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Military Flight Aptitude Test: The Scientific Method and Scientific Notation

The scientific method is a formalized method for objectively observing, experimenting with, developing, and further modifying a given scientific idea, or hypothesis. The scientific method is how companies test new drugs and how astronomers figure out whether a new planetary theory is correct. It’s the basis of all experimentation.

You have probably used the scientific method in your lab classes, where you performed a series of experiments to confirm your (or the class’s) idea. Of course, your instructor already knew the outcome in these experiments, but the tests gave you an understanding of the systematic and objective process necessary to understand and develop scientific principles. Newton didn’t just come up with his laws; he developed them through the scientific method.

Scientific notation is a way to express very large or very small numbers in a more concise way without diminishing the accuracy. Writing that something weighs 3.4 x 10–6 grams is much easier than writing 0.0000034 grams. The scientific world uses scientific notation in most content.

To convert a number less than one or greater than ten to scientific notation, follow these steps:

  1. Convert the number you’re working with into a number between 1 and 10 by moving the decimal to the left or right.

    For example, you convert 35,000 to 3.5 by moving the decimal four spaces to the left. To convert 0.00035 to 3.5, you move the decimal four spaces to the right. Remember: Keep track of how many places you move the decimal point.

  2. Write the number that you came up with in Step 1, followed by x 10.

  3. Add the appropriate exponent based on the number of spaces you moved the decimal.

    If the original number was greater than 10 (that is, you moved the decimal point to the left in Step 1), write the number of moved decimal places as a positive exponent attached to the 10.

    In the 35,000 example from Step 1, you move the decimal point four places to the left, so your final result would be 3.5 x 104. If the original number was less than 1 (you moved the decimal to the right), attach the number of places you moved as a negative exponent. For the 0.00035 example, your final result would be 3.5 x 10–4.

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