Here we will learn about surds, including simplifying surds, adding and subtracting surds, multiplying surds and dividing surds and rationalising surds.

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

What are surds?

Surds are numbers left as square roots that give irrational numbers.

An irrational number can’t be written as a fraction, and in decimal form is infinitely long with no recurring pattern – they would go on for ever.

Surds can be a square root, cube root, or other root and are used when detailed accuracy is required in a calculation.

For example the square root of 3 and the cube root of 2 are both surds.

For Example

\sqrt{5} \approx 2.23606 , which is an irrational number.

The square root of 5 is a surd.

What are surds?

What are surds?

Surds and exact calculations

When we are not able to simplify a number to remove a square root then it is a surd (irrational number). We use surds to write numbers precisely. 

The decimal form of irrational numbers do not terminate or recur, so cannot be written exactly in decimal form. We can leave these numbers written as a surd which represents the value in its exact form.

For example,

\sqrt2 = 1.4142135623 ...

If we were to use 1.41 (2dp) in our calculations they would not be accurate. We need to use it in exact form, \sqrt2, so that the full value of the number is used.

We may also come across questions that ask us to leave our answers in exact form.

For example,

Find the value of x. Give your answer in exact form.

We need to use Pythagoras’ theorem.

a^{2}+b^{2} =c^{2}

4^{2}+6^{2} =x^{2}

16+36 =x^{2}

52 =x^{2}

x =\sqrt{52}

x =2 \sqrt{13}

Rational and irrational numbers

Rational numbers

A number that can be written as an integer (whole number) or a simple fraction is called a rational number. Rational numbers can be terminating decimals  or recurring decimals.


2, 100, -3, \frac{3}{4} and \frac{1}{9}.

Any number that can’t be written in this form is called an irrational number.

Irrational numbers

Irrational numbers in decimal form are infinite, with no recurring or repeating pattern.


\pi is an example of an irrational number

When a root (square root, cube root or higher) gives an irrational number, it is called a surd. At GCSE, we are only concerned with square roots.


\sqrt{4}=2 , which is an integer,

The square root of 4 is not a surd.

\sqrt{5} \approx 2.23606 , which is an infinitely long decimal with no recurring or repeating pattern, i.e. an irrational number.

The square root of 5 is a surd.

Surds worksheet

Surds worksheet

Surds worksheet

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

Surds worksheet

Surds worksheet

Surds worksheet

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


1. Simplifying surds

Example: simplifying a surd



  1. Find a square number that is a factor of the number under the root.

Square numbers are 1, 4, 9, 16, 25,

4 is a factor of 60 (because 4 \times 15=60 ).

2Rewrite the surd as a product of this square number and another number, then evaluate the root of the square number.

\begin{aligned} \sqrt{60} &=\sqrt{4 \times 15} \\\\ &=\sqrt{4} \times \sqrt{15} \\\\ &=2 \times \sqrt{15} \\\\ &=2 \sqrt{15} \end{aligned}

3Repeat if the number under the root still has square factors.

In this case, there are no square numbers that are factors of 2 , so the surd is fully simplified. 


Step by step guide: Simplifying surds

2. Adding and subtracting surds

Example: adding unlike surds



Check whether the terms are ‘like surds’.

If they aren’t like surds, simplify each surd as far as possible.

Combine the like surd terms by adding or subtracting.

Step by step guide: Adding and subtracting surds

3. Multiplying and dividing surds

Example: simplifying surd fractions

\frac{2 \sqrt{10}-\sqrt{90}}{\sqrt{2}}

Simplify the surds if possible.

Use surd laws to fully simplify the numerator and denominator of the fraction.

Divide the numerator by the denominator.

Step by step guide: Multiplying and dividing surds

Example: expanding a bracket with surds

Expand and simplify: 


Simplify the surds if possible.

Multiply each term inside the bracket by the term outside.

Check and simplify the answer further if possible.

4. Rationalise the denominator

Example: rationalising the denominator


Simplify any surds, if necessary.

Multiply both the numerator and the denominator by the surd in the denominator.

Simplify the answer fully.

Step by step guide: Rationalising the denominator

5. Rationalising surds

Example: rationalising using the conjugate of the denominator

Rationalise the denominator:


Change the sign of the expression in the denominator.

Multiply both the numerator and the denominator of the original fraction by this new expression.

Simplify the answer fully.

