Solving Process

Mathematical word problems often bring needless fear and anxiety to math students. Don't let the descriptive words surrounding the important numbers and information scare you or mislead you. The following solving process can help you simplify what appears to be a difficult word problem.

A solving process is a step‐by‐step method to assist you in approaching word problems in an organized, focused, and systematic manner.

  • Step 1: Find and underline or circle what the question is asking. Identify what you are trying to find.

How tall is the girl? What is the cost? How fast is the car? Underlining or circling what you are looking for helps you make sure that you are answering the question.

  • Step 2: Focus on and pull out important information in the problem.

Watch for key words that help give you a relationship between the values given.

  • Step 3: Set up the work that is needed—that is, the operations necessary to answer the question.

This may be setting up a basic operation such as multiplication, setting up a ratio or proportion, or setting up an equation.

  • Step 4: Do the necessary work or computation carefully.

One of the most common and annoying mistakes is to set up the problem correctly and then make a simple computational error.

  • Step 5: Put your answer into a sentence to make sure that you answered the question being asked.

Another common error is the failure to answer what was being asked.

  • Step 6: Check to make sure that your answer is reasonable.

A simple computational error, such as accidentally adding a zero, can give you a ridiculous answer. Estimating an answer can often save you from this type of mistake.