# Here’s How to Do Math Word Problems the Easy Way!

In my 10+ years of teaching math, I have seen math word problems act as a source of confusion for *a lot* of students. Whether it’s tackling basic problems from 2nd grade or more advanced algebraic word problems in high school, many students struggle with applying mathematics to the real world.

I have helped thousands of students understand how to do math word problems in a way that develops their problem-solving skills while building their confidence to form a positive relationship with mathematics.

While teaching word problems in math, I have noticed that students tend to see story problems differently from the straightforward types of problems they’re used to solving.

But by focusing less on the math and more on the problem-solving strategy, real world problems become much more manageable!

In this guide, my goal is to break down a proven step-by-step approach that I teach my students so that they can solve real world math problems more confidently and efficiently.

Whether you are an elementary school student, middle school student, or a student tackling more advanced math, the approach I will walk you through here will help all students master these intimidating problems!

## My Step-By-Step Guide to Solving Math Problems

### 1. Start with a Positive Math Mindset

When I was teaching in the classroom, I worked really hard to help my students build a strong math mindset. In my class, this meant building a growth mindset that sees failure and struggle as opportunities for growth.

Having a positive attitude toward math is the first step to solving any math word problem. When students approach a problem with anxiety or frustration, it becomes much harder to think clearly. In addition, students who have a negative attitude toward math are much more likely to see failure as a permanent reflection on their abilities.

Many students, from 1st grade to high school, develop a fear of word problems because they fear failure. But with the right mindset, students can see that most word problems involve the same concepts that they are used to, but disguised as real-world scenarios.

Developing a positive relationship with word problems early on can lead to better performance not just in math operation tasks, but in other subjects, too.

Word problems teach critical thinking and real-world application skills that will help in all academic areas. So, the next time you encounter a word problem, take a deep breath, remind yourself that you’ve got this, and dive in!

### 2. Identify Each Key Piece of Information

After preparing your mindset, the next step is to examine the problem for each key piece of information.

Carefully reading through the problem is important, as word problems often contain a mix of relevant information and extraneous information (or unnecessary information). In my experience, this is one of the areas that many students rush through, which leads to confusion later on.

For example, imagine a 4th grade problem that asks you to calculate how many apples are left after 12 are picked from a tree. In addition to this core question, the problem might mention the time of day, the weather, or even the name of the person picking the apples.

While these details add flavor to the story, they’re not necessary for solving the problem. These pieces of information are considered extraneous information. Learning how to filter out this kind of detail and focus on the important information is a key skill in solving word problems.

Next, it’s a good idea to identify the key words in the problem. Key words tell us which math operation is needed to complete the real world problem. For example:

- words like
*total*,*sum*, or*combined*often suggest the use of addition. - words like
*difference*or*how many more*often suggest the use of subtraction. - in algebraic word problems, phrases such as
*solve for*or*unknown amount*point toward setting up an equation.

Many students find underlining or highlighting important information helpful as they examine the problem. This includes important numbers, math operations, or specific conditions that you’ll need to consider later.

Keeping these key details front and center will prevent you from getting lost in the rest of the story problem.

### 3. Break the Problem into Easy Steps

Once you’ve surveyed the problem and identified the key words, you’re ready to break the problem into manageable parts and easy steps. This step is important, especially for more complex problems that involve multiple steps, math operations, or mathematical expressions.

Let’s say you’re working on a middle school problem where you need to calculate the cost of school supplies for a group of students. The problem might require you to first determine the number of students in each small group and then multiply that by the cost per item.

In this example, breaking the problem into parts means first finding the total number of students and then calculating the overall cost. By handling each piece of the problem separately, finding the right answer becomes much easier to manage.

As another example, breaking a problem into parts is particularly useful in algebraic word problems and problems involving linear equations. In these types of problems, you may need to isolate variables or perform multiple steps in a specific sequence.

For example, in a problem where you’re solving for two unknowns, breaking it down might involve setting up two equations, solving for one variable, and then substituting that solution into the second equation.

