How to Solve Large Exponents

By Grant D. McKenzie; Updated April 24, 2017

As with most problems in basic algebra, solving large exponents requires factoring. If you factor the exponent down until all the factors are prime numbers--a process called "prime factorization"-- you can then apply the power rule of exponents to solve the problem. Additionally, you can break the exponent down by addition rather than multiplication and apply the product rule for exponents to solve the problem. A little practice will help you predict which method will be easiest for the problem you are faced with.

Power Rule

Find the prime factors of the exponent.

Example: 6^24

24 = 2 * 12 24 = 2 * 2 * 6 24 = 2 * 2 * 2 * 3

Use the power rule for exponents to set up the problem. The power rule states: (x^a)^b = x^(a*b)

6^24 = 6^(2 * 2 * 2 * 3) = ((((6^2)^2)^2)^3)

Solve the problem from the inside out.

((((6^2)^2)^2)^3) = (((36^2)^2)^3) = ((1296^2)^3) = (1679616^3) = 4.738e18

Product Rule

Break the exponent down into a sum. Make sure the components are small enough to work with as exponents and do not include 1 or 0.

Example: 6^24

24 = 12 + 12 24 = 6 + 6 + 6 + 6 24 = 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3

Use the product rule of exponents to set up the problem. The product rule states: x^a * x^b = x(a^b)

6^24 = 6^(3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 + 3) 6^24 = 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3

Solve the problem.

6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 * 6^3 = 216 * 216 * 216 * 216 * 216 * 216 * 216 * 216 = 46656 * 46656 * 46656 * 46656 = 4.738e18

Tip

For some problems, a combination of both techniques may make the problem easier. For example: x^21 = (x^7)^3 (power rule), and x^7 = x^3 * x^2 * x^2 (product rule). Combining the two, you get: x^21 = (x^3 * x^2 * x^2)^3