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## Study Smarter

17 maths problem solving strategies to boost your learning.

Worded problems getting the best of you? With this list of maths problem-solving strategies , you'll overcome any maths hurdle that comes your way.

Friday, 3rd June 2022

- What are strategies?

## Understand the problem

Devise a plan, carry out the plan, look back and reflect, practise makes progress.

Problem-solving is a critical life skill that everyone needs. Whether you're dealing with everyday issues or complex challenges, being able to solve problems effectively can make a big difference to your quality of life.

While there is no one 'right' way to solve a problem, having a toolkit of different techniques that you can draw upon will give you the best chance of success. In this article, we'll explore 17 different math problem-solving strategies you can start using immediately to deepen your learning and improve your skills.

## What are maths problem-solving strategies?

Before we get into the strategies themselves, let's take a step back and answer the question: what are these strategies? In simple terms, these are methods we use to solve mathematical problems—essential for anyone learning how to study maths . These can be anything from asking open-ended questions to more complex concepts like the use of algebraic equations.

The beauty of these techniques is they go beyond strictly mathematical application. It's more about understanding a given problem, thinking critically about it and using a variety of methods to find a solution.

## Polya's 4-step process for solving problems

We're going to use Polya's 4-step model as the framework for our discussion of problem-solving activities . This was developed by Hungarian mathematician George Polya and outlined in his 1945 book How to Solve It. The steps are as follows:

We'll go into more detail on each of these steps as well as take a look at some specific problem-solving strategies that can be used at each stage.

This may seem like an obvious one, but it's crucial that you take the time to understand what the problem is asking before trying to solve it. Especially with a math word problem , in which the question is often disguised in language, it's easy for children to misinterpret what's being asked.

Here are some questions you can ask to help you understand the problem:

Do I understand all the words used in the problem?

What am I asked to find or show?

Can I restate the problem in my own words?

Can I think of a picture or diagram that might help me understand the problem?

Is there enough information to enable me to find a solution?

Is there anything I need to find out first in order to find the answer?

What information is extra or irrelevant?

Once you've gone through these questions, you should have a good understanding of what the problem is asking. Now let's take a look at some specific strategies that can be used at this stage.

## 1. Read the problem aloud

This is a great strategy for younger students who are still learning to read. By reading the problem aloud, they can help to clarify any confusion and better understand what's being asked. Teaching older students to read aloud slowly is also beneficial as it encourages them to internalise each word carefully.

## 2. Summarise the information

Using dot points or a short sentence, list out all the information given in the problem. You can even underline the keywords to focus on the important information. This will help to organise your thoughts and make it easier to see what's given, what's missing, what's relevant and what isn't.

## 3. Create a picture or diagram

This is a no-brainer for visual learners. By drawing a picture,let's say with division problems, you can better understand what's being asked and identify any information that's missing. It could be a simple sketch or a more detailed picture, depending on the problem.

## 4. Act it out

Visualising a scenario can also be helpful. It can enable students to see the problem in a different way and develop a more intuitive understanding of it. This is especially useful for math word problems that are set in a particular context. For example, if a problem is about two friends sharing candy, kids can act out the problem with real candy to help them understand what's happening.

## 5. Use keyword analysis

What does this word tell me? Which operations do I need to use? Keyword analysis involves asking questions about the words in a problem in order to work out what needs to be done. There are certain key words that can hint at what operation you need to use.

How many more?

How many left?

Equal parts

Once you understand the problem, it's time to start thinking about how you're going to solve it. This is where having a plan is vital. By taking the time to think about your approach, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration later on.

There are many methods that can be used to figure out a pathway forward, but the key is choosing an appropriate one that will work for the specific problem you're trying to solve. Not all students understand what it means to plan a problem so we've outlined some popular problem-solving techniques during this stage.

## 6. Look for a pattern

Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to look for a pattern. This could be a number, a shape pattern or even just a general trend that you can see in the information given. Once you've found it, you can use it to help you solve the problem.

## 7. Guess and check

While not the most efficient method, guess and check can be helpful when you're struggling to think of an answer or when you're dealing with multiple possible solutions. To do this, you simply make a guess at the answer and then check to see if it works. If it doesn't, you make another systematic guess and keep going until you find a solution that works.

