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Estimating and

accuracy 16 CHAPTER

16.1 Significant figures

In the number 48.76, the 4 stands for 40 and is the most significant digit or figure in the number as
it represents the largest part of the number.
The number 8 (8 units) is the second most significant digit.
To round a number correct to 1 significant figure, look at the second significant figure in the number.
If that number is 5 or more, then increase the first figure by 1 If the second significant figure is less
than 5, then do not change the first significant figure. The process is similar for rounding to other
significant figures.
48.76 rounded correct to 1 significant 48.76
figure is 50 as it is nearer to 50 than
it is to 40 20 30 40 50 60 70

48.76 rounded correct to 2 significant 48.76

figures is 49, as it is nearer to 49 than
it is to 48 46 47 48 49 50 51

48.76
48.76 rounded correct to 3 significant
figures is 48.8 as it is nearer to 48.8
than it is to 48.7 48.5 48.6 48.7 48.8 48.9 50.0

In the number 0.04268, the 4 stands for 4 hundredths and is the most significant figure in the
number as it represents the largest part of the number.
0.04268
0.04268 rounded correct to 1 significant
figure is 0.04, as it is nearer to 0.04
than it is to 0.05 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07

0.04268 rounded correct to 2 significant 0.04268

figures is 0.043 as it is nearer 0.043
than 0.042
0.04 0.041 0.042 0.043 0.044 0.045

0.04268 rounded correct to 3 significant figures is 0.0427 as it is nearer 0.0427 than 0.0426
Zeros at the front of a number are not counted as significant figures.
The first 4 significant figures of 0.057328 are 5, 7, 3 and 2.
Zeros within a number are counted as significant figures.
The first 4 significant figures of 5.0487 are 5, 0, 4 and 8

Example 1
Round each of these numbers correct to 3 significant figures.
a 6547 b 12.48 c 0.4763 d 3.0486

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16.1 Significant figures CHAPTER 16

Solution 1
a 6550 The 4th significant figure is 7 so increase the 3rd significant figure by 1

b 12.5 The 4th significant figure is 8 so increase the 3rd significant figure by 1

c 0.476 The 0 is not a significant figure, so the first three significant figures in the
number are 4, 7 and 6. Since 3 is less than 5, do not change the 6

d 3.05 The 0 between the 3 and the 4 is a significant figure, so 8 is the fourth significant figure.

Estimates for the values of expressions can be found by first writing each number correct to
1 significant figure and then carrying out the calculation.

Example 2
Work out an estimate for the value of each of these expressions.
6.4  179.8
a 17.2  52.3 b 18.3  3.9 c 
0.52
Solution 2
Write each number correct to 1 significant figure.
a 20  50
1000 is an estimate for the value of 17.2  52.3
 1000
Write each number correct to 1 significant figure.
b 20  4
5 is an estimate for the value of 18.3  3.9
5
6  200 Write each number correct to 1 significant figure.
c 
0.5 Multiply 6 by 200
1200
  0.5  12 and dividing by 12 is the same as multiplying by 2
0.5
6.4  179.8
 2400 2400 is an estimate for the value of 
0.52

When working out answers to calculations, do not give too many figures in the answer.
For example, if the diameter of a circle is 6.4 centimetres, then the circumference of the circle is
  6.4 cm. Using   3.14 leads to the value 20.096 cm for the circumference. This answer has too
many figures as a length could not be measured to such accuracy under normal circumstances. A more
sensible answer is 20.1 cm, as it is possible to measure lengths correct to the nearest mm. This value 20.1
is correct to 3 significant figures.
Generally, when answers are not exact, 2 or 3 significant figures is an appropriate degree of accuracy
for the answer.

Example 3
In each case work out the value of the expression.
i Write down all the figures on your calculator display
ii write your answer to an appropriate degree of accuracy.
6.46  4.95

a 24.6  18.2 b 
2.32  1.62
Solution 3
a i 1.351 648 Your calculator may display a ii 1.4 or 1.35 2 or 3 significant figures is an
b i 5.264 686 more figures than this. b ii 5.3 or 5.26 appropriate degree of accuracy.

