SOLVING TRIGONOMETRIC EQUATIONS

Note: If you would like a review of trigonometry, click on trigonometry.

Example 4:        Solve for x in the following equation.

There are an infinite number of solutions to this problem.

First isolate the secant term.

To solve for x, we have to isolate x. How do we isolate the x? We could take the inverse (arccosine) of both sides. However, inverse functions can only be applied to one-to-one functions and the cosine function is not one-to-one.

Let's restrict the domain so the function is one-to-one on the restricted domain while preserving the original range. The cosine function is one-to-one on the interval If we restrict the domain of the cosine function to that interval , we can take the arccosine of both sides of the equation and isolate the x.

The angle x is the reference angle. We know that

Therefore, if , then

The period of equals and the period of equals , this means other solutions exists every units. The exact solutions are

where n is an integer.

The approximate values of these solutions are

where n is an integer.

You can check each solution algebraically by substituting each solution in the original equation. If, after the substitution, the left side of the original equation equals the right side of the original equation, the solution is valid.

You can also check the solutions graphically by graphing the function formed by subtracting the right side of the original equation from the left side of the original equation. The solutions of the original equation are the x-intercepts of this graph.

Algebraic Check:

Check solution x=4.745598

Left Side:

Right Side:

Since the left side of the original equation equals the right side of the original equation when you substitute 4.745598 for x, then 4.745598 is a solution.

Check solution x=-4.745598

Left Side:

Right Side:

Since the left side of the original equation equals the right side of the original equation when you substitute -4.745598 for x, then -4.745598 is a solution.

We have just verified algebraically that the exact solutions are and these solutions repeat every units. The approximate values of these solutions are and these solutions repeat every units.

Graphical Check:

Graph the equation (formed by subtracting the right side of the original equation from the left side of the original equation). Note that the graph crosses the x-axis many times indicating many solutions. Let's check a few of these x-intercepts against the solutions we derived.

Verify the graph crosses the x-axis at 4.745598. Since the period is , you can verify that the graph also crosses the x-axis again at and at etc.

Verify the graph crosses the x-axis at -4.745598. Since the period is , you can verify that the graph also crosses the x-axis again at and at etc.

Note: If the problem were to find the solutions in the interval , then you choose those solutions from the set of infinite solutions that belong to the set

If you would like to test yourself by working some problems similar to this example, click on Problem.

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[Algebra] [Trigonometry]
[Geometry] [Differential Equations]
[Calculus] [Complex Variables] [Matrix Algebra]

Author: Nancy Marcus