The reason why so much mathematics is required of students in
virtually all disciplines is that mathematics is capable of solving
problems arising in those disciplines. Students usually dread word
problems because there is an additional layer of complexity: you have
to translate the words into mathematics before you can solve the
problem. However, you will never be able to solve word problems if
you don't try, and keep it in mind that mathematics is the only
subject where some problems are not word problems.
Word problems in a class like this are necessarily simple. The
information you need to translate them into mathematical problems is
either given as part of the word problem, or it is part of a general
body of information that should be known by anybody taking this class.
Sometimes part of the exercise is to obtain certain information, like
a certain formula, or some data, and in that case the required
information is usually widely available and can be found in the
textbook, in a dictionary, or in an encyclopedia. Becoming resourceful
in terms of obtaining information is one of the skills you acquire in
By the nature of word problems there is no general sure fire
approach that will solve all of them. However, here are some
- Draw a picture.
- Give names (i.e., assign variables) to the quantities involved.
Clearly keep in mind
which of the quantities are known, and which you want to know.
Using your variables, translate the statements in the problem into
equations (often just one equation).
- Solve the equation.
- Find similar problems in your textbook and see how they have been solved.
- Go back to similar problems you have already solved in this course.
- If you cannot solve the problem right away, do not give up.
Problem solving takes time and effort, that's just the way it is.
Think about the problem, return to it, do some research, talk with
friends or tutors, make assumptions and see what their implications
are, and continue the process until you are done.
Always Have Expectations
Always Check Your Answers