Feb 25 2011

# Useful tips in solving algebra word problems

# Useful Tips in Solving Algebra Word Problems

If you struggle at solving algebra word problems, you are not alone. Algebra is undoubtedly one of the difficult branches in math. However, there is a way to make algebra more manageable. Without much ado, here are effective tips that can help you conquer this rather difficult subject.

Read the problem very carefully. Better yet, understand the problem thoroughly. Know what information you are given and which you need to solve for.

Recognize the type of word problem. You should know that there are common types of algebra word problems. Your problem might be about age, consecutive integers, coins, interest, fraction, mixture, distance, number sequence, ratio and proportion, mixture, interest, or work problems. For each type of category, you will find a solution pattern which you can employ for different situations of the same type.

Know the language and translate the word into an equation. Doing this involves two steps:

1. Assigning names to variables. Assign your unknowns their respective variables; x is very commonly used. You should also use variable which signify what it represents: t for time, d for distance, r for rate, etc.

2. Coming up with an algebraic expression. Algebra is a mathematical language. Thus, it has a set of grammar which you can get acquainted with in time. What is crucial in translating algebra word problems into equations is recognizing key words and phrases. Keywords in the word problem will connote specific operations. For example, “sum of”, “more/greater/older than”, “consecutive,” and so on translates to addition operation, while “difference”, “diminished/decreased by”, “fewer/less/younger than” will denote subtraction. Words such as “product”, “doubled/tripled”, “twice/thrice”, “multiplied by” and “of” signify multiplication. Lastly, “quotient”, “divided by/into”, “quotient”, “in” or “per” translates to a division operation. Familiarizing yourself with these terms will help you easily convert the word problem into a working algebraic expression. Getting the hang of this through practice will already get you halfway to your solution.

Solve the equation. Once you have correctly translated the problem into an algebraic equation, you then find the values of the variable. This will involve further steps:

1. Simplify the equation. This is the first step in solving an algebra equation. You can employ methods such as combining like terms, dividing/multiplying terms, removing brackets, cross multiplication, and so on.

2. Isolate the variable. As you may known, you need to isolate the unknown variable to only one side of the equation before moving forward. This is relatively easy to do, especially for equations in one unknown.

3. Do the necessary operations. This may involve addition, opposite-coefficient, substitution and so on. This is where your basic algebra concepts should come in. If you have two unknowns, this is where the quadratic formula will take its course.

Check your answer. Never neglect this part. Read the algebra word problem again to see whether your final answer makes sense. Go through your operations one more time and see if you have done everything correctly.

Practice, practice, practice. The more you practice, the faster you realize how algebra word problems are not that tough after all.