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CHAPTER 16 Estimating and accuracy

Exercise 16A


1 Write these numbers correct to 2 significant figures.
a 648 b 34.78 c 7.082 d 0.0557 e 36 578

2 Write these numbers correct to 3 significant figures.

a 4879 b 21.036 c 345.88 d 21.675 e 0.004 776

3 Write these numbers correct to 2 significant figures.

a 399 b 0.205 c 7577 d 2.963 e 15.09

4 Write these numbers correct to 3 significant figures.

a 4599 b 0.005 996 c 2.000 47 d 1.9956 e 21.97

5 Write these numbers correct to 1 significant figure.

a 16.3 b 4.7 c 24.9 d 7.7 e 8.5

6 Write these numbers correct to 1 significant figure.

a 0.61 b 0.77 c 0.45 d 0.056 e 0.0079

7 Work out an estimate for the value of each of these expressions by first rounding the numbers to
1 significant figure.
a 3.4  4.9 b 5.4  3.8 c 9.4  9.9 d 13.4  3.9 e 24.4  4.7

8 Work out an estimate for the value of each of these expressions by first writing the numbers
correct to 1 significant figure.
a 211  12 b 346  3.2 c 985  478 d 377  48 e 2334  12.9

9 Work out an estimate for the value of each of these expressions by first rounding the numbers to
1 significant figure.
5.4  9.9 9.8  4.9 16.4  9.9 6.8  19.9 17.4  20.3
a  b  c  d  e 
10.1 5.1 16.8 12.1 38.7


10 Calculate the value of each of the following.
i Write down all the figures on your calculator display.
ii Write down the answer correct to a sensible degree of accuracy.
3
3.43 2.46  4.98 8.12  298
 645
  3.82
a  b  c  d 
5.66  8.44 4.50 2 41 45

16.2 Accuracy of measurements

With a centimetre stick, lengths can be measured correct 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
to the nearest centimetre.
Measured with a centimetre stick, the length of a
piece of A4 paper is 30 cm.
This does not mean that the length of the A4 paper is
exactly 30 centimetres.
It is 30 centimetres correct to the nearest centimetre.
The exact length of the piece of A4 paper is somewhere
between 29.5 cm and 30.5 cm.
So 30 cm to the nearest centimetre means that the minimum (least) possible length is 29.5 cm and
the maximum (greatest) possible length is 30.5 cm.
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16.2 Accuracy of measurements CHAPTER 16

With a ruler, lengths can be measured correct to the nearest millimetre.

Measured with a ruler, the length of a piece of A4 paper is 298 mm.

29.5 cm 30.5 cm

29.5 cm 297.5 mm 298.5 mm 30.5 cm

The exact length of the piece of A4 paper is between 297.5 mm and 298.5 mm.
So 298 mm to the nearest millimetre means that the minimum (least) possible length is 297.5 mm
and the maximum (greatest) possible length is 298.5 mm.
Measurements given to the nearest whole unit may be inaccurate by up to one half of a unit below
and one half of a unit above.
For example, ‘8 kg to the nearest kilogram’ has a least possible weight of 7.5 kg and a greatest
possible weight of 8.5 kg.

Example 4
Write down the smallest possible volume and the greatest possible volume of
a a large tank which holds 52 litres of water correct to the nearest litre.
b a small bowl which holds 124 millilitres of water correct to the nearest millilitre.
Solution 4
smallest possible volume greatest possible volume
a 52 litres correct to the nearest litre 51.5 litres 52.5 litres
b 124 millilitres correct to the nearest millilitre 123.5 millilitres 124.5 millilitres

Example 5
The length of a calculator is 12.8 cm correct to the nearest millimetre. Write down
a the minimum possible length it could be b the maximum possible length it could be.
Solution 5
Write 12.8 cm as 128 mm, as the measurement is accurate to the nearest millimetre.
minimum maximum 12.75 cm 12.85 cm
possible possible 12.7 cm 12.8 cm 12.9 cm
length length
127 mm 128 mm 129 mm
128 mm correct 127.5 mm 128.5 mm
to the nearest or or 127.5 mm 128.5 mm
millimetre 12.75 cm 12.85 cm

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CHAPTER 16 Estimating and accuracy

Exercise 16B
1 The length of a pencil is 12 cm correct to the nearest cm. Write down the maximum length it
could be.

2 The weight of an envelope is 45 grams correct to the nearest gram. Write down the minimum
weight it could be.

3 The capacity of a jug is 4 litres correct to the nearest litre. Write down the minimum capacity of
the jug.

4 The radius of a plate is 9.7 cm correct to the nearest millimetre.

Write down a the least possible length it could be b the greatest possible length it could be.

5 Magda’s height is 1.59 m correct to the nearest centimetre. Write down in metres
a the minimum possible height she could be b the maximum possible height she could be.

6 The length of a pen is 10 cm correct to the nearest cm. The length of a pencil case is 102 mm
correct to the nearest mm. Explain why the pen might not fit in the case.

7 The width of a cupboard is measured to be 82 cm correct to the nearest cm. There is a gap of
822 mm correct to the nearest mm in the wall. Explain how the cupboard might fit in the wall.

