How to Solve Math Word Problems with Steps

To be able to solve math word problems, kids need to follow three steps. According to a 2012 PISA survey, inability to understand and solve math word problems is one area American kids underperform.

Making sense of math word problems and interpreting those problems into math expression is one of the challenge kids face. If kids will be able to solve math word problems, they need to follow these three steps:

  • Understand the problem.
  • Look for information from the math word problem that will provide a clue to solving the problem.
  • Understand keywords in the problem and relate them to a math operation.

Let’s look at these three steps in-depth;

Solve Math Word Problems: Understand the Problem.

If a kid will solve math word problems, the kid needs to understand the math problem. Understanding the math word problem means kids should be able to know what the question requires of them.

Look for information from the math word problem

Looking for the provided information from the problem is a clue that will assist the kid to solve the problem. If a kid will successfully solve math word problems, looking for these clues will be helpful to begin solving the problem.

Understanding Keywords in the problem

This step will help kids demystify math word problems. Each math word problem has keywords that kids need to relate to math operations. This third step is where most students become helpless.

I have come to find out that kids can solve math word problems if they can make sense of the keywords. These keywords in the problem are the link between the math word problem and math expression. In essence, if the kid can convert the word problem to math expression, the word problem can now be seen as math.

All these while, kids are used to math expression but when they see math word problem most of them become helpless.

Let me explain this third step in detail.

Solve Math Word Problems: keywords and math operations

Let’s look at math operations kids in third grade are familiar with:


Let’s begin with addition and look at the keywords in a math word problem that point to the addition operation.


Addition means putting two or more things together. Keywords that point to the operation include:

  • Altogether
  • Added to
  • Total
  • More
  • Sum
  • In All
  • Combined

Solve math word problems- addition


Subtraction means taking away something or things from a total amount or comparing two different amounts. To solve math word problems, a kid should be able to look out for these keywords.

  • More than How many left over
  • How many left over
  • Less than
  • Fewer than
  • Difference
  • How many more

These keywords point you to the subtraction operation.

Solve math word problems- subtraction


Division means taking a total amount and sharing it equally among a group or a number in each group. Keywords that point to the division operation include:

  • Quotient
  • How many in each group
  • Divided
  • How many will each receive
  • Shared
  • Equal
  • Equally

Solve math word problems- division


Multiplication means putting objects or things into equal groups to find the total. Keywords that point to the multiplication operations include:

  • Product
  • At this rate
  • Equal Groups
  • Double
  • Tripled
  • Altogether
  • In all

Solve math word problems- multiplication

These are the three steps every kid needs to understand to be able to solve math word problems. To learn math, every kid needs to solve math. Since we now know the steps to follow to be able to solve math word problems, let’s solve the word problem below.


Chris spent $8 in all on a Hotdog and Soda at the cinema. The Hotdog cost $2 more than the Soda. How much did the Hotdog cost? How much did the Soda cost?

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