When you’re solving algebra word problems, it’s smart to have a plan of attack ready to follow. Solving word problems may seem difficult, but when you read through the problem and can figure out what the specific equation is, it’s no harder than a regular algebra problem. Here are some tips for getting a solid system of steps to follow when you are solving algebra word problems:
1. Read through the entire problem before trying to solve it.
While it might seem tempting to start working on the problem as soon as you get halfway through the first sentence, you need to be patient. When you read through the entire problem, you’ll have a better chance of noticing any variables that are given and any that you need to solve for.
2. Look for keywords in the algebra word problems that can signal which operation you will be doing.
These keywords can go a long way in helping you determine how to set up the algebra equations. Here’s a list of some common keywords to get you started:
- Addition: added to, combined, increased by, more than, sum, total
- Subtraction: decreased by, difference of, less than
- Multiplication: increased by a factor of, multiplied by, times
- Division: out of, per, ratio of
- Equals: are, gives, is, will be
Note that these keywords are not a complete list; you will definitely see other words used to mean these operations, but keep in mind how the numbers and variables are positioned and what is being asked, and you should be able to add to this keyword list yourself!
Also, be sure to pay close attention to the relationship of the two variables when it comes to division and subtraction. It matters which variable comes first, and when the algebra word problem asks for the difference between x and y, when you write the algebra out, you will show x – y. Likewise, the ratio of x and y written out will show x / y.
3. Underline anything that will be important for setting up the algebra equations or solving the word problem.
When you have read through the entire word problem, you will want to go back through and underline anything important. This might include the keywords you’ve just found and any variables, as well as what your solution needs to be, so that you can set up the proper algebra equations.
When you underline or highlight these important parts, you can quickly reference the things you need to without having to read through the entire problem again. This makes it easier to go back and double check that you’ve got the right equations and variables set up, without losing your train of thought halfway through solving the algebra word problem.
4. Write down everything that comes to mind as you’re solving the algebra word problem.
This way, you won’t have to try to remember what each variable is that you’re solving for, or whether you’re multiplying or dividing by two in the next equation. You can concentrate on each small task within the algebra problem, and then put the pieces together at the end. Having a written record of each variable also helps when it comes time to give your solution, as you know what variable has the answer in it!
Writing down notes also functions as a way to double-check when you’ve got your solution ready. When you’re solving an algebra problem in your head, you won’t have any way to go back and walk through your solution again if you missed a step. On the other hand, if you write down each step while solving the problem, you can retrace your steps and make sure your answer is correct.
5. Practice, practice, practice!
Above anything else, algebra word problems need practice on a consistent basis. By working a few algebra word problems each day, you’ll be able to fine-tune your solving methods and work on any of the rough parts.
If algebra word problems are giving you trouble in class, working with a private math tutor can help you keep up with the math topics. A private tutor will be able to give you the personalized attention necessary to work on the concepts in algebra or other math courses, and work at a pace that is just right for you. A tutor can also provide you with practice problems that focus on the specific areas that you need help with, such as setting up algebra word problems that emphasize certain areas over others.
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