Six Strategies to Tackle Challenging Math Word Problems

Probably the hardest thing about solving challenging math word problems is taking the words and translating them into a workable mathematical equation. For this reason many students fear and hate doing them. It can be confusing to know where to start and how to go about figuring out the answer. However, there are ways of breaking down a word problem that makes it clearer and easier to solve. The following is a list of helpful hints and strategies in tackling these challenging word problems.

Tackle Challenging Math Word Problems Tip #1- Remember that when you are doing a word problem you are looking to convert the words into an equation, so read through the entire problem first. Don’t try to solve the problem when you’ve only read one sentence. It’s important to completely read the problem in order to get the whole picture and effectively translate and solve the problem.

Tackle Challenging Math Word Problems Tip #2- Go back to the beginning. Reread the first sentence. Write down what you know and what you don’t know. Use variables to stand for the unknowns and clearly label what they stand for. Do the same for the second sentence and each following sentence.

Tackle Challenging Math Word Problems Tip #3- As you are doing this; look for key words that mean certain mathematical operations. For example:

ADDITION: added to, combined, increased by, more than, plus, sum, together, total

SUBTRACTION: decreased by, difference between, fewer than, how many more, less, less than, minus, subtract (from)

MULTIPLICATION: multiplied by, of, product of, times, twice

DIVISION: a, divided by, out of, per, percent, quotient of, ratio of, share equally

EQUALS: are, gives, is, sold for, was, were, will be, yields

Tackle Challenging Math Word Problems Tip #4- Perform the required operations. Let’s apply these strategies to an example:

Lincoln Middle School has 456 students. One-third of the students are involved in sports. This amount is two-fifths the number of students in the nearby high school. How many students attend the high school?

Lincoln MS = 456 students
1/3(456) = students involved in sports = 152
x = number of HS students
152 = 2/5 x
5/2(152) = 5/2(2/5) x
380 = x
There are 380 students in the high school.

Tackle Challenging Math Word Problems Tip #5- Make sure you are answering the question that is being asked of you. Sometimes it takes several steps to arrive at the final answer, and you may lose sight of what the word problem is asking for or asking you to do. One step may seem like it’s the answer, such as the second step above: 1/3(456) = students involved in sports = 152. The number 152 may seem like it’s the answer, but it’s actually just a number needed to solve the problem. Remember also to include any units of measurements needed in your answer such as in., ft., cm, lb, oz, etc. Label the answer with the unit of measurement or with the object the question is requesting, for example, “380 high school students”.

Tackle Challenging Math Word Problems Tip #6- Finally, mentally or on paper check your answer to make sure it is correct and makes sense. You do this by replacing the variable in each step with your answer and calculating the equation with the now known variable to see if it satisfies the equation. If it does, then you’re done!

Remember, to master word problems you need to practice, practice, practice!


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