## 8. Working backwards

Regressive reasoning, or working backwards, involves starting with a potential answer and working your way back to figure out how you would get there. This is often used when trying to solve problems that have multiple steps. By starting with the end in mind, you can work out what each previous step would need to be in order to arrive at the answer.

## 9. Use a formula

There will be some problems where a specific formula needs to be used in order to solve it. Let's say we're calculating the cost of flooring panels in a rectangular room (6m x 9m) and we know that the panels cost $15 per sq. metre.

There is no mention of the word 'area', and yet that is exactly what we need to calculate. The problem requires us to use the formula for the area of a rectangle (A = l x w) in order to find the total cost of the flooring panels.

## 10. Eliminate the possibilities

When there are a lot of possibilities, one approach could be to start by eliminating the answers that don't work. This can be done by using a process of elimination or by plugging in different values to see what works and what doesn't.

## 11. Use direct reasoning

Direct reasoning, also known as top-down or forward reasoning, involves starting with what you know and then using that information to try and solve the problem . This is often used when there is a lot of information given in the problem.

By breaking the problem down into smaller chunks, you can start to see how the different pieces fit together and eventually work out a solution.

## 12. Solve a simpler problem

One of the most effective methods for solving a difficult problem is to start by solving a simpler version of it. For example, in order to solve a 4-step linear equation with variables on both sides, you could start by solving a 2-step one. Or if you're struggling with the addition of algebraic fractions, go back to solving regular fraction addition first.

Once you've mastered the easier problem, you can then apply the same knowledge to the challenging one and see if it works.

## 13. Solve an equation

Another common problem-solving technique is setting up and solving an equation. For instance, let's say we need to find a number. We know that after it was doubled, subtracted from 32, and then divided by 4, it gave us an answer of 6. One method could be to assign this number a variable, set up an equation, and solve the equation by 'backtracking and balancing the equation'.

Now that you have a plan, it's time to implement it. This is where you'll put your problem-solving skills to the test and see if your solution actually works. There are a few things to keep in mind as you execute your plan:

## 14. Be systematic

When trying different methods or strategies, it's important to be systematic in your approach. This means trying one problem-solving strategy at a time and not moving on until you've exhausted all possibilities with that particular approach.

## 15. Check your work

Once you think you've found a solution, it's important to check your work to make sure that it actually works. This could involve plugging in different values or doing a test run to see if your solution works in all cases.

## 16. Be flexible

If your initial plan isn't working, don't be afraid to change it. There is no one 'right' way to solve a problem, so feel free to try different things, seek help from different resources and continue until you find a more efficient strategy or one that works.

## 17. Don't give up

It's important to persevere when trying to solve a difficult problem. Just because you can't see a solution right away doesn't mean that there isn't one. If you get stuck, take a break and come back to the problem later with fresh eyes. You might be surprised at what you're able to see after taking some time away from it.

Once you've solved the problem, take a step back and reflect on the process that you went through. Most middle school students forget this fundamental step. This will help you to understand what worked well and what could be improved upon next time.

Whether you do this after a math test or after an individual problem, here are some questions to ask yourself:

What was the most challenging part of the problem?

Was one method more effective than another?

Would you do something differently next time?

What have you learned from this experience?

By taking the time to reflect on your process you'll be able to improve upon it in future and become an even better problem solver. Make sure you write down any insights so that you can refer back to them later.

There is never only one way to solve math problems. But the best way to become a better problem solver is to practise, practise, practise! The more you do it, the better you'll become at identifying different strategies, and the more confident you'll feel when faced with a challenging problem.

The list we've covered is by no means exhaustive, but it's a good starting point for you to begin your journey. When you get stuck, remember to keep an open mind. Experiment with different approaches. Different word problems. Be prepared to go back and try something new. And most importantly, don't forget to have fun!

The essence and beauty of mathematics lies in its freedom. So while these strategies provide nice frameworks, the best work is done by those who are comfortable with exploration outside the rules, and of course, failure! So go forth, make mistakes and learn from them. After all, that's how we improve our problem-solving skills and ability.

Lastly, don't be afraid to ask for help. If you're struggling to solve math word problems, there's no shame in seeking assistance from a certified Melbourne maths tutor . In every lesson at Math Minds, our expert teachers encourage students to think creatively, confidently and courageously.

