How to Calculate Surface Area

Here we will learn how to calculate the surface area of a variety of three-dimensional shapes, including cuboids, prisms, cylinders, cones and spheres.

There are also surface area worksheets based on Edexcel, AQA and OCR exam questions, along with further guidance on where to go next if you’re still stuck.

What is surface area?

The surface area of a three dimensional shape is the total area of all of the faces.

To find the surface area of a shape, we find the area of each face and add them together.

E.g.

How to calculate surface area Image 1

FaceArea
Front½ × 4 × 3 = 6
Back6
Bottom4 × 6 = 24
Top5 × 6 = 30
Left side3 × 6 = 18

Total surface area

\begin{aligned} &= 6+6+24+30+18 \\ &=84cm^2 \end{aligned}

The measurements here are in centimetres so the surface area is measured in square centimetres (cm^2) .

What is surface area?

What is surface area?

How to calculate surface area

In order to calculate surface area:

  1. Calculate the area of each face.
  2. Add the areas together.
  3. Write the answer, including the units.

Explain how to calculate surface area

Explain how to calculate surface area

Surface area worksheet

Surface area worksheet

Surface area worksheet

Get your free surface area worksheet of 20+ questions and answers. Includes reasoning and applied questions.

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Surface area worksheet

Surface area worksheet

Surface area worksheet

Get your free surface area worksheet of 20+ questions and answers. Includes reasoning and applied questions.

DOWNLOAD FREE

Surface area examples

Example 1: surface area of a cuboid

Work out the surface area of the cuboid. We can think of this as finding the surface area of a rectangular prism or the  surface area of a box.

How to calculate surface area Example 1

  1. Calculate the area of each face.

FaceArea (cm2)
Front10 × 4 = 40
Back40
Bottom10 × 6 = 60
Top60
Left side6 × 4 = 24
Right side24

2Add the areas together.

The sum of the areas is: 40+40+60+60+24+24=248

3Write the answer, including the units.

The measurements are in cm so the surface area will be measured in cm^2 .

Total surface area = 248cm^2

Example 2: surface area of a cube

Work out the surface area of the cube:

How to calculate surface area Example 2

Since it is a cube, all of the faces are the squares and of equal size.


Area of a square formula: \text{(side length)}^2


So, the area of each face =9 \times 9=81cm^2

There are 6 faces, each with an area of 81cm^2


6 \times 81=486

The measurements of the cube are in cm so the area will be measured in cm^2


Total surface area = 486cm^2

Example 3: surface area of a triangular prism

Work out the surface area of the triangular prism

How to calculate surface area Example 3
FaceArea (cm2)
Front½ × 12 × 8 =48
Back48
Bottom12 × 7 = 84
Left side10 × 7 = 70
Right side70

48+48+84+70+70

The units are in mm so the area will be measured in mm^2


Surface area = 320mm^2

Example 4: surface area of a cylinder

The radius of this cylinder is 5m and the height of the cylinder is 2m. Work out the surface area of the cylinder. Give your answer to 3 significant figures.

How to calculate surface area Example 4

As the area of each face includes the value of \pi , leave the area of each face in terms of \pi , then we can add them together more easily.


\begin{aligned} \text{Curved surface area (lateral surface area)}&=2 \pi rh\\\\ &=2 \times \pi \times 5 \times 2\\\\ &=20\pi \end{aligned}


The cross section is a circle.


\begin{aligned} \text{Area of circle }&=\pi r^{2}\\\\ &=\pi \times 5^{2}\\\\ &=25\pi \end{aligned}


The base is the same as the top so the area of the base is also 25\pi .

20\pi+25\pi+25\pi=70\pi


70\pi=219.9114858...

We need to round the answer to 3 significant figures.


Surface area = 220m^2 \; (3sf)

Example 5: surface area of a cone

Work out the surface area of the cone. Give your answer to 1 decimal place.

How to calculate surface area Example 5

Similar to the cylinder, the area of each face of the cone is calculated using \pi . To avoid any rounding errors, keep the answer in terms of \pi , then round the answer at the very end of the calculation.


\begin{aligned} \text{Curved surface area }&=\pi rl\\\\ &=\pi \times 5 \times 13\\\\ &=65\pi \end{aligned}


Notice that we use the slant height of the cone, not the vertical height.


