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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Approach word problems with a positive attitude
  • Use a problem solving strategy for word problems
  • Solve number problems

Before you get started, take this readiness quiz.

  1. Translate “6 less than twice x into an algebraic expression.
    If you missed this problem, review Evaluate, Simplify and Translate Expressions .
  2. Solve: 2 3 x = 24 .
    If you missed this problem, review Solve Equations using the Division and Multiplication Properties of Equality .
  3. Solve: 3 x + 8 = 14 .
    If you missed this problem, review Solve Equations with Variables and Constants on Both Sides .

Approach word problems with a positive attitude

The world is full of word problems. How much money do I need to fill the car with gas? How much should I tip the server at a restaurant? How many socks should I pack for vacation? How big a turkey do I need to buy for Thanksgiving dinner, and what time do I need to put it in the oven? If my sister and I buy our mother a present, how much will each of us pay?

Now that we can solve equations, we are ready to apply our new skills to word problems. Do you know anyone who has had negative experiences in the past with word problems? Have you ever had thoughts like the student in [link] ?

A cartoon image of a girl with a sad expression writing on a piece of paper is shown. There are 5 thought bubbles. They read, “I don't know whether to add, subtract multiply, or divide!,” then “I don't understand word problems!,” then “My teachers never explained this!,” then “If I just skip all the word problems, I can probably still pass the class,” and lastly, “I just can't do this!”
Negative thoughts about word problems can be barriers to success.

When we feel we have no control, and continue repeating negative thoughts, we set up barriers to success. We need to calm our fears and change our negative feelings.

Start with a fresh slate and begin to think positive thoughts like the student in [link] . Read the positive thoughts and say them out loud.

A cartoon image of a girl with a confident expression holding some books is shown.  There are 4 thought bubbles. They read, “While word problems were hard in the past, I think I can try them now,” then “I am better prepared now. I think I will begin to understand word problems,” then “I think I can! I think I can!,” and lastly, “It may take time, but I can begin to solve word problems.”
When it comes to word problems, a positive attitude is a big step toward success.

If we take control and believe we can be successful, we will be able to master word problems.

Think of something that you can do now but couldn't do three years ago. Whether it's driving a car, snowboarding, cooking a gourmet meal, or speaking a new language, you have been able to learn and master a new skill. Word problems are no different. Even if you have struggled with word problems in the past, you have acquired many new math skills that will help you succeed now!

Use a problem-solving strategy for word problems

In earlier chapters, you translated word phrases into algebraic expressions, using some basic mathematical vocabulary and symbols. Since then you've increased your math vocabulary as you learned about more algebraic procedures, and you've had more practice translating from words into algebra.

You have also translated word sentences into algebraic equations and solved some word problems. The word problems applied math to everyday situations. You had to restate the situation in one sentence, assign a variable, and then write an equation to solve. This method works as long as the situation is familiar to you and the math is not too complicated.

Now we'll develop a strategy you can use to solve any word problem. This strategy will help you become successful with word problems. We'll demonstrate the strategy as we solve the following problem.

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Source:  OpenStax, Prealgebra. OpenStax CNX. Jul 15, 2016 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11756/1.9
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