If you're looking for a mentor who can guide you through these methods, introduce you to other problem-solving activities and help you to understand Mathematics in a deeper way - get in touch with our team today. Sign up for your free online maths assessment and discover a world of new possibilities.

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## How to Solve Math Problems

Last Updated: May 16, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Daron Cam . Daron Cam is an Academic Tutor and the Founder of Bay Area Tutors, Inc., a San Francisco Bay Area-based tutoring service that provides tutoring in mathematics, science, and overall academic confidence building. Daron has over eight years of teaching math in classrooms and over nine years of one-on-one tutoring experience. He teaches all levels of math including calculus, pre-algebra, algebra I, geometry, and SAT/ACT math prep. Daron holds a BA from the University of California, Berkeley and a math teaching credential from St. Mary's College. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 575,354 times.

Although math problems may be solved in different ways, there is a general method of visualizing, approaching and solving math problems that may help you to solve even the most difficult problem. Using these strategies can also help you to improve your math skills overall. Keep reading to learn about some of these math problem solving strategies.

## Understanding the Problem

- Draw a Venn diagram. A Venn diagram shows the relationships among the numbers in your problem. Venn diagrams can be especially helpful with word problems.
- Draw a graph or chart.
- Arrange the components of the problem on a line.
- Draw simple shapes to represent more complex features of the problem.

## Developing a Plan

## Solving the Problem

## Expert Q&A

- Seek help from your teacher or a math tutor if you get stuck or if you have tried multiple strategies without success. Your teacher or a math tutor may be able to easily identify what is wrong and help you to understand how to correct it. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 1
- Keep practicing sums and diagrams. Go through the concept your class notes regularly. Write down your understanding of the methods and utilize it. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0

## You Might Also Like

- ↑ Daron Cam. Math Tutor. Expert Interview. 29 May 2020.
- ↑ http://www.interventioncentral.org/academic-interventions/math/math-problem-solving-combining-cognitive-metacognitive-strategies
- ↑ http://tutorial.math.lamar.edu/Extras/StudyMath/ProblemSolving.aspx
- ↑ https://math.berkeley.edu/~gmelvin/polya.pdf

## About This Article

To solve a math problem, try rewriting the problem in your own words so it's easier to solve. You can also make a drawing of the problem to help you figure out what it's asking you to do. If you're still completely stuck, try solving a different problem that's similar but easier and then use the same steps to solve the harder problem. Even if you can't figure out how to solve it, try to make an educated guess instead of leaving the question blank. To learn how to come up with a solid plan to use to help you solve a math problem, scroll down! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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## Appendix A: Applications

Apply a problem-solving strategy to basic word problems, learning outcomes.

- Practice mindfulness with your attitude about word problems
- Apply a general problem-solving strategy to solve word problems

## Approach Word Problems with a Positive Attitude

The world is full of word problems. How much money do I need to fill the car with gas? How much should I tip the server at a restaurant? How many socks should I pack for vacation? How big a turkey do I need to buy for Thanksgiving dinner, and what time do I need to put it in the oven? If my sister and I buy our mother a present, how much will each of us pay?

Now that we can solve equations, we are ready to apply our new skills to word problems. Do you know anyone who has had negative experiences in the past with word problems? Have you ever had thoughts like the student in the cartoon below?

Negative thoughts about word problems can be barriers to success.

When we feel we have no control, and continue repeating negative thoughts, we set up barriers to success. We need to calm our fears and change our negative feelings.

Start with a fresh slate and begin to think positive thoughts like the student in the cartoon below. Read the positive thoughts and say them out loud.

When it comes to word problems, a positive attitude is a big step toward success.

If we take control and believe we can be successful, we will be able to master word problems.

Think of something that you can do now but couldn’t do three years ago. Whether it’s driving a car, snowboarding, cooking a gourmet meal, or speaking a new language, you have been able to learn and master a new skill. Word problems are no different. Even if you have struggled with word problems in the past, you have acquired many new math skills that will help you succeed now!

