This topic describes how to enter mathematical and scientific expressions for problems in your edX course.
You might want to enter a mathematical or scientific expression into an assignment in the body of your course, into the edX calculator tool, or into a course discussion.
For assignments in the body of the course and for the calculator tool, you enter plain text, and the edX system then converts your text into numbers and symbols that appear below the response field. For more information, see Entering Math Expressions in Assignments or the Calculator.
For course discussions, you use MathJax to format the text that you type, and the system then converts your text into a mathematical expression. For more information, see Entering Math Expressions in Course Discussions.
EdX has carefully designed assessments that are accessible to screen readers. However, because of a limitation with HTML and screen reader technology, screen readers may not be able to read math problems in edX courses by default.
To access these problems with a screen reader, use one of the following methods.
If your browser and screen reader both support MathML, specify MathML as your preferred math renderer in MathJax.
Switch from your screen reader’s Interactive mode to Reading mode.
Note
Your screen reader may use different names for Interactive mode and Reading mode.
In Interactive mode, learners use the Tab key to move from one interactive element to the next.
In Reading mode, learners use the arrow keys to read all of the content in a document, and not just the interactive elements.
For more information about how to make sure that your screen reader reads all available content, see the instructions for your screen reader.
Both the calculator and the response fields in math problems accept a selection of characters that represent numbers, operators, constants, functions, and other mathematical concepts. You might recognize parts of this system if you have used math programs before.
Note
If your course offers the calculator tool, the calculator appears as a small icon on all pages in the body of the course. To open the calculator, select the calculator icon. To close the calculator, select the X that appears when the calculator is open.
The calculator includes an information page that shows an abbreviated version
of the information in this topic. To see the information page, select the
circled i
icon next to the input field.
When you enter your plain text into the calculator or the response field, follow these guidelines.
Arithmetical operations: Use standard characters for addition (+), subtraction (), multiplication (*), and division (/).
Multiplication: Be sure to indicate multiplication explicitly. That is,
instead of mc^2
type m*c^2
, and instead of 5a+4b+3c
type
5*a+4*b+3*c
.
Operation order: Use parentheses (( )
) to specify the order of
operations and to make your expression as clear as possible. Use curved
parentheses (( )
) only. Do not use brackets ([ ]
) or braces ({
}
).
Exponents or superscripts: Insert a caret (^) before an exponent or
superscript. If the exponent or superscript includes multiple characters or
is an expression, surround the expression with parentheses. For example, you
can enter x^n
or x^(n1)
.
Subscripts: Insert an underscore (_) before a subscript to indicate a
subscript. If the subscript has multiple characters, type the characters
without a space. For example, you can enter v_INv_OUT
. Note, however,
that subscripts cannot currently include operators or parentheses.
Avoid whitespace.
Do not use equal signs (=).
Because the system is casesensitive, make sure you use uppercase and lowercase letters carefully.
For more information about the types of characters you can use, see below.
Note
The edX system accepts both constants and metric affixes. Be careful to distinguish between constants and metric affixes. Constants stand alone, while metric affixes must be combined with numbers.
For example, c
can be a constant representing the speed of light or a
metric affix meaning “centi”. When you use c
as a metric affix, do not
include a space between c
and the number. When you use c
as a
constant, indicate multiplication explicitly. The following examples show the
difference:
2c
= 0.02
(2 multiplied by 0.01)
2*c
= 599584916.0
(the speed of light multiplied by 2)
2M
= 2,000,000
(2 multiplied by 1,000,000)
2*M
= 2 multiplied by the variable M
For more information, see Scientific Notation and Metric Affixes or Constants.
You can use the following types of numbers.
Integers: 2520
Fractions: 2/3
Normal floats: 3.14
Floats with no integer part: .98
The largest number you can use is 1.7977e+308, which is the largest float possible in the Python programming language.
You can enter metric affixes or scientific notation to indicate very large or
very small numbers. For scientific notation, you can type either a caret (^) or
the letter e
followed by a number to indicate an exponent. You can use both
positive and negative exponents.
For example, to indicate 0.012
, you can enter either of the following
expressions:
1.2*10^2
1.2e2
To indicate 440,000
, you can enter either of the following expressions:
4.4*10^5
4.4e5
The following table shows how to enter numbers with metric affixes, with
scientific notation, and with e
notation.
To enter this number 
Use this metric affix 
Use this scientific notation 
Use this 
Other notation 

0.1 
1d (deci) 
10^1 
1e1 

0.01 
1c (centi) 
10^2 
1e2 
1% (percent) 
0.001 
1m (milli) 
10^3 
1e3 

0.000001 
1u (micro) 
10^6 
1e6 

0.000000001 
1n (nano) 
10^9 
1e9 

0.000000000001 
1p (pico) 
10^12 
1e12 

1000 
1k (kilo) 
10^3 
1e3 

1,000,000 
1M (mega) 
10^6 
1e6 

1,000,000,000 
1G (giga) 
10^9 
1e9 

1,000,000,000,000 
1T (tera) 
10^12 
1e12 
Note
When you use metric affixes or e
notation, make sure you do not
include spaces between the number and the metric affix or the e
.
You can use several different constants in your mathematical expressions.
Note
When you enter constants multiplied by a number, make sure to
indicate the multiplication explicitly. For example, enter 2*c
instead of
2c
and 4*i
instead of 4i
.
Constant 
Value 


The speed of light in m/s (2.998^8) 

Euler’s number (2.718…) 

Gravity (9.80 m/s^2) 

The square root of 1 

The square root of 1 

The Boltzmann constant (~1.38^23 in Joules/Kelvin) 

The ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter (3.14159…) 

The fundamental charge (~1.602^19 Coloumbs) 

The positive difference between 0K and 0°C (273.15) 
To use any of the following Greek letters, type the name of the letter in the calculator or the response field.
Name 
Letter 

alpha 
α 
beta 
β 
gamma 
γ 
delta 
δ 
epsilon 
ϵ 
varepsilon 
ε 
zeta 
ζ 
eta 
η 
theta 
θ 
vartheta 
ϑ 
iota 
ι 
kappa 
ϰ 
lambda 
λ 
mu 
μ 
nu 
ν 
xi 
ξ 
pi 
π 
rho 
ρ 
sigma 
σ 
tau 
τ 
upsilon 
υ 
phi 
ϕ 
varphi 
φ 
chi 
χ 
psi 
ψ 
omega 
ω 
To use a function, type the letters that represent the function, and then
surround the expression in that function with parentheses. For example, to
represent the square root of 4*a+b
, type sqrt(4*a+b)
.
You can use the following functions.
Common functions
sqrt
log10
log2
ln
exp
abs
Trigonometric functions and their inverses, as well as hyperbolic trigonometric functions and their inverses.
Function 
Inverse 
Hyperbolic Function 
Inverse 

sin 
arcsin 
sinh 
arcsinh 
cos 
arccos 
cosh 
arccosh 
tan 
arctan 
tanh 
arctanh 
sec 
arcsec 
sech 
arcsech 
csc 
arccsc 
csch 
arccsch 
cot 
arccot 
coth 
arccoth 
Factorials: Enter factorials as fact(3)
or factorial(3)
. You must use
integers. For example, you cannot enter fact(1.5)
.
A “parallel resistors” operator (
). For example, 1  2
represents
the resistance of a pair of parallel resistors (of resistance 1 and 2 ohms),
evaluating to 2/3 (ohms).
Entering math expressions in course discussions is different from entering math expressions in a math problem or in the calculator. In course discussions, you use MathJax to format the text that you type.
For detailed information about how to enter math expressions in course discussions, see Math Formatting in Course Discussions.