The base is a circle so the area of the base = \pi r^2


\begin{aligned} \text{Area of a circle }&=\pi r^{2}\\\\ &=\pi \times 5^{2}\\\\ &=25\pi \end{aligned}

65\pi+25\pi=90\pi


90\pi=282.7433388...

We need to write the answer to 1 decimal place.


Total surface area = 282.7cm^2 \; (1dp).

Example 6: surface area of a sphere

Work out the surface area of the sphere. Give your answer to the nearest integer.

How to calculate surface area Example 6

The surface area formula for a sphere is:


\begin{aligned} \text{Surface area }&=4 \pi r^{2}\\\\ &=4 \times \pi \times 16^{2}\\\\ &=3216.9908… \end{aligned}

A sphere only has one face.

We need to write our answer to the nearest integer.


Surface area = 3217cm^2

Common misconceptions

  • Calculating with different units

You need to make sure all measurements are in the same units before calculating surface area. (For example you can’t have some measurements in cm and some in m ).

  • Make sure you have the correct units

For area we use square units such as cm^2 (square centimetres), m^2 (square metres), in^2 (square inches) and ft^2 (square feet),

For volume we use cube units such as cm3, \; m^3, \; km^3

  • Calculating volume instead of surface area

Volume and surface area are different things – volume tells us the space within the shape whereas surface area is the total area of the faces. To find surface area, work out the area of each face and add them together.

  • Rounding

It is important to not round decimals until the end of the calculation. Rounding too early will result in an inaccurate answer. Keep as many values in terms of \pi until you need to calculate the final rounded answer.

Practice surface area questions

1. Find the surface area of the rectangular prism below.

 

How to calculate surface area Practice Question 1

 

92cm^2

GCSE Quiz True

48cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

108cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

76cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

Calculating the area of each face, we have:

 

Face Area (cm2)
Front 8 × 2 =16
Back 16
Bottom 8 × 3 = 24
Top 24
Left side 2 × 3 = 6
Right side 6

 

Total surface area: 16+16+24+24+6+6=92cm^2

2. Calculate the surface area of the triangular prism.

 

How to calculate surface area Practice Question 2

 

360cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

240cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

300cm^2

GCSE Quiz True

480cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

Calculating the area of each face, we have:

 

Face Area (cm2)
Front ½ × 5 × 12 =30
Back 30
Bottom 8 × 12 = 96
Top 8 × 13 = 104
Left side 8 × 5 = 40

 

Total surface area = 30+30+96+104+40=300cm^2

3. Work out the surface area of the prism.

 

How to calculate surface area Practice Question 3

 

464mm^2

GCSE Quiz False

432mm^2

GCSE Quiz False

400mm^2

GCSE Quiz False

440mm^2

GCSE Quiz True

Calculating the area of each face, we have:

 

Face Area (cm2)
Front ½(2 + 8) × 4 =20
Back 20
Bottom 8 × 20 = 160
Top 2 × 20 = 40
Left side 5 × 20 = 100
Right side 100

 

Total surface area = 20+20+160+40+100+100=440mm^2

4. Find the surface area of the cylinder. Give your answer to 3 significant figures.

 

How to calculate surface area Practice Question 4

 

1190m^2

GCSE Quiz False

633m^2

GCSE Quiz True

449m^2

GCSE Quiz False

346m^2

GCSE Quiz False

 
\begin{aligned} \text{Curved surface area }&=2 \pi rh\\\\ &=2 \times \pi \times 6.5 \times 9\\\\ &=117\pi \end{aligned}
 
 
\begin{aligned} \text{Area of a circle }&=\pi r^{2}\\\\ &=\pi \times 6.5^{2}\\\\ &=\frac{169}{4}\pi \end{aligned}
 
 
Total surface area: 117\pi+\frac{169}{4}\pi+\frac{169}{4}\pi=\frac{403}{2}\pi
 
 
\frac{403}{2}\pi=633.0309197…
 
 
Surface area = 633m^2 \; (3sf)

5. Work out the surface area of the cone. Give your answer to 3 decimal place.

 

How to calculate surface area Practice Question 5

 

