Solving Word Problems

Solving Word Problems

Many students find math word problems to be the most challenging. They most often have difficulty substituting the English words for math terms and developing the mathematical equation that will solve the problem. Here are a few steps to help you solve word problems. Practice these techniques with all word problems even simple ones until the strategies become automatic. Then you will be able to solve word problems on a test with a proven method and less anxiety. Practice.

  • Read the problem several times; do not skim the text, then ask yourself:
    • What is the problem asking? (usually at the end of the problem)
    • What information is useful and what is unneeded? (cross out unneeded information; word problems often include unnecessary information)
    • What is the problem implying? (usually something you have been told to look for)
  • Make sure you fully understand the meaning of the problem.
  • Draw a diagram, chart or pictures of the problem.
  • Write down the information (thing) that is unknown and represent it with a meaningful letter. Write out what the unknown represents (x=velocity of the second car).
  • Create as many separate equations as you have unknowns.
  • Can the unknowns be expressed in one equation in relation to each other [x=4y – 30(z – 1)]; else solve each equation separately.
  • Substitute the English terms into an algebraic equation. Click here for a list of English to algebra symbols. [insert hyperlink],/
  • Retranslate the equation back into English to make sure you are answering the question asked.
  • Solve the equation.
  • Check you work and your answer. Is it in the correct form or amount asked for (lbs, miles, angstroms, light years, etc.)?
  • BreakThru Word Problem Solving Summary

    • Read each problem several times for better understanding.
    • Underline or list the facts you will need to solve the problem.
    • Draw diagrams, charts, or pictures to help visualize and organize the problem.
    • Translate the English into algebraic terms and formula. Put it into numbers.
    • Retranslate the problem back into English to make sure you are answering the question as asked.
    • Solve the problem. Show your work. (not showing your work is a common test taking error).
    • Check your work carefully.


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