Math Terms to Know for CBEST Exam Study Guide

Updated on Mar 29, 2011

Many times, an otherwise simple problem may seem difficult merely because the test writers have used terms with which you are not familiar. A knowledge of mathematical terms will enable you to understand the language of the problem and give you a better chance of solving that problem. This lesson presents a list of words used when speaking about numbers.

Following is a sample question that will show you why knowing these words is important. Once you've learned the words in this sample question, you should be able to answer it. You can check your answer against the explanation given later in this lesson.

Sample Definition Question

  1. If x is a whole number and y is a positive integer, for what value of x MUST x < y be true?
    1. –3
    2. 0
    3. 3
    4. Any value of x must make the statement true.


The following are definitions of words you need to know to answer CBEST math questions. If some of these words are unfamiliar, put them on flash cards: the word on one side, and the definition and some examples on the other side. Flash cards are handy because you can carry them around with you to review during the day. If you use this method, it won't take you long to learn these words.


An integer is simply a number with no fraction or decimal attached {…–2, –1, 0, 1, 2…}. Integers include both negative (–5) and positive (9,687) numbers. Zero is also an integer, but is considered neither negative nor positive in most mathematical texts.

Positive Integer

A positive integer is an integer, according to the previous definition, that is greater than zero. Zero is not included. Positive integers begin with 1 and continue infinitely {1, 2, 3…}. Examples of positive integers are 5; 6,000; and 1,000,000.

Negative Integer

A negative integer is an integer that is less than zero. Zero is not included. The greatest negative integer is –1. The negative integers decrease infinitely {…–3, –2, –1}. Some examples of negative integers are –10, –8, and –1,476. The following numbers do not fit the definition of a negative integer: –4.5, 0, and 308.

Negative Integer

Hot Tip

Negative numbers appear smaller when they are closer to zero. To help you make sense of this concept, think of the degrees below zero on a thermometer. Three degrees below zero is warmer than 40 degrees below, so –3 is greater than –40, even though 40 appears to be a greater number. Test makers like to test your grasp of this principle.


Zero is an integer that is neither positive nor negative.

Whole Numbers

Whole numbers include all positive integers, as well as zero {0, 1, 2, 3…}. Like integers, whole numbers do not include numbers with fractions or decimals.


A digit is a single number symbol. In the number 1,246, each of the four numerals is a digit. Six is the ones digit, 4 is the tens digit, 2 is the hundreds digit, and 1 is the thousands digit. Knowing place names for digits is important when you're asked to round to a certain digit. Rounding will be covered in Math 3: Rounding, Estimation, and Decimal Equivalents.

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