16.3 Lower bounds and upper bounds

When carrying out calculations with numbers that have been rounded it is possible to calculate the range
of answers that can be produced depending on the accuracy to which the numbers have been given.
If a number has been written as 5.6 correct to one decimal place then the true value of the number
lies between 5.55 and 5.65 The value at the lower boundary of the interval is called the lower bound.
The value at the upper boundary is called the upper bound. In this case, 5.55 is the lower bound and
5.65 is the upper bound.
If a number has been written as 3.44 correct to 3 significant figures, then the true value of the
number lies between 3.435 to 3.445 so the lower bound is 3.435 and the upper bound is 3.445

Example 6
Write down i the lower bound ii the upper bound of
a 64 correct to 2 significant figures b 32.8 correct to 1 decimal place.
Solution 6
a i lower bound  63.5
ii upper bound  64.5 63 63.5 64 64.5 65

Numbers in the red interval from 63.5 to 64.5 are closer to 64

than to 63 or to 65 The lower bound (the value at the lower
boundary of this interval) is 63.5 The upper bound (the value at
the upper boundary of the interval) is 64.5
b i lower bound  32.75
ii upper bound  32.85 32.7 32.75 32.8 32.85 32.9
Numbers in the red interval from 32.75 to 32.85 are closer to
32.8 than to 32.7 or to 32.9

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16.3 Lower bounds and upper bounds CHAPTER 16

If numbers in calculations have been rounded, the final answer will not be exact. It is, however,
possible to find the lower bound and the upper bound of the answer.
For example, in the product 4.5  6.4 where both numbers have been rounded to 1 decimal place
to find the upper bound of the product, work out 4.55  6.45  29.3475
to find the lower bound of the product, work out 4.45  6.35  28.2575
For any product, the lower bound of the product is worked out using the lower bound of each
number in the product. Similarly, for the upper bound, the upper bound of the product is worked out
using the upper bound of each number in the product.
However, the lower bound of the difference 6.0 – 3.8, where both numbers are written correct to
1 decimal place, is not found by subtracting the lower bound of 3.8 from the lower bound of 6.0. The
lower bound of the difference is the difference between the lower bound of 6.0 and the upper bound
of 3.8
Lower bound  5.95  3.85  2.1 (not 6.05  3.85  2.2)

Example 7
Correct to 1 decimal place, x  4.8 and y  2.4
Work out the lower bounds of
x
a xy b xy c xy d 
y
Solution 7
a 4.75  2.35 Lower bound  Lower bound
 11.1625
b 4.75  2.45 Lower bound  Upper bound
 2.3
c 4.75  2.35 Lower bound  Lower bound
 7.1
d 4.75  2.45 Lower bound  Upper bound
 1.938 775 5

Example 8
v2
H   is a formula used to find the height H, of a stone thrown upwards at a speed v.
2g
v  10 correct to the nearest integer, g  9.8 correct to 2 significant figures.
a Write down the upper bound of g.
b Work out the lower bound of H.
Give your answer correct to 3 decimal places.
Solution 8
a Upper bound of g  9.85
9.52
b Lower bound of H   Lower bound of v2  (2  Upper bound of g)
2  9.85
 4.5812…
 4.581 An answer correct to 3 decimal places is required.

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CHAPTER 16 Estimating and accuracy

Exercise 16C
1 p  18 correct to the nearest integer, q  12 correct to the nearest integer.
a Write down the lower bound of i p ii q
b Write down the upper bound of i p ii q
p
c Work out the lower bound of i pq ii p  q iii pq iv 
q
p
d Work out the upper bound of i pq ii p  q iii pq iv 
q

2 r  16.4 correct to 1 decimal place, t  4.7 correct to 1 decimal place.

r
a Work out the lower bound of i rt ii r  t iii rt iv 
t
r
b Work out the upper bound of i rt ii r  t iii rt iv 
t

3 x  6.4 correct to 1 decimal place, y  8.3 correct to 1 decimal place.

y
a Work out the lower bound of i xy ii y  x iii xy iv 
x
y
b Work out the upper bound of i xy ii y  x iii xy iv 
x

4 k  2.45 correct to 2 decimal places.

1
a Work out the lower bound of i 4k ii  iii k2 iv k
k
1
b Work out the upper bound of i 4k ii  iii k2 iv k
k

5 x  4.62 correct to 2 decimal places, y  2.5 correct to 1 decimal place.

y
a Work out the lower bound of i xy ii x  y iii xy iv 
x
y
b Work out the upper bound of i xy ii x  y iii xy iv 
x

6 p  3.8 correct to 1 decimal place, q  4.60 correct to 2 decimal places.

pq
a Work out the lower bound of i p2 ii 3p  2q iii 
p
pq
b Work out the upper bound of i p2 ii 3p  2q iii 
p

7 Scott cycles at a steady speed of 10 metres per second correct to the nearest metre per second.
a Work out the lower bound of the time Scott takes to cycle exactly 100 metres.
b Work out the upper bound of the time Scott takes to cycle exactly 100 metres.

