Word Problems

Word problems are a series of math expressions. These math expressions combine to form an equation that can be solved using a variety of math operations. Solving word problems on homework, quizzes, and tests is a two-part process. First, you must be able to carefully read the question and translate it into a numeric equation. Second, you must be able to solve the problem correctly. Many times, students make a mistake in the first step, which almost always leads to a wrong answer in the end. Reading through the question slowly, breaking it down into pieces, and looking for key words are some tactics that can help you solve word problems correctly.

Begin by reading the entire question so that you can understand the big picture. Then begin to break down the problem into equations. Figure out the variable you are being asked to solve. Pay attention to units of measure, such as gallons, meters, inches, and miles. Remember that you may need to convert units so that they match each another (for example, kilometers into miles.) Make sure you are solving for the correct unit of measure being asked for in the word problem.

Figuring out what the problem is asking you to do- add, subtract, multiply, and/or divide – is half the battle. When a question includes key words such as added to, increased, total, more than, or combined, these are clues for addition. Key words for subtraction include less than, fewer than, decreased, and the difference of. For multiplication, key words are of, multiplied by, and times. Key words that indicate division are per, out of, quotient of, and percent. Being aware of these trigger words will help you identify what you are to do and turn the word problem into a numeric expression.

As you work, check to make sure that you are writing down the same information presented in the problem. It is easy to write down an 8 when you meant to write down a 5, or write down inches when the problem specifies feet. Keeping your paper organized will help you to avoid such mistakes. If the problem requires you to draw a chart or a graph, label it as you go to avoid confusion later on. Finally, when you are finished solving the word problems, go back and check your work. Even expert mathematicians make mistakes.


Last Updated: May 31, 2019