Solving problems, especially word problems, are always a challenge. To become a good problem solver you need to have a plan or method which is easy to follow to determine what needs to be solved. Then the plan is carried out to solve the problem. The key is to have a plan which works in any math problem solving situation. For students having problems with problem solving, the following 20 tips are provided for helping children become good problem solvers.

Tip 1: When given a problem to solve look for clues to determine what math operation is needed to solve the problem, for example addition, subtraction, etc.

Tip 2: Read the problem carefully as you look for clues and important information. Write down the clues, underline, or highlight the clues.

Tip 3: Look for key words like sum, difference, product, perimeter, area, etc. They will lead you to what operation you need to use. Rewrite the problem if necessary.

Tip 4: Look for what you need to find out, for example: how many will you have left, the total will be, everyone gets red, everyone gets one of each, etc. They will also lead you to the type of operation needed to solve the problem.

Tip 5: Use variable symbols, such as “X” for missing information.

Tip 6: Eliminate all non-essential information by drawing a line through this distracting information.

Tip 7: Addition problems use words like sum, total, in all, and perimeter.

Tip 8: Subtraction problems use words like difference, how much more, and exceeds.

Tip 9: Multiplication problems use words like product, total, area, and times.

Tip 10: Division problems use words like share, distribute, quotient, and average.

Tip 11: Draw sketches, drawings, and models to see the problem.

Tip 12: Use guess and check techniques to see if you are on the right track.

Tip 13: Ask yourself if you have ever seen a problem like this before, if so how did you solve it.

Tip 14: Use a formula for solving the problem, for example for finding the area of a circle.

Tip 15: Develop a plan based on the information that you have determined to be important to solving the problem.

Tip 16: Carry out the plan using the math operations you determined would find the answer.

Tip 17: See if the answer seems reasonable, if does then you are probably ok – if not then check your work.

Tip 18: Work the problem in reverse or backwards starting with the answer to see if you wind up with your original problem.

Tip 19: Do not forget about units of measure as you work the problem, such as: inches, pounds, ounces, feet, yard, meter, etc. Not using units of measure may result in the wrong answer.

Tip 20: Ask yourself did you answer the problem? Are you sure? How do you know you are sure?

These are all good tips for developing a plan of attack in math problem solving. If you use these 20 tips as basis for developing your own problem solving technique you will be successful. Most students use the tips described above, use them for a few problems, and then adapt them to fit their style of learning and problem solving. This is perfectly fine, because these 20 tips are only meant as a starting point for learning how to solve problems.

One tip that is not mentioned above is that as you develop a strategy for solving math problems, then this strategy will become your strategy for solving problems in other subjects and dealing with life’s problems you will encounter as you continue to grow.