## Use a Problem-Solving Strategy for Word Problems

In earlier chapters, you translated word phrases into algebraic expressions, using some basic mathematical vocabulary and symbols. Since then you’ve increased your math vocabulary as you learned about more algebraic procedures, and you’ve had more practice translating from words into algebra.

You have also translated word sentences into algebraic equations and solved some word problems. The word problems applied math to everyday situations. You had to restate the situation in one sentence, assign a variable, and then write an equation to solve. This method works as long as the situation is familiar to you and the math is not too complicated.

Now we’ll develop a strategy you can use to solve any word problem. This strategy will help you become successful with word problems. We’ll demonstrate the strategy as we solve the following problem.

Pete bought a shirt on sale for $[latex]18[/latex], which is one-half the original price. What was the original price of the shirt?

Solution: Step 1. Read the problem. Make sure you understand all the words and ideas. You may need to read the problem two or more times. If there are words you don’t understand, look them up in a dictionary or on the Internet.

- In this problem, do you understand what is being discussed? Do you understand every word?

Step 2. Identify what you are looking for. It’s hard to find something if you are not sure what it is! Read the problem again and look for words that tell you what you are looking for!

- In this problem, the words “what was the original price of the shirt” tell you what you are looking for: the original price of the shirt.

Step 3. Name what you are looking for. Choose a variable to represent that quantity. You can use any letter for the variable, but it may help to choose one that helps you remember what it represents.

- Let [latex]p=[/latex] the original price of the shirt

Step 4. Translate into an equation. It may help to first restate the problem in one sentence, with all the important information. Then translate the sentence into an equation.

Step 6. Check the answer in the problem and make sure it makes sense.

- We found that [latex]p=36[/latex], which means the original price was [latex]\text{\$36}[/latex]. Does [latex]\text{\$36}[/latex] make sense in the problem? Yes, because [latex]18[/latex] is one-half of [latex]36[/latex], and the shirt was on sale at half the original price.

Step 7. Answer the question with a complete sentence.

- The problem asked “What was the original price of the shirt?” The answer to the question is: “The original price of the shirt was [latex]\text{\$36}[/latex].”

If this were a homework exercise, our work might look like this:

We list the steps we took to solve the previous example.

## Problem-Solving Strategy

- Read the word problem. Make sure you understand all the words and ideas. You may need to read the problem two or more times. If there are words you don’t understand, look them up in a dictionary or on the internet.
- Identify what you are looking for.
- Name what you are looking for. Choose a variable to represent that quantity.
- Translate into an equation. It may be helpful to first restate the problem in one sentence before translating.
- Solve the equation using good algebra techniques.
- Check the answer in the problem. Make sure it makes sense.
- Answer the question with a complete sentence.

For a review of how to translate algebraic statements into words, watch the following video.

Let’s use this approach with another example.

Yash brought apples and bananas to a picnic. The number of apples was three more than twice the number of bananas. Yash brought [latex]11[/latex] apples to the picnic. How many bananas did he bring?

In the next example, we will apply our Problem-Solving Strategy to applications of percent.

Nga’s car insurance premium increased by [latex]\text{\$60}[/latex], which was [latex]\text{8%}[/latex] of the original cost. What was the original cost of the premium?

- Write Algebraic Expressions from Statements: Form ax+b and a(x+b). Authored by : James Sousa (Mathispower4u.com) for Lumen Learning. Located at : https://youtu.be/Hub7ku7UHT4 . License : CC BY: Attribution
- Question ID 142694, 142722, 142735, 142761. Authored by : Lumen Learning. License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : IMathAS Community License, CC-BY + GPL
- Prealgebra. Provided by : OpenStax. License : CC BY: Attribution . License Terms : Download for free at http://cnx.org/contents/[email protected]

## IMAGES

## VIDEO

## COMMENTS

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Devise a plan · 6. Look for a pattern. Sometimes, the best way to solve a problem is to look for a pattern. · 7. Guess and check · 8. Working

Understanding the Problem · Step 1 Identify the type of problem. · Step 2 Read the problem carefully. · Step 3 Paraphrase the problem.

Problem-Solving Strategy · Read the word problem. Make sure you understand all the words and ideas. · Identify what you are looking for. · Name what you are

Problem-Solving involves using the knowledge gained in Understanding, along with the intelligent practice and experience gained from Fluency, in order to inform