Algebra is a language. It is the language of mathematics. In fact, Algebra is a simple language used to create mathematical models of real-world situations and to handle problems that we cannot solve using just arithmetic. To best understand this language, we must learn to read it and learn its own vocabulary, then translate Algebra language to English language and vice versa. Here at Oak Hill Academy, a private school in Lincroft, New Jersey, students continue to master this language.
Reading is such a big part of success in Algebra. Many of us have trouble solving word problems and we have even more trouble with the Algebra word problems. A word problem can look something like the first few lines of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem “Jabberwocky.” ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did , gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogroves, and the mome raths outgrabe, where the only words you know are and, the, did, in, all, and were.
But, there are some things we can learn and strategies we can use to make these word Algebra problems easier to solve.
A word problem is a story. Read, read, and read again. Think about what your equations or word problems say. Insert yourself into the story.
Steps to solve problems
Decide what you know and what you need to find out.
Take the word problem step by step. Don’t attack a word problem haphazardly.
Use common sense to develop a strategy. In some cases, a verbal model model , using words, can be most helpful. Choose variables that relate to the story. If your story talks about peas and broccoli, use p and b for the variables. In some cases, turn the “word” problem into a “picture” problem. Draw an illustration that relates to the story.
A word or short phrase at the beginning gives you a clue about something in the problem. Sometimes the first sentence provides the first fact or number you need to work with. The second sentence usually provides the second number or fact. The last sentence or two often contain one of the following words or phrases: who, what, when, where, why, which, how many, how much, how long. These signal words are usually followed closely by a description of what you are supposed to provide in your answer.
Keep reading the problem as you progress through your strategy.
Show all your work in a logical manner. Sometimes this helps you to better understand the word problem and makes it easier to pinpoint the cause of an error.
Be decisive. Be patient. Don’t rush. A little extra time will pay big dividends in achieving the correct solution.
Lastly, check that your answers are reasonable.