Occasionally, you are required to factor a polynomial that is in the form of a sum or difference of two power terms (i.e., x^{n }– y^{n}). In my last post, I showed you a simple procedure you can learn to help you factor the binomial if the value of the power is 4 or greater and the power is even. [If you are reading this post, you should already be familiar with factoring the difference of two squares and the difference of two cubes. Check this website for posts on those procedures.] In this post, I show you a procedure (more complicated than the others, I admit) that you can use to factor these binomials when the power is odd.

First, let’s see how this works on some examples:

Do you see the pattern? When factoring a^{n }– b^{n} or a^{n }+ b^{n} (for n odd), there is always a linear term a ± b, where the plus or minus sign is the same as in the original binomial. The remaining factor is a little more complicated, but it does have a simple pattern. Each term consists of the first term in the binomial (with its exponent decreasing from n – 1 to 0) and the second term in the binomial with its exponent increasing from 0 to n – 1. In the first example above, the x term decreased from x^{4} to x^{0}. The 2 term increased from 2^{0} to 2^{4}. If you started with the difference of two powers, all of the signs in the second factor are plus signs. If you started with the sum of the two powers, the first sign in the second factor is a minus sign and the signs alternate after that.