Factoring a Four Term Polynomial by Grouping

Learning Outcomes

  • Factor a four term polynomial by grouping terms

When we learned to multiply two binomials, we found that the result, before combining like terms, was a four term polynomial, as in this example: [latex]\left(x+4\right)\left(x+2\right)=x^{2}+2x+4x+8[/latex].

We can apply what we have learned about factoring out a common monomial  to return a four term polynomial to the product of two binomials. Why would we even want to do this?

Thought bubble with the words .....and i should care why?

Why Should I Care?

Because it is an important step in learning techniques for factoring trinomials, such as the one you get when you simplify the product of the two binomials from above:


Additionally, factoring by grouping is a technique that allows us to factor a polynomial whose terms don’t all share a GCF. In the following example, we will introduce you to the technique. Remember, one of the main reasons to factor is because it will help solve polynomial equations.


Factor [latex]a^2+3a+5a+15[/latex]

Notice that when you factor a two term polynomial, the result is a monomial times a polynomial. But the factored form of a four-term polynomial is the product of two binomials. As we noted before, this is an important middle step in learning how to factor a three term polynomial.

This process is called the grouping technique. Broken down into individual steps, here’s how to do it (you can also follow this process in the example below).

  • Group the terms of the polynomial into pairs that share a GCF.
  • Find the greatest common factor and then use the distributive property to pull out the GCF
  • Look for the common binomial between the factored terms
  • Factor the common binomial out of the groups, the other factors will make the other binomial

Let’s try factoring a few more four-term polynomials. Note how there is a now a constant in front of the [latex]x^2[/latex] term. We will just consider this another factor when we are finding the GCF.


Factor [latex]2x^{2}+4x+5x+10[/latex].

Another example follows that contains subtraction. Note how we choose a positive GCF from each group of terms, and the negative signs stay.


Factor [latex]2x^{2}–3x+8x–12[/latex].

The video that follows provides another example of factoring by grouping.

In the next example, we will have a GCF that is negative.  It is important to pay attention to what happens to the resulting binomial when the GCF is negative.


Factor [latex]3x^{2}+3x–2x–2[/latex].

In the following video we present another example of factoring by grouping when one of the GCF is negative.

Sometimes, you will encounter polynomials that, despite your best efforts, cannot be factored into the product of two binomials.


Factor [latex]7x^{2}–21x+5x–5[/latex].

In the example above, each pair can be factored, but then there is no common factor between the pairs!

In the next section, we will see how factoring by grouping can be used to factor a trinomial.