Math Help: Learning to Convert Measurements

Converting measurements is a basic math skill that's usually introduced in grades four and five. Read on for an explanation and some practice problems with solutions.

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Help with Converting Measurements

Measurement Systems

Before you can make conversions within a measurement system, you need to know the basic units and how they relate to each other. Keep reading to learn the main units and conversion factors for both the metric and customary systems.

Length

1 kilometer = 1,000 meters

1 meter = 100 centimeters

1 mile = 1,760 yards

1 yard = 3 feet

1 foot = 12 inches

Mass

1 kilogram = 1,000 grams

1 pound = 16 ounces

Liquid Volume

1 liter = 1,000 milliliters

1 gallon = 4 quarts

Conversions

Now that you're familiar with common units of measure, it's time to learn how to convert from one unit to another. The first step is to identify the conversion factor for the two units. The conversion factor is the number of smaller units it takes to make up one of the larger units. For example, the conversion factor for gallons and quarts is four because 4 quarts = 1 gallon.

If you're converting a larger unit (like kilometers) to a smaller unit (like meters), multiply the number of larger units by the conversion factor. For instance, the conversion factor for kilograms and grams is 1,000 because 1 kilogram = 1,000 grams. To convert three kilograms to grams, multiply three by 1,000 to get 3,000 grams (3 x 1,000 = 3,000).

When you want to convert a smaller unit into a larger unit, divide the number of smaller units by the conversion factor. For example, to convert 5,000 grams into kilograms, divide 5,000 by the conversion factor (1,000) to get five kilograms (5,000/1,000 = 5).

Practice Problems

1. 36 inches = ? feet
2. 7 kilometers = ? meters
3. 4 pounds = ? ounces
4. 8,000 grams = ? kilograms
5. 3 liters = ? milliliters

Solutions

1. The conversion factor between feet and inches is 12 (1 foot = 12 inches). You're converting a smaller unit to a larger unit, so you need to divide the number of smaller units (36) by the conversion factor. Because 36/12 = 3, the answer is 36 inches = 3 feet.
2. To convert from kilometers to meters, you'll need to multiply by the conversion factor of 1,000. In this case, 7 x 1,000 = 7,000, which means the answer is 7 kilometers = 7,000 meters.
3. The conversion factor between ounces and pounds is 16, and you'll need to multiply that by four pounds to get 64 (16 x 4 = 64). This means that 4 pounds = 64 ounces.
4. The solution to this problem is 8,000 grams = 8 kilograms. The conversion factor for grams and kilograms is 1,000, and you'll need to divide by that number since you're converting from a smaller unit to a larger unit (8,000/1,000 = 8).
5. Since 1 liter = 1,000 milliliters, 1,000 is the conversion factor. Milliliters are smaller than liters, so you'll need to multiply the conversion factor by three (3 x 1,000 = 3,000) to get this solution: 3 liters = 3,000 milliliters.
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