Approaching Word Problems in Math

It is one thing for a student to understand a math equation, but another to read a word problem and apply the appropriate equations. Word problems can be intimidating and overwhelming at first glance, but by breaking it down and applying these tips, it can be manageable (maybe even fun!).

Three Steps:

ONE.  The first thing to do is understand what the question is asking.  Look at the sentence with the question mark or trigger words.  These trigger words include “solve for,” “find,” “calculate” and other trigger words.  These trigger words are indicators as to what the problem is asking you to solve.  Once you understand what you are looking for, you can start figuring out how to approach the problem.  
TWO.  Next, identify the information the problem provides to you.  This can be done by underlining or circling the pieces of key information that is given to to you.  You should also write and identify these “givens” in the space to show your work.  Be sure to identify numbers and key words that would be used to solve the problem.  This will allow you to develop a strategy on how to solve the problem with the given information.
THREE.  The final step is to use the givens to solve the problem. You should be able to see what equation or equations to use to calculate the problem.


Karen divides a package of 12 baby carrots evenly among her 3 pet hamsters: Harvey, Hammy, and Flo.  Flo eats 2 baby carrots right away. How many baby carrots does Flo have left?

12 baby carrots divided to 3 hamsters

Flo eats 2

12/3= 4 carrots for each Hamster

4-2= 2 carrots Flo has left

In this example, the key information (trigger words and “givens”) was highlighted and listed in the space for the work.  The question was underlined. This helped to filter out the filler words, and simplify the focus on the important words, resulting in the problem being much less overwhelming.  This approach makes it much easier to simply look at the numbers and the context of these numbers.

Material provided by one of our exceptional tutors, Josephine Collier.  

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