1.4. Expressions and Assignment Statements

In this lesson, you will learn about assignment statements and expressions that contain math operators and variables.

1.4.1. Assignment Statements

Remember that a variable holds a value and that value can change or vary. Assignment statements set variables to new values. These values can be complex expressions that contain math operators and other variables like in the example below.

// Assignment statement:
// variable = expression;
score = (10 * points) + 5;

If you use a variable to keep score you would probably increment it (add one to the current value) whenever score should go up. You can do this by setting the variable to the current value of the variable plus one (score = score + 1) as shown below. The formula looks a little crazy in math class, but it makes sense in coding because the variable on the left is set to the value of the arithmetic expression on the right. So, the score variable is set to the previous value of score + 1.

You can set one variable’s value to a copy of the value of another variable. This won’t change the value of the variable that you are copying from.

Click on this cool Java visualizer to step through the code. Click on the Forward button at the bottom of the code to see how the values of the variables change.

exercise Check your understanding

    1-4-1: What are the values of x, y, and z after the following code executes? You can step through this code by clicking on this Java visualizer link.

    int x = 0;
    int y = 1;
    int z = 2;
    x = y;
    y = y * 2;
    z = 3;
  • x = 0, y = 1, z = 2
  • These are the initial values in the variable, but the values are changed.
  • x = 1, y = 2, z = 3
  • x changes to y's initial value, y's value is doubled, and z is set to 3
  • x = 2, y = 2, z = 3
  • Remember that the equal sign doesn't mean that the two sides are equal. It sets the value for the variable on the left to the value from evaluating the right side.
  • x = 0, y = 0, z = 3
  • Remember that the equal sign doesn't mean that the two sides are equal. It sets the value for the variable on the left to the value from evaluating the right side.

exercise Mixed up programs

In the mixed up programs below, drag the blocks to the right to put them in the right order.

        1-4-2: The following has the correct code to 'swap' the values in x and y (so that x ends up with y's initial value and y ends up with x's initial value), but the code is mixed up and contains one extra block which is not needed in a correct solution.  Drag the needed blocks from the left into the correct order on the right. Check your solution by clicking on the Check Me button.  You will be told if any of the blocks are in the wrong order or if you need to remove one or more blocks.  After three incorrect attempts you will be able to use the Help Me button to make the problem easier.int x = 3;
int y = 5;
int temp = 0;
temp = x;
x = y;
y = temp;
y = x; #distractor

1.4.2. Input with Variables

Variables are a powerful abstraction in programming because the same algorithm can be used with different input values saved in variables. The code below (repl JavaIOExample) will say hello to anyone who types in their name for different name values. Click on run and then type in your name. Then, try run again and type in a friend’s name. The code works for any name: behold, the power of variables!

Although you will not be tested in the AP CS A exam on using the Java System.in and Scanner classes, learning how to do input in Java is still very useful. More information on using the Scanner class can be found here https://www.w3schools.com/java/java_user_input.asp

1.4.3. Operators

Java uses the standard mathematical operators for addition (+), subtraction (-), multiplication (*), and division (/). Java uses (==) to test if the value on the left is equal to the value on the right and (!=) to test if two items are not equal. You may have noticed that + was also used to put text together in the input program above – more on this when we talk about strings.

coding exercise Coding Exercise:

Run the code below to see all the operators in action. Do all of those operators do what you expected? What about 2 / 3? Isn’t surprising that it prints 0? See the note below.


When Java sees you doing integer division it assumes you want an integer result so it throws away anything after the decimal point in the answer, essentially rounding down the answer to a whole number.

With division, another thing to watch out for is dividing by 0. An attempt to divide an integer by zero will result in an ArithmeticException to occur. Try it in one of the active code windows above.

Operators can be used to create compound expressions. When they are evaluated, operator precedence rules are used, so that *, /, and % are done before + and -. However, anything in parentheses is done first. It doesn’t hurt to put in extra parentheses if you are unsure as to what will be done first.

coding exercise Coding Exercise:

In the example below, try to guess what it will print out and then run it to see if you are right.

1.4.4. Modulus

The percent sign operator (%) is the modulus or remainder operator. The modulus operator (x % y) returns the remainder after you divide x (first number) by y (second number) so 5 % 2 will return 1 since 2 goes into 5 two times with a remainder of 1. Remember long division when you had to specify how many times one number when into another evenly and the remainder? That remainder is what is returned by the modulus operator.


Figure 1: Long division showing the whole number result and the remainder

coding exercise Coding Exercise: In the example below, try to guess what it will print out and then run it to see if you are right.


The result of x % y when x is smaller than y is always x. The value y can’t go into x at all (goes in 0 times), since x is smaller than y, so the result is just x. So if you see 2 % 3 the result is 2.

exercise Check Your Understanding

    1-4-3: What is the result of 158 % 10?

  • 15
  • This would be the result of 158 divided by 10. Modulus gives you the remainder.
  • 16
  • Modulus gives you the remainder after the division.
  • 8
  • When you divide 158 by 10 you get a remainder of 8.

    1-4-4: What is the result of 3 % 8?

  • 3
  • 8 goes into 3 no times so the remainder is 3. The remainder of a smaller number divided by a larger number is always the smaller number!
  • 2
  • This would be the remainder if the question was 8 % 3 but here we are asking for the reminder after we divide 3 by 8.
  • 8
  • What is the remainder after you divide 3 by 8?

1.4.5. groupwork Programming Challenge

dog In this programming challenge, you will calculate your age, your pet’s age, and your pet’s age in dog years. In the code below, type in the current year, the year you were born, the year your dog or cat was born (if you don’t have one, make one up!) in the variables below. Then write formulas in assignment statements to calculate how old you are, how old your dog or cat is, and how old they are in dog years which is 7 times a human year. Finally, print it all out. If you are pair programming, switch drivers (who has control of the keyboard in pair programming) after every line of code.

Your teacher may suggest that you use a Java IDE like repl.it for this challenge so that you can use input to get these values using the Scanner class.

1.4.6. Summary

  • Arithmetic expressions include expressions of type int and double.

  • The arithmetic operators consist of +, -, * , /, and % (modulus for the remainder in division).

  • An arithmetic operation that uses two int values will evaluate to an int value. With integer division, any decimal part in the result will be thrown away, essentially rounding down the answer to a whole number.

  • An arithmetic operation that uses at least one double value will evaluate to a double value.

  • Operators can be used to construct compound expressions.

  • During evaluation, operands are associated with operators according to operator precedence to determine how they are grouped. (*, /, % have precedence over + and -, unless parentheses are used to group those.)

  • An attempt to divide an integer by zero will result in an ArithmeticException to occur.

  • The assignment operator (=) allows a program to initialize or change the value stored in a variable. The value of the expression on the right is stored in the variable on the left.

  • During execution, expressions are evaluated to produce a single value.

  • The value of an expression has a type based on the evaluation of the expression.

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