2 Common Myths about Word Problems - dummies

By Mark Zegarelli

Two common myths about word problems are that word problems are always hard and word problems are only for school — after that, you don’t need them. Both of these ideas are untrue.

Word problems aren’t always hard

Word problems don’t have to be hard. For example, here’s a word problem that you may have run into in first grade:

Adam had 4 apples. Then Brenda gave him 5 more apples. How many apples does Adam have now?

You can probably do the math in your head, but when you were starting out in math, you may have written it down:

4 + 5 = 9

Finally, if you had one of those teachers who made you write out your answer in complete sentences, you wrote “Adam has 9 apples.” (Of course, if you were the class clown, you probably wrote, “Adam doesn’t have any apples because he ate them all.”)

Word problems seem hard when they get too complex to solve in your head and you don’t have a system for solving them.

Word problems are useful

In the real world, math rarely comes in the form of equations. It comes in the form of situations that are very similar to word problems.

Whenever you paint a room, prepare a budget, bake a double batch of oatmeal cookies, estimate the cost of a vacation, buy wood to build a shelf, do your taxes, or weigh the pros and cons of buying a car versus leasing one, you need math. And the math skill you need most is understanding how to turn the situation you’re facing into numbers that you calculate.

Word problems give you practice turning situations — or stories — into numbers.