29.5cm^2

GCSE Quiz True

22.6cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

7.5cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

23.9cm^2

GCSE Quiz False

 
\begin{aligned} \text{Curved surface area }&=\pi rl\\\\ &=\pi \times 2 \times 2.7\\\\ &=5.4\pi \end{aligned}
 
 
\begin{aligned} \text{Area of a circle }&=\pi r^{2}\\\\ &=\pi \times 2^{2}\\\\ &=4\pi \end{aligned}
 
 
Total surface area: =5.4\pi+4\pi=9.4\pi
 
 
Surface area = 29.5cm^2 \; (1dp)

6. Calculate the surface area of the sphere. Give your answer to 2 decimal place.

 

How to calculate surface area Practice Question 6

 

201.06m^2

GCSE Quiz False

2.01m^2

GCSE Quiz True

0.27m^2

GCSE Quiz False

25.27m^2

GCSE Quiz False

 
\begin{aligned} \text{Surface area of a sphere }&=4 \pi r^{2}\\\\ &=4 \times \pi \times 0.4^{2}\\\\ &=0.64\pi \\\\ &=2.010619298… \end{aligned}
 
 
Surface area = 2.01m^2 \; (2dp)

Surface area GCSE questions

1. Calculate the surface area of the cone. Give your answer to the nearest integer.

 

How to calculate surface area GCSE Question 1

 

(4 marks)

Show answer

 
\begin{aligned} \text{Curved surface area }&=\pi \times 21 \times 37\\\\ &=2441.017492…\text{ or }777\pi \end{aligned}

(1)

 
 
\begin{aligned} \text{Area of circle }&=\pi \times 21^{2}\\\\ &=1385.4423…\text{ or }441\pi \end{aligned}

(1)

 
 
\text{Total surface area } = \text{their }777\pi+ \text{their } 441\pi =1218\pi =3826.459852…

(1)

 
 
\text{Surface area } = 3826cm^2

(1)

2. A drinks company is designing a new product. Can A has a volume of 108\pi \text{ cm}^3 and Can B has a volume of 98\pi \text{ cm}^3.

 

How to calculate surface area GCSE Question 2 Image 1 How to calculate surface area GCSE Question 2 Image 2

 

The company wants to minimise their packaging for the new product. Which should they choose? Explain your answer.

(9 marks)

Show answer

Can A
 
\begin{aligned} \text{Curved surface area }&=2 \times \pi\times 3 \times 12\\\\ &=226.1946711…\text{ or }72\pi \end{aligned}

(1)

 
\begin{aligned} \text{Area of circle }&=\pi \times 3^{2}\\\\ &=28.27433388…\text{ or }9\pi \end{aligned}

(1)

 
\text{Total surface area: }\text{their }72\pi+(2\times\text{their }9\pi)=90\pi=282.7433388…

(1)

 
Can B :
\begin{aligned} \text{Curved surface area }&=2 \times \pi\times 3.5 \times 8\\\\ &=175.9291886…\text{ or }56\pi \end{aligned}

(1)

 
\begin{aligned} \text{Area of circle }&=\pi \times 3.5^{2}\\\\ &=38.48451001…\text{ or }12.25\pi \end{aligned}

(1)

 
\text{Total surface area: }\text{their }56\pi+(2\times\text{their }12.25\pi)=80.5\pi=252.8982086…

(1)

 
Volume to Surface Area ratio for Can A
 
\begin{aligned} &108 \pi :90 \pi \\\\ &=1:0.83 \end{aligned}

(1)

 
Volume to Surface Area for Can B
 
\begin{aligned} &98 \pi :80.5 \pi \\\\ &=1:0.82 \end{aligned}

(1)

 
They should use can B because it has a smaller volume to surface area ratio.

(1)

3. The surface area of this sphere is 200cm^2. Calculate the radius of the sphere. Give your answer to 3sf.

 

How to calculate surface area GCSE Question 3

 

(4 marks)

Show answer

 
4\pi r^{2}=200

(1)

 
r^{2}=\frac{200}{4\pi}=15.91549431…

(1)

 
r=\sqrt{15.91549431…}=3.989422804…

(1)

 
r=4.00cm \; (3sf)

(1)

Learning checklist

You have now learned how to:

  • Find the surface area of cuboids and prisms
  • Find the surface area of cylinders, cones and spheres
  • Use the properties of faces, surfaces, edges and vertices of cubes and cuboids to solve problems in 3D

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