Problem Solving Strategies

Problem Solving in Mathematics

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The main reason for learning all about math is to become better problem solvers in all aspects of life. Many problems are multi-step and require some type of systematic approach. Most of all, there are a couple of things you need to do when solving problems. Ask yourself exactly what type of information is being asked for. Then determine all the information that is being given to you in the question.

When you clearly understand the answers to those two questions, you are then ready to devise your plan. Some key questions as you approach the problem may be:

  1. What are my key words?
  2. Do I need a diagram? List? Table?
  3. Is there a formula or equation that I'll need? Which one?
  4. Will I use a calculator? Is there a pattern I can use and or follow?


Read the problem carefully, decide on a method to solve the problem, solve the problem. Then, check your work and make sure that your answer makes sense and that you've used the same terms and or units in your answer.

Learning how to solve problems in mathematics is knowing what to look for. Math problems often require established procedures and knowing what procedure to apply. To create procedures, you have to be familiar with the problem situation and be able to collect the appropriate information, identify a strategy or strategies and use the strategy appropriately.

Problem solving requires practice! When deciding on methods or procedures to use to solve problems, the first thing you will do is look for clues which is one of the most important skills in solving problems in mathematics. If you begin to solve problems by looking for clue words, you will find that these 'words' often indicate an operation.

Is it helpful to highlight or underline key words when you are asked to solve word problems.

For instance:

Clue Words for Addition:

  • sum
  • total
  • in all
  • perimeter

Clue Words for Subtraction:

  • difference
  • how much more
  • exceed

Clue Words for Multiplication

  • product
  • total
  • area
  • times

Clue Words for Division

  • share
  • distribute
  • quotient
  • average