How to Solve Difficult Math Problems
Do you have a hard time analyzing word problems? Even if you’re great at solving an algebraic equation, setting up the problem first can sometimes pose a challenge. In subjects like Math, Physics or Chemistry, you not only need to be able to understand the question but you also need to use the correct equation before solving for the correct answer.
The GUESS method is a common method taught by teachers and used by students to help focus on what the question is asking and get the right answer. Let’s review it now!
GUESS stands for:
Given- Write down the provided information in the problem.
Unknown- What is the question asking you to solve?
Equation- Based on the variables given and the unknown variable, what equation should you use?
Substitute- Substitute the Given information into the equation.
Solve- Solve the equation and circle your answer.
Let’s practice using a simple sample problem.
Jill is late for a party! She is 5,000 meters away from her destination. If she travels at 20 m/s, how long will it take her to get to the party?
Given: There are two important numbers given in this problem, 5,000 meters and 20 m/s.
You should first write down the two given numbers:
Then beside it, you should write down what the UNIT represents:
5,000 meters = Distance (D)
20 m/s= Speed (S)
This step is crucial in properly identifying which equation you should choose later in the GUESS process. Knowing what each unit represents is a critical component of properly calculating problems.
Unknown: The question is asking how long it will take for Jill to reach the party. Your task here is to determine what how long represents. Based on the context clues of the passage, we know how long is referring to time, and not something else, like length.
Write what the question is looking for:
Equation: Based on the Given information of Distance and Speed and the Unknown information of Time, you must find an equation that would incorporate all these components.
Here, the equation you could use is GUESS
Substitute: Plug it in! Take what you know about Speed and Distance and plug them into your equation, leaving Time the variable you will solve for:
We said Speed= 20 m/s and Distance = 5,000 m. Plugging these numbers into Equation 1 yields
Solve: The final step of the GUESS method is to solve the problem.
Solution shortcut tip:
When you have a variable in the denominator of a fraction (In this example "Time"), you can FLIP that variable with the whole number on the other side:
Solving for time gives you 250. ** Always add your units to your final answer! The unit for time is seconds, so your final answer is:
The GUESS method is especially useful for solving problems where a lot of unnecessary information is given, or when more than one equation is necessary to solve the problem. The most challenging part of the GUESS method is the first step- GIVEN because you not only must pick out the important information in the problem, but know what it means. The more you practice, the easier solving problems becomes. Your teacher or a private tutor can help you practice this technique until solving word problems becomes easier. Good luck and happy problem solving!
Article written by Shayna L. Pond and Action Potential Learning
Action Potential Learning provides private tutoring in math and science as well as standardized test prep and science and math camps. As math and science specialists, our tutors know and understand difficult math and science concepts and can help you improve your grades and perform on standardized tests.