie the area of a square on the hypotenuse (or longest side) is equal to the sum of the areas of squares on the other two sides

Circles

  • Circumference of a circle = 2πr, where r = radius
  • Area of a circle = πr², where r = radius
  • π = 3.14 to two decimal places and is sometimes given as 22/7

Spheres

  • Volume of a sphere = 4/3πr³, where r = radius
  • Surface area of a sphere = 4πr², where r = radius

Cuboids

  • Volume of a cuboid = lwh, where l is length, w is width and h is height
  • Surface area of a cuboid = 2(lw + lh + wh), where l is length, w is width and h is height

Number sequences

  • An arithmetic sequence (with regular intervals) = xn ± k, where x is the interval (or difference) between the values, n is the value’s place in the sequence and k is a constant that is added or subtracted to make sure the sequence starts at the right number, eg the formula for 5, 8, 11, 14…etc is 3n + 2

Other

  • Speed = distance ÷ time
  • Profit = sales – cost of goods sold
  • Profit margin = profit ÷ sales
  • Mark-up = profit ÷ cost of goods sold