Tips to Help Children Solve Math Word Problems

Last Updated on August 31, 2021 by Thinkster

Math word problems help students apply the skills that they have learned while doing repeated math facts. The beauty lies in how many different ways a simple word problem can be worded.

Take 34 – 12, for example. All of the following word problems are based on this one simple subtraction problem:

  • Mike has 34 baseball cards. He gives away 12 to his best friend, Arthur. How many does he have left?
  • Liz scored 12 points less than Beth who scored 34 points. What did Liz score?
  • Beth scored 34 points, which was 12 more than what Liz scored. What was Liz’s score?

You may be able to solve 34 – 12 in a fraction of a second.

However, what good is it if you can’t answer any of the above three questions?

Math word problems build strong critical thinking, reading comprehension, and analytical skills, which are all important skills for future academic and professional success. 

But some students absolutely dread when word problems come up in math class.

With our simple tips, you can help eliminate any potential frustration, dread, fear, or anxiety when it comes time to solve a math word problem!

Understand what the word problem is about 

Pay attention to the keywords. At the same time, you don’t blindly associate a keyword with an operation. For example, it’s easy to assume that you could relate “less than” to subtraction and “more than” to addition. However, in Question 3, you can see the keywords “more than” but the operation to be used is actually subtraction.

Another essential strategy is to be mindful of the keywords and how they are used to apply the right operation. To do that, you have to understand the relationship between the numbers in the problem.

Would this happen in real life?

One inherent problem with math word problems is that there are some underlying assumptions that sometimes may seem absurd. Take these problems for example:

1. “Dan runs 20 miles in 3 and a half hours. How long will he take to run 100 miles?”

2. “If 4 handymen repair 8 garages in 30 minutes, how many garages in all will they be able to repair in 5 hours?”

The implicit assumptions in the first problem are:

1. Dan can run 100 miles.

2. Dan will run the next 80 miles at the same pace.

The implicit assumptions in the second problem are:

1. All 4 handymen repair at the same rate.

2. All of them continue repairing without taking any breaks.

3. The time to travel from one garage to another is negligible.

All of these seem absurd and unrealistic. However, without these assumptions, the above problems will prove to be extremely complicated and will become almost impossible to solve. You are expected to ignore these and solve the problems. It makes sense to do so, as it helps you apply what you have learned in situations that resemble what you see in your day-to-day life.

Spot the red herrings

Sometimes, word problems have extraneous information that you should ignore. Let us look at an example.

Matthew takes the bus to school every day. The bus ride takes 20 minutes. To take the bus he has to walk for 5 minutes from his home. If he goes to school 5 days a week, how much time does he spend on the bus?

In this problem, you are given 3 different numbers, each of which gives you some information about Matthew’s trip to school. What you are asked to find is the total time that he spends on the bus in a week. Pay close attention and you will see that the time he spends walking from home to the bus stop is irrelevant. The extra information is given just to misdirect you, to make sure you pay close attention and you understand the information given and what you have to determine to solve the problem.

Remember, practice improves performance!

math word problems

Why is it some students loathe or fear word problems? Even a simple word problem could have a student floundering!

Sure, it could be that they are still developing the critical thinking and logical reasoning skills to successfully tackle these problem types.

(Use our tips above if this is the case!)

But it could also simply be that a student isn’t receiving sufficient practice to develop mastery and confidence.

Here’s the truth: It’s difficult for a mathematics teacher to alter the pace of the math lesson for each individual student. One teacher for a class of 20-30 students means that there is a particular pace at which the class moves.

This is why it’s important for students to get ample practice outside of the classroom to develop true proficiency and mastery. This independent practice solidifies their understanding of math topics!

So, how can you ensure your child gets ample practice? There are many resources available that you can take advantage of! A math word problem worksheet specific to what your child learned at school (ie, multiplication, decimal, or subtraction word problems) is the perfect follow up to school lessons.

Learn to tackle math word problems when a math champion!

As you can see, word problems, in fact, help you with reading, thinking, and analysis, in addition to computation. When looking for a math program, try to find a program that emphasizes building critical thinking skills.

After all, these are the types of skills incredibly important for future academic and professional success!

Thinkster Math‘s world-class curriculum is filled with analytical, critical thinking, and logical reasoning math problems. We help build the necessary foundations that will help to make your child a math champion!

Your child works with one dedicated math tutor, whose goal is to help your child develop a variety of math and life skills.

Learn more about how our math tutors can help make your child a true math champion.

Tips to Help Children Solve Math Word Problems
Article Name
Tips to Help Children Solve Math Word Problems
Math problems help children apply what they learnt. It is a great way of relating math to the real-world, and that is where its important lies.
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Thinkster Math
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