Word problems - understand problem context first

IT is vital to interpret problem statements correctly. This is necessary to ensure you extract the relevant information and successfully apply a suitable method to solve the problem.

Some pointers to tackling a problem

1. Go through each statement/line of the problem.
2. Note the key word or number references given in each statement. Using the identified information, form the relationships, ratios, etc.
3. Draw the model or use alternative methods and fill in the identified information. The solution then becomes manageable.

Approach problem systematically

At the latest onSponge ThinkingMath 2-day workshop held 12-13 October for parents interested to facilitate their child at home,  coach Kevin noted that while questions such as the one highlighted in the news report may not be easily classified as using any specific construct, the critical takeaway is to approach the problem systematically to pull out the key data and form the correct relationships between them. He advised parents to highlight this point to their child during home facilitation.

Understand context

In other words, students must first gain the proper qualitative understanding of the problem context. This requires a certain amount of discipline in thinking. Once this conceptual appreciation is achieved, then it becomes relatively easy to move on to the second stage of solving the problem which requires applying the procedural knowledge ie using an appropriate method, whether it is by models, algebra, etc.

Solving past year papers

At the workshop, coach Kevin went through the strategies used in ThinkingMath books and discussed their application to a selection of past year school papers. Parents learned how to apply step-by-step interpretation to extract the key information from each problem statement. They also learned some tips on what to look out for to get a quicker understanding of the problem. Coach Kevin also illustrated a few types of questions for parents to ask their child to help him or her interpret correctly the problem statements.

Practice, practice, practice!

Quite often, with this correct understanding of the number relationships in a particular problem, this resulted in a rather easy final stage of just entering the information into the model or using another suitable method  to get the answer. As one parent exclaimed, it was just a matter of "interpreting the words"!

Coach Kevin noted that there was no short cut to becoming better at solving problem sums. So the old adage of practice makes perfect remained valid. Practising as many problem sums as possible at home throughout the year remained critical to facilitate the child's capacity to identify more quickly set patterns in word problems. Then with due care, the solution can be obtained more quickly.

What about that PSLE maths question?

With regards to the question mentioned in the news report, see the attached image for a possible solution.



Coach Kevin noted the key is to interpret the words in the problem statements.

Once the correct relationships are understood and numbers extracted, the solution steps are relatively easy using the model method.


Got a question to ask?  A solution to share? Viewpoints to discuss?

Click here for ongoing discussion on problem sums, ThinkingMaths, PSLE maths, etc. Register / login to the onSponge community in order to post your questions about problem sums and solutions in the onSponge Forum. 

Related links

onSponge holiday workshops in November and December 2009

A previous ThinkingMath workshops for students

A previous ThinkingMath workshop for parents