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Solving Math Word Problems

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!


Great post, Tiffany! I was just talking about this with one of my students over the weekend. She has the most difficult time with word problems and I told her just as you stated here, decode the problem and translate it into "math language." It really made a big difference in her understanding and performance :)