Step-by-step guide: Rationalise the denominator

Common misconceptions

  • Incorrectly rewriting the number under the square root sign (the radicand) as a product of any two factors

One of these factors must be a square number in order for you to be able to simplify the surd.

  • Not simplifying fully

Always check that there are no square factors of the number under the root.

  • Remember that a root with no integer coefficient is ‘ 1 lot’ of that surd

As in algebra, we understand that a actually means 1a .

  • Don’t mix up addition and multiplication laws
\sqrt{3}+\sqrt{3}=2 \sqrt{3}

\sqrt{3} \times \sqrt{3}=\sqrt{9}=3

Refer back to knowledge of algebra to help:

a+a=2a and a \times a=a^2.

  • Trying to combine unlike surds

It’s OK to leave an answer with more than one surd in it if it will not simplify further.

  • Take care when expanding double brackets when using a conjugate surd expression

Remember to multiply everything in the first bracket by everything in the second, and check that you have four terms before simplifying.

Practice surds questions

1. Simplify fully:



3 \sqrt{50}
GCSE Quiz False

8 \sqrt{2}
GCSE Quiz False

15 \sqrt{2}
GCSE Quiz True

9 \sqrt{50}
GCSE Quiz False

In one stage:


\sqrt{450}=\sqrt{225 \times 2}=15 \sqrt{2}


In two stages:


9 \times 50=450, so rewrite \sqrt{450}=\sqrt{9 \times 50}=3 \sqrt{50}


25 \times 2=50, so rewrite 3 \sqrt{50}=3 \sqrt{25 \times 2}=3 \times 5 \times \sqrt{2}=15 \sqrt{2}

2. Simplify:


\sqrt{50}-2 \sqrt{2}

2 \sqrt{25}
GCSE Quiz False

3 \sqrt{2}
GCSE Quiz True

2 \sqrt{5}
GCSE Quiz False

2 \sqrt{48}
GCSE Quiz False

Rewrite \sqrt{50}=\sqrt{25 \times 2}=5 \sqrt{2} , then subtract like surds to get the answer.

3. Simplify fully:


\frac{\sqrt{60}}{2 \sqrt{3}}

GCSE Quiz False

GCSE Quiz False

2 \sqrt{20}
GCSE Quiz False

GCSE Quiz True

Simplify \sqrt{60}=\sqrt{4 \times 15}=2 \sqrt{15}


2\sqrt{15}\div 2\sqrt{3}=\sqrt{5}

4. Expand and simplify:



GCSE Quiz False

GCSE Quiz False

GCSE Quiz False

GCSE Quiz True

Simplify \sqrt{28}=\sqrt{4 \times 7}=2 \sqrt{7}


\begin{aligned} &4 \times 3=12 \\\\ &4 \times 2 \sqrt{7}=8 \sqrt{7} \end{aligned}


So the final answer is 12+8\sqrt{7}.

5. Expand and simplify:



4-3 \sqrt{3}
GCSE Quiz False

GCSE Quiz True

GCSE Quiz False

GCSE Quiz False

Multiply each term in the first bracket by each term in the second bracket to get 4+2 \sqrt{3}-2 \sqrt{3}-3. The surd terms cancel out (as with a difference of two squares), and the integer terms simplify to 1.

6. Rationalise:



GCSE Quiz False

4 \sqrt{5}
GCSE Quiz False

\frac{4 \sqrt{5}}{5}
GCSE Quiz True

Multiply the numerator and denominator by \sqrt{5}.

Surds GCSE questions

1. \sqrt{775}=5\sqrt{k}

where k is an integer. Find the value of k.


(2 marks)

Show answer


or sight of 775 \div 25





so k=31


2. (a) Simplify \sqrt{375}


(b) Hence, or otherwise, simplify:



(4 marks)

Show answer





5 \sqrt{15}





\sqrt{960}=\sqrt{64} \times \sqrt{15}




3. (a) Expand and simplify



(b) Hence, or otherwise, show that

\frac{36}{5+\sqrt{7}} can be written as 10-2 \sqrt{7}


(5 marks)

Show answer



25+5 \sqrt{7}-5 \sqrt{7}-7


Any two correct terms


All four correct terms


Simplified to 18







\frac{180-36 \sqrt{7}}{18} leading to 10-2 \sqrt{7} as required


Learning checklist

You have now learned how to:

  • Simplify surds
  • Add and subtract surds
  • Multiply and divide surds
  • Rationalise the denominator
  • Rationalise other surd expressions

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