Math problem solving strategies
Some math problem solving strategies will be considered here. Study them carefully so you know how to use them to solve other math problems.The biggest challenge when solving math problems is not understanding the problem.
The strategies below will help you analyze the problem so you understand it, build confidence in yourself, and realize that you are quite capable of tackling some tough math. The math problem solving strategies we will discuss here are:
Make a guess and test it
Example #1
The sum of 2 consecutive odd numbers is 44. What are the two integers?
Before guessing, always make sure you understand the problem. If possible, get a dictionary or look up the vocabulary words in your math textbook.
Sum: refer to adding numbers
consecutive: In the context of this problem, it will mean that we are looking for an odd number and the next odd number that immediately follows the first one
Guessing here means that you will arbitrarily pick two
odd numbers, add them, and see if it is equal to 44
15 + 17 = 32. It does not work. Since 32 is smaller than 44, pick higher numbers
19 + 21 = 40. Getting closer
21 + 23 = 44. Here we go. We found the two numbers by guessing!
Example #2
A kindergarten class is going to a play with some teachers. Tickets cost 5 dollars for children and 12 dollars for adults
Number of tickets sold amount to 163 dollars.
How many teachers and children went to the play?
First, make sure you understand the problem. What the problem is really asking is the following:
How many adult tickets were sold? How many children tickets were sold?
Guess and check!
Pretend that 3 children tickets were sold. Then, 17 adult tickets were sold
Total cost = 3 × 5 + 17 × 12 = 15 + 204 = 219
The total is too high. Pretend that 14 children tickets were sold. Then, 6 adult tickets were sold
Total cost = 14 × 5 + 6 × 12 = 70 + 72 = 142
The total is a little too low now. Pretend that 12 children tickets were sold. Then, 8 adult tickets were sold
Total cost = 12 × 5 + 8 × 12 = 60 + 96 = 156
As you can see, it is going higher again and it is getting closer to 163. May be 11 tickets for children and 9 tickets for adults will work
Total cost = 11 × 5 + 9 × 12 = 55 + 108 = 163
Here we go! 11 children and 9 teachers went to the play.
Solving a math problem by making a list
This could happen if I slightly modify
example #2
Example #3
A kindergarten class is going to a play with some teachers. Tickets cost 5 dollars for children and 12 dollars for adults.
A total of 20 people could go to the play. There must be at least 2 teachers to supervise the children, but no more than 10.
Find all possible ways this could be done. How can the school minimize their cost?
This problem involves making a list
If 2 teachers go, then 18 children will go
If 3 teachers go, then, 17 children will go
and so forth...
Total cost = 2 × 12 + 18 × 5 = 24 + 90 = 114
Total cost = 3 × 12 + 17 × 5 = 36 + 85 = 121
Total cost = 4 × 12 + 16 × 5 = 48 + 80 = 128
Total cost = 5 × 12 + 15 × 5 = 60 + 75 = 135
Total cost = 6 × 12 + 14 × 5 = 72 + 70 = 142
Total cost = 7 × 12 + 13 × 5 = 84 + 65 = 149
Total cost = 8 × 12 + 12 × 5 = 96 + 60 = 156
Total cost = 9 × 12 + 11 × 5 = 108 + 55 = 163
Total cost = 10 × 12 + 10 × 5 = 120 + 50 = 170
As you can see, the less teacher they send, the less the cost.
The least expensive case is to send 2 teachers and 18 children. Other teachers will not be happy about it
Math problem solving strategies could also make use of a variable.
Example #4
The use of a variable means that you will let the unknown be x, write and equation, and solve the equation.
Use of a variable for
example 3
Let x be number of children tickets. Then, 20  x is number of adult tickets
cost of children tickets + cost of adult tickets = total cost
x × 5 + (20  x ) × 12 = 163
5x + 20 × 12  x × 12 = 163
5x + 240 12x = 163
5x + 240 240 12x = 163  240
5x  12x = 77
7x = 77
7x/7 = 77/7
x = 11.
Example #5
Among all math problem solving strategies, my favorite is draw a diagram.
Example #5
A highway has a gas station every 2 miles, a rest area every 4 miles, and a Burger King every 3 miles. Where is the closest gas station, rest area, and burger king all at the same time?
A little diagram describing the situation is all we need to tackle this problem real quick.
Let red be gas station, let blue be rest area, and let green be Burger King. Draw the diagram below.
Notice that every gap between the red lines represents the location of a gas station. Same idea for the blue lines and the green lines
The vertical arrow is point toward the location where all 3 services can be found at the same time
As you can see, it is 12 miles!
You may wonder. How do we get the answer without drawing a diagram? Great question! That will be important if you are dealing with big numbers
To get the 12, you need to look for the Least common multiple (LCM). The smallest number that is a multiple of 2, 3, and 4
That number is indeed 12. More information on
Least common multiple
Among great math problem solving strategies, is the one when you work backward
Example #6
One day, I woke up and feeling generous, I took all the apples in my refrigerator and I decided to give them away
I went outside and I gave onehalf of my apples plus one to the first stranger I met. Then, I gave onehalf of the remaining
apples plus one to the second person I met and onehalf of the remaining apples plus one to the third person. I had one apple left at the end.
How many apples did I have when I left my house (This is not a true story. I made that up)
Starting backward means that you are starting with the result and work your way backward until you get what you started with
Third person: Received onehalf plus one. Just do the reverse of that. Give yourself one and twice
1 + 1 = 2 and 2 × 2 = 4. ( This makes sense because giving onehalf of 4 plus one means giving 2 and then 1)
Second person: received onehalf plus one. Just do the reverse of that. Give yourself one and twice
4 + 1 = 5 and 5 × 2 = 10.
First person: received onehalf plus one. Just do the reverse of that. Give yourself one and twice
10 + 1 = 11 and 11 × 2 = 22.
So you had 22 apples in your bag
The math problem solving strategies I discussed above are great examples. Make sure you understand them. Hope you had fun exploring these math problem solving strategies!

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