8 The length of a rectangle is 16 cm. The width of the rectangle is 12 cm. Both measurements have
been given correct to the nearest cm.
a Find the lower bound of the perimeter. b Find the upper bound of the perimeter.
c Find the lower bound of the area. d Find the upper bound of the area.
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Chapter 16 review questions CHAPTER 16

v2
9 h  , v  10.2 correct to 3 significant figures. g  9.8 correct to 2 significant figures.
2g
Work out the difference between the lower bound of h and the upper bound of h.

10 The population of a country is 14.6 million correct to 3 significant figures.

8.5 million, correct to 2 significant figures, of the population are under 30 years of age.
Calculate the difference between the lower bound and the upper bound of the percentage of the
population which are under 30 years of age.

Chapter summary
You should now be able to:
 write a number correct to a given number of significant figures
 write the answer to a calculation to a sensible degree of accuracy
 work out an estimate for the value of an expression by writing all the numbers correct to
1 significant figure
 write down the lower bound and the upper bound of a value written to a given degree of
accuracy
 work out the lower bound and the upper bound of an expression.

Chapter 16 review questions


1 Write these numbers correct to 3 significant figures.
a 6482 b 35.795 c 0.052 81 d 1.6040 e 2.998 f 1.0992

2 Work out the approximate value of these expressions by rounding the values to 1 significant
figure.
a 4.2  7.8 b 19.2  31.8 c 42  78 d 231  47.8

3 Work out the approximate value of these expressions by rounding the values to 1 significant
figure.
101 51.2 798 6.1  19.2 2.4  0.388
a  b  c  d  e 
9.9 4.9 19.9 9.9 4.2

4 Estimate the answers to these expressions by first writing all values correct to 1 significant figure.
4.2  3.6 6.2  7.2 8.92 6.3  0.48 18.4  0.036
a  b  c  d  e 
0.52 0.21 0.49 0.022 0.38

296
5 Work out an estimate for the value of 
1.84  0.32

637
6 Work out an estimate for the value of  (1387 June 2005)
3.2  9.8

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CHAPTER 16 Estimating and accuracy

7 For each of these rounded numbers, write down i the lower bound ii the upper bound
a 6.4 (1 decimal place.) b 5.08 (2 decimal places.)
c 6400 (3 significant figures) d 0.0148 (3 significant figures)
e 21 (nearest whole number)


8 A square has sides of length 8.5 cm correct to the nearest millimetre. Calculate
a the lower bound of the perimeter b the upper bound of the area

a
9 y  , a  4.8 (2 significant figures), b  6 (1 significant figure).
b
Calculate i the lower bound of y ii the upper bound of y.
Give your answers correct to 4 significant figures.

10 The mass of a solid shape is 6460 kg correct to 3 significant figures. The volume of the solid
shape is 2.8 m3 correct to 2 significant figures. Calculate i the lower bound of the density,
ii the upper bound of the density. Give your answers correct to 4 significant figures.

11 The time taken for a car to cover a distance of 3100 m was 20.0 seconds. The distance was
measured correct to 2 significant figures and the time correct to 3 significant figures.
Work out the upper bound of the average speed of the car.

12 John weighs 88 kg and Sophie weighs 65 kg.

Both weights have been rounded to the nearest kg.
Explain why their minimum combined weight is 152 kg.

13 Correct to 2 significant figures, the area of a rectangle is 470 cm2.

Correct to 2 significant figures, the length of the rectangle is 23 cm.
Calculate the upper bound for the width of the rectangle. (1388 March 2004)

14 O is the centre of both circles.

The radius of the outer circle is R cm.
The radius of the inner circle is r cm.
R  15.8 correct to 1 decimal place.
r  14.2 correct to 1 decimal place.
O
a John says that the minimum possible diameter of R cm
the inner circle is 28.35 cm. r cm
Explain why John is wrong.
The upper bound for the area, in cm2, of the shaded region is k.
b Find the exact value of k.

15 The time period, T seconds, of a pendulum is calculated using the formula


L
T  6.283  
g
where L metres is the length of the pendulum and g m/s2 is the acceleration due to gravity.
L  1.36 correct to 2 decimal places
g  9.8 correct to 1 decimal place
Find the difference between the lower bound of T and the upper bound of T. (1387 November 2004)

262