How Are Exponents Used in Everyday Life?

By Jack Ori; Updated April 24, 2017

Algebra students are often required to study exponents. This calculation involves multiplying a number by itself several times. Students often wonder whether this calculation is useful in real life. Exponents are used in a variety of situations in real life, including measurements, computer programming and a variety of careers.

What Are Exponents?

Exponents are a shorthand for calculating the multiplication of a number by itself several times. The exponent tells you how many times to multiply the number. For example, 2^3 is shorthand for 2 x 2 x 2 and 8^17 tells you to multiply 8 by itself 17 times. In algebra, variables may contain exponents, such as x^2 or y^4.


Exponents are used regularly in measuring area. For example, suppose an architect is asked to design a single-story house that measure 1,500 square feet. The term "square feet" refers to an exponent, in this case feet x feet. The architect must know how to use exponents in order to accurately plan a house of the required area.


The size of computer files, processors and programs are expressed as an exponent. For example, you may be familiar with the term "megabyte." Computer file size is measured using megabytes. But megabytes are actually an expression of an exponent; a megabyte is equivalent to 10^6 bytes. Computer programmers use their understanding of exponents to determine the most efficient way to write a computer program and the minimum specifications a computer requires for a program to work.


If you are considering any kind of career in science, you need a solid grasp of exponents. Exponents are used in many scientific calculations. Doctors may use exponents to figure out how quickly a disease is going to spread, as antigens multiply themselves to attack the body. Research scientists often use exponents to help them perform statistical calculations and interpret data. And any kind of chemistry requires the use of exponents to measure volume or calculate mass or concentration.


If you are interested in saving money, you need to use exponents. Interest is calculated using exponents, and profit over time is calculated using logarithms, which is a special type of exponent.

About the Author

Jack Ori has been a writer since 2009. He has worked with clients in the legal, financial and nonprofit industries, as well as contributed self-help articles to various publications.