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If you are calculating ka from given concentrations, so the ka is unknown, you employ the 5% rule. You would first calculate the percent ionization by dividing the equilibrium concentration by the initial concentration of one of the products times 100 in order to determine the change in x. If this answer is less than 5%, then the approximation is ok.
Sometimes, the x is so small that it doesn't have an effect on the overall concentration. For instance, let's say the initial concentration is 1 x 10^-1 and the K value is extremely small, we would know that the numerator/reactants would also have to be extremely small so that the ratio will equal the K value. Thus, the x will not have an effect on the initial concentration (comparatively).
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