Problem solving questions are the most challenging form of questions for students to tackle in an exam. A problem solving question can often involve a few different mathematic concepts. There are a few tricks which can help students to learn the art of problem solving in maths.
Reading the question
While this might seem like a very straight-forward technique, students really need to read the question properly and be able to understand what it’s asking of them. Many problems are multi-step and require some type of systematic approach to solving. Understand 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 questions to consider when addressing a problem might be:
- What are the key words in the question? (Eg. Sum, total, difference, quotient)
- Will I need a diagram, list or table?
- How many steps is this question going to be?
- Which rules and formulas will be required for each part of the question?
- Will I require a calculator to solve this?
Remember to 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.
Students sometimes look at a problem and decide it’s too large or difficult to solve. They feel they cannot understand the question and at that point they often just give up. Students set themselves up to fail in this way. As with all problems, the key is to break them down so they seem less daunting and solve them piece by piece. The idea is to simplify the problem into manageable steps so the question looks a lot easier to solve. Students need to always be on the lookout for the first step toward simplifying a problem solving question in order to solve it with confidence.
Students who can’t solve a problem solving question need to focus on some of the following ideas:
- Not panicking – recognising components of the question they can relate to
- Focusing on what knowledge they already have to answer the question
- How can I solve just a part of the problem which will allow me to move forwards to the next part of the question and bolster my confidence? Now that I look at the question again after solving a bit of it, do I have the tools to solve it?
- What is the question really asking me to do? Am I overawed at the symbols and wording of the question and missing how simple it really is?
Learning how to solve problems in mathematics is an art. Math problems often require established procedures or methods and knowing which method to apply. Problem solving requires practice! The best way to ensure you can always achieve good results in problem solving exercises is to understand the math work involved. Make sure you’re always paying attention in class.