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Prime 5 Most Confusing Things About Sig Figs (Significant Figures)

Sig Figs, Sig Digs, Satan’s contribution to math and science — no matter you wish to call them, they’re some of the hated and commonly confused ideas in science and math. Ignore them at your own peril, since these half points off will add up and turn your A’s into B’s, or your B’s into C’s should you’re not careful. The thing is, sig figs really are NOT THAT HARD to master, and in case you know these 5 ideas, then you definitely’ll have a leg up on everybody else who still can’t determine the ins and outs of sig figs.

1. How To Deal With Zeros

Sandwiched zeros are significant

300 has one sig fig, however 303 has three sig figs because the middle 0 becomes significant

If trailing zeros come after a decimal point, then they’re significant

1.000 (4 sig figs) is a more exact measurement than 1.zero (2 sig figs)

If trailing zeros come after a number without a decimal point, then they’re NOT significant

5,000 has 1 sig fig, but 5,000. has 4 sig figs because of the decimal point

Leading zeros are NEVER significant

0.0003 has one sig fig, but 0.3003 has 4 sig figs because the 0’s are sandwiched

2. How To Multiply and Divide With Sig Figs

Plug in each number exactly as it appears in the problem

Look on the number of sig figs in each number

Spherical your answer so it incorporates the least number of sig figs out of all the numbers being multiplied or divided

ex: 325.0 (four sig figs) / 2.0 ( sig figs) = 162.5, but the answer should only have two sig figs, so you’d spherical it to 160 (two sig figs; 0 is just not a sig fig) as your answer

3. What About Multiplying With Unit Conversions?

The numbers you use for unit conversions don’t depend as sig figs

ex: if you wish to convert 38.5 grams into kilograms, your answer would have 3 sig figs still, even if you happen to use the conversion 1kg/1,000g

4. Adding and Subtracting With Sig Figs

Sig Figs DO NOT MATTER when adding and subtracting numbers

Instead, your reply ought to contain the least number of decimal places

ex: 4.32 + 5.1 ought to have one decimal level, so you discover the precise answer (9.42) and round it to an answer with one decimal level (9.four)

5. How To Measure Volumes With Sig Figs

There will usually be a curve, or meniscus, in the top of a liquid — always measure the bottom of the meniscus

If you end up measuring the volume of something in a beaker or graduated cylinder, look at each tick mark, then go one decimal level additional when recording your calculation

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