Solving Story Problems

Some students try to figure out what all they have first. They read the problem, write out all the details they have been given, and then expect to solve it from there. But you will save yourself an enormous amount of time if you know you are looking to answer first.

For instance, suppose you're told that "Shelby worked eight hours MTTh F and six hours WSat".

You would be expected to understand that this meant that she worked eight hours for each of the four days Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday; and six hours for each of the two days Wednesday and Saturday.

After discovering what’s being asked of you – the length of the ladder – you realize that the Pythagorean Theorem is what you’ll need to solve it. Now you can simply fill in the equation with what you have already been given. Math word problems are notorious for giving you too many details.

This means our final question needed to solve this math word problem will be super easy. That’s why this step is the last of the three questions. Simply enter your values into your equation, and crank out the right answer by solving the problem. If you know what you’re looking for, your answer should be in the right units.

Knowing the question is more important than knowing what details you have.

Only when you know the question you are answering and what you need in order to answer it can you then find the right details to answer it correctly.

The hardest thing about doing word problems is using the part where you need to take the English words and translate them into mathematics.

Usually, once you get the math equation, you're fine; the actual math involved is often fairly simple.

— and, trust me, you don't want to do this to yourself! Certain words indicate certain mathematica operations. But the order in addition doesn't matter, so it's okay to add backwards, because the result will be the same either way.) Also note that order is important in the "quotient/ratio of" and "difference between/of" constructions.

If a problems says "the ratio of Some times, you'll be expected to bring your "real world" knowledge to an exercise.

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