This 3-Step Process Makes Math Word Problems Easy!

Many students of math find word problems challenging, but it doesn’t have to be that way. This three-step process makes math problems easier! Better yet, it helps students train their skills in ways that are more easily applied to life beyond school, too.

When solving a word problem, a student should always follow these three steps:

  1. Read the entire problem without trying to solve it yet
  2. Determine which part of the problem is asking for an actual answer
  3. Only then do they use the information from the problem to get the appropriate answer

This process is applicable across all types of math, and helps students practice their problem-solving skills in a way that can be applied to their lives beyond the classroom. Each step has a key reason for why it is done this way, and understanding the reasons can help kids accelerate their learning as well.

  1. By reading the problem in full without trying to solve it first, students solve one of the most common errors that they can make for word problems – making a hasty answer that uses the right numbers and a wrong understanding. A full reading of the problem means that students have the full context of whatever situation the problem describes before they start diving into equations. For most students, this method even ends up being faster, because they aren’t distracted by trying to assemble possible solutions and trying to read the problem at the same time!
  2. Once students have a grasp of the general situation and context of a problem, it’s important to identify what actual result is needed. Many word problems discuss several different aspects of a situation, often with multiple people and steps, but only need one specific answer. By determining what sort of answer is needed first, students avoid getting lost in unnecessary equations and confusing themselves.
  3. Finally, now that a student knows what information the problem gives them and what answer they need to aim for – they can solve it! As students get more comfortable with word problems, step 2 becomes something they’ll pick up in the course of reading a problem, making the process even faster.

Here’s an example problem that students can use to try this process. This particular example is appropriate for second to fourth grade students depending on their skills.

Jenny has a box full of quarters which she sorts into piles. If she has $12 of quarters, and sorts them into six equal piles, how many quarters does it take to make two of the piles?

Reading this through gives us some very important information: This problem is all about quarters, even though the number of quarters is provided to us in dollars. There’s no need to start working with the numbers until a student also figures out what sort of answer the problem needs. The problem mentions that the quarters get separated into six piles, and wants to know how many quarters it takes to make two of those six piles.

Now a student can make a plan: First, to convert twelve dollars into a number of quarters. Then, divide that number of quarters into six groups. Finally, add two of the groups together or double them. (Older students, or especially clever ones, may have already caught that they could just divide the number of quarters into three groups. That works too!)

Twelve dollars thus becomes forty-eight quarters; forty-eight quarters get split into six groups of eight quarters each; and two of those groups together make up sixteen quarters. And thus the answer is sixteen quarters.

Interested in learning more? Have a student who wants to improve themselves? We run summer camps, holiday camps, and weekly classes all year long for ages 6 through 14 and grades 2 through 8 to improve all these skills and more – and to have fun doing it. You can see our offerings here and choose which classes are right for your student!


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