Strategies For Completing Math Problems

Math strategies should be practiced often in class and in homework.

Strategies for completing math problems are the techniques that students invoke to solve questions correctly. Mnemonic devices, for instance, greatly assist students at different grade levels by helping them to recall the rules and formulas that math problems require. Working backwards, drawing pictures or diagrams and the method of “Guess and Check” are other helpful strategies for math students.

Working Backwards

Working backwards is a technique that is often used with math word problems. In particular, math word problems that incorporate facts about distance and time often require that students begin with the last details given in the problem to trace back to the answer. Take for example the following word problem:

Matt walked from his house to the library, stopping at a store in between. It took him 1 hour and 25 minutes to walk from his house to the store. Then it took him another 25 minutes to walk from the store to the library. He arrived at the library at 3 p.m. What time did he leave his house?

In order to solve this problem, students must begin with the last detail given in the problem, which is Matt’s arrival time at the library. Then students must work backwards, subtracting the travel times (25 minutes and 1 hour and 25 minutes) to arrive at the answer.

Guess and Check

Guess and Check is an important method to teach students because it is one that they can appropriate to use on standardized tests with multiple choice questions. However, a problem need not have multiple choice answers to invoke the method of Guess and Check. Problems that require that you find the value of two or more things can be solved with guess and check. Take, for instance, the following problem:

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Grace and Matt sold 12 cups of lemonade. Grace sold two more tickets than Matt. How many cups did each person sell?

If students are not advanced enough to write an algebraic formula to solve this problem, then they can solve the problem by first guessing and then checking how far off their guess are. Inaccurate guesses can point them in the right direction. To solve the problem above, a student must first guess two numbers under 12 that have a difference of 2. If the two numbers have a sum greater than 12, then the student knows to guess again, this time guessing smaller numbers.

Drawing a Picture

Math instructors often advise students to draw pictures or diagrams when trying to solve math word problems. Mapping out their own visual of problems can help students to conceptualize it. Drawing is especially helpful in geometry. If the word problem is asking for the measurements of a circle or triangle and distances or angles within such shapes, then students would need to create a picture to represent the facts and to calculate the answer.

Mnemonic Devices

Mnemonic devices help students at various grade levels by enabling them to remember the rules and formulas that mathematical problems follow. For instance, some students have trouble distinguishing between the signs of “” (“less than” and “greater than”). Teachers use the following mnemonic device to help them remember which is which: The alligator has to open its mouth wider for the larger number. Another often used mnemonic device is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally,” which helps students to recall the order of operations: parenthesis, exponents, multiplication/division, addition/subtraction. No matter the age group, mnemonic devices make it easier to remember facts and formulas that are integral to solving math problems.

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