Math students often become nervous when approaching word problems, because mathematical symbols are buried in the sentences as words – I call these “math words” – and these math words have to be discovered in the text and arranged into equations before any calculation can be done! Never fear – there are some easy ways to translate math words into mathematical symbols so you can solve these tricky problems quickly.
Word problems generally use specific words and phrases that correspond to the four operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. When you see these words and phrases, simply replace them with the operator symbols and you will begin to see potential equations appear. Here are some of these clues:
Addition: increased by, more than, combined (with), together (with), totaling, total of, sum, added to
Subtraction: decreased by, minus, less, less than, fewer than, faster than, difference between, difference of
Multiplication: times, multiplied by, product of, at a rate of, increased/decreased by
Division: of, per, out of, ratio of, quotient of, percent of
Once you have found these operators in your word problem, find the equal sign using these clues:
Equal Sign: is, are, was, were, will, gives, yields, sold for, results in
Ready for an example? Here it is: How much will gas cost for a road trip of 200 miles at a rate of $.30 per mile?
1) Replace the math words with symbols.
How much will (=) gas cost for a road trip of 200 miles at a rate of (X) $.30 per mile?
2) Rearrange the problem into an equation form.
200 X $.30 = $_____?
200 X 30 = $60
With word problems, practice really does make perfect, because the more you practice finding math clues and translating them into equations, the faster and easier it will be the next time!