One particularly useful strategy for breaking down problems is to create a visual representation of the problem. This could be a simple drawing of right-angled triangles in a real-world scenario, for example.

Visuals help you organize the most important information in a way that makes it easier to see how the different parts of the problem relate to each other. Whether you’re in 3rd grade or you are a university student, using visuals can help anyone make sense of even the most complex process.

### 4. Start Solving the Problem One Step at a Time

Now that you’ve broken the problem into parts, it’s time to start solving it! The key here is to take things one step at a time, making sure to stop and reflect after each step.

Rushing through the problem will only increase the chance that you make a mistake, so it’s essential to stay calm and focused!

For example, let’s say you’re working on a 5th grade problem involving the division of students into teams. The first step might be to calculate how many teams are needed, and the second step might involve figuring out how many students will be on each team.

Always focus on completing the first step before moving on to the next. This methodical approach works for everything from simple multiplication problems to more complex algebraic word problems!

Don’t hesitate to go back and double-check your work after each step. Solving a math equation can sometimes lead to results that don’t fit the context of the problem, and catching these errors early can save you time and frustration.

For example, if a word problem involves calculating how many light bulbs are needed to illuminate a space, and you find that the number is impossibly large, it’s a sign that something might have gone wrong in your calculation. Take a moment to recheck your work and make sure you’re on track!

### 5. Know Where to Look for Help

Even when following all the right steps, I have seen many students hit a wall. When this happens, it’s important to know where to find help.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a third-grade student or you are tackling university-level problems, asking for help is always encouraged. Having support systems in place is essential for success!

First, math word problems worksheets are a fantastic resource for students at every grade level. Worksheets provide opportunities to practice solving similar problems while reinforcing the strategies that you learned in class. For younger students, especially in elementary grades, practicing regularly with a daily word problem can build confidence and proficiency over time.

Another good option is working with an academic tutor. Tutors can provide one-on-one guidance, explain concepts in different ways, and offer extra support where needed.

If tutoring isn’t an option, participating in small group study sessions with classmates or reviewing problems as a whole class can be really helpful. This gives students an opportunity to collaborate and share their problem-solving strategies, learn from each other, and tackle challenges together.

Lastly, the Math By The Pixel YouTube channel is filled with engaging full length videos and short-form videos that you can use to help you master solving various types of word problems!

### 6. Check Your Answer!

After you’ve completed the problem, the final and often overlooked step is to check your answer! While this might seem like an unnecessary step, I always tell my students how crucial it is for making sure that your work helped you arrive at the correct answer!

One way to check your answer is to re-read the original word problem and see if your solution makes logical sense within the context.

Does your answer make sense given the important information provided?

For example, if the problem asks you to calculate the number of students in a class and your result is negative, you probably made a mistake in your solution! In this case, go back and double-check your calculations to ensure you didn’t overlook any extra information or make a miscalculation.

You can also reverse your work to see if the problem works backward. If your problem-solving strategy involved multiple steps, try solving it in reverse to confirm that your solution is accurate. This is particularly helpful for linear equations or more complex problems where you’re using algebra while solving for an unknown amount.

Lastly, always check to ensure that your final answer is expressed in the right units and format. If the problem is asking for a solution in terms of time, make sure that you don’t accidentally give an answer in terms of length or another irrelevant measure.

It’s these small details that can make the difference between a correct answer and one that’s slightly off!

## Now, Go Solve Some Math Word Problems!

By following these six steps, my hope is that you feel better equipped to tackle even the most challenging math word problems!

Remember, learning how to identify the right problem-solving strategy takes a lot of practice. But, with the right math mindset, careful reading, and this step-by-step approach, solving even the most difficult problems is possible!

Solving word problems doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Whether you’re a student working on elementary school math or preparing for more advanced university-level courses, if you stick with the method I have shared here, you *can* become a master at solving real world math problems!

Keep practicing, stay patient, and watch as your problem-solving skills improve over time!

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