What is the right way to help your child tackle Problem Sums?

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Problem sums are the most dreaded section in the Maths test. Teach your child these 5 steps and watch the frowns turn into smiles. Problems sums will become the best part of Maths!

1.  Read the question carefully.
The first step is to read the question carefully to find out what it is all about. Many children pay more attention to the numbers in the questions than the meaning of the problem. After a cursory reading, they immediately guess which operation - add, subtract, times or divide - to use. That is definitely the wrong way to go about it. Help your child get over this habit.

Get your child to read the question aloud one sentence at a time. After each sentence ask your child what he understands from that sentence. Never, never tell or explain things to your child before they have a chance to try to figure it out for themselves. Encourage him to think for himself. At this stage, your child must resist the urge to immediately figure out which of the 4 operations to use. This first part is to understand the information given.

2.  Put the information in order.
All problem sums tell a story.  Sometimes the story is told in the correct order: A, B, C.  Sometimes the order is jumbled up: B, C, A. If that is the case, ask your child to put the story in the correct order.

3.  Finding "Hidden Information".
Some of the information we need to solve the question will not be stated openly but has to be inferred.

For example, in this sentence "Alice has twice as many beads as Beth" the hidden information would be:
- Alice's number is bigger than Beth's number
- Alice's number is represented by 2 units or boxes (when drawing models)
- Beth's number is smaller than Alice's number
- Beth's number must be half of Alic's number
- Beth's number is represented by 1 unit or box (when drawing models)

Searching out the hidden information will help your child strengthen her logical thinking skills.

4. Start calculating.
It is only at this stage that we are ready to start doing the calculations. There are only 4 operations in Maths - add, subtract, times or divide.

To help your child figure out the correct operation, ask these questions:
- do we want a bigger number or a smaller number
- are the numbers all the same (in cases where times or divide is needed)

Go back to step 3 if needed.

5. Read the question one last time.
Your child must read the question one last time to find out what is the question specifically asking for. Children who read too quickly sometimes give the wrong answer even though all the calculations are correct.  For example, the question might ask for the number of adults but the student gives the answer for the number of children.

These steps take a lot of practice but once learnt they can be applied to much harder questions later on.

Let's see how they work.

Primary 2 Question
There are 37 boys and 42 girls in a hall.  Some boys left the hall. Now there are 15 more girls than boys.  How many boys left the hall?

Steps 1 and 2.
At first:
boys - 37
girls - 42

Some boys left

15 more girls than boys

Step 3
- The number of girls did not change, same number at first and in the end.
- The boys' number becomes smaller in the end.
- In the end:
   The girls' number is 42. 
   The girls' number is 15 more than the boys' number. This means the boy's number is 15 less than the girls' number.

Step 4
Find the boys' number in the end: 42 - 15 = 27

Step 3
Boys' number in the beginning - 37
Boys' number in the end - 27

Step 4
Number of boys that left the hall:  37 - 27 = 10

Answer:  10 boys left the hall.

Mistakes commonly made by students who do not read the question carefully:

Immediately add: 37 + 42 = 79
They are so used to adding any numbers they see in the question.

Add again: 79 + 15 = 94
Because they see the word 'more' they think they have to add again.

Hope you found this article useful!