How to Use the Ladder Method With Metric Conversions

The ladder method of metric conversion can help prevent you from making a mess.
••• wood person with yellow metric ribbon image by silviaantunes from

Though converting between the standard forms of measurement to the metric forms may be a bit daunting, converting within the metric system is far simpler. Classification of metric system units is created by affixing numerical prefixes to the names of the units. For example, different numbers of meters can be denoted as kilometers or centimeters, each term meaning a certain amount of the original unit. Using the ladder method with metric conversion is a simple way to obtain the different metric classifications.

    Find the starting point. The starting point will invariably be the placement of the decimal in the number. For example, if you were to convert 5.5 meters, then the starting point is the decimal placement.

    Calculate the number of "jumps." The number of jumps is the amount of digits that you will need to move the decimal to obtain the correct conversion. Since categorization of the metric system is based on powers of 10, each increase or decrease in unit measurement is a single "jump." For example, converting meters to centimeters is a difference of 100, or 10 to the second power. Therefore, the number of jumps is the value of the exponent of the change, which is two for the example.

    Move the decimal place by the number of "jumps." If you are converting an amount to a greater classification, then you will move the decimal place to the left. If you are converting the amount to a lesser classification, then you will move the decimal place to the right. For the example, converting 5.5 meters to centimeters means that you are converting from a greater classification to a lesser classification, so you will move the decimal place to the right. For the example, 5.5 meters will have its decimal place moved 2 positions to the right to create 550 centimeters.

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