Study Guide

Word Problems Introduction

Word Problems Introduction

In the last unit, we talked about polynomials. Remember? You wrote about it in your diary. Anyway, we'll now tackle the task of translating between English and mathematics so we can look at a paragraph and pull out an equation or inequality to solve it. It'll get to the point where you'll start seeing equations and inequalities even when reading something as innocent as a Harry Potter novel. Hagrid + Hippogriffs = Trouble. Draco ≤ Lucius.

Translating English into mathematical symbols is often the trickiest part of a math problem, so we want to give it the attention it deserves. We'll start by translating short expressions and build our way up to the big stuff. Then the double stuf. Sorry, it always comes back around to Oreos.

As the problems become bigger, take your time while translating. You need to know what the question is asking before you can give a correct answer.

Word Problems Resources


Algebra Lab: Translating Word Problems Into Equations
This helpful and extensive page reviews the steps to making sure you have understood and correctly solved a word problem, then provides a number of worked-out problems, as well as a few for you to try on your own. Don't let these stress you out: no one's grading them, and they won't affect what college you get into.

Purplemath: Translating Word Problems
What in the world are those word problems trying to say? Why don't they stop being so obtuse? Wait a minute, that's geometry...This site will walk you through what to do when confronted with a word problem and show you how to decipher each little piece.


Translating Words Into Algebraic Expressions
This will come in very handy the next time you book a trip to Algeria (where everyone naturally speaks algebra) and you can't understand a word (or number) that anyone is saying.

Translating Math and Word Statements
Do you often find yourself wishing that the speakers in some of these instructional videos approached the material with just a bit more energy? Consider your prayers answered. This guy may, in fact, have too much energy. At least he's pretty tiny on the screen, or he might be too much to handle.

Making Words Into Equations
Similar to the above, but tailored more for those of you who like something a little more low-key. And multicolored. Oh boy, there are a lot of colors in this one.

Translating Sentences Into Inequalities
All things being equal...well, not all things are equal. Sometimes we need to deal with inequalities. This video will show you how to translate English phrases into inequalities. This video is ≥ the previous one.

Tools and Games

Passy's World of Mathematics: Translate Word Equations
This site provides you with a series of translation tables for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division, so you'll never forget what anything in English means when expressed in mathematical terms. Shmoop = proud2(u)! Inequality Game
Make the genie proud and pass this inequality quiz with flying colors. If you fail, just ask the genie for a time machine, then go back about five minutes and try again. That's a really productive use of a free wish.

Jefferson Lab: Speedmath - Inequalities
We're all about quality over quantity, but how quickly can you speed through inequality problems? Try this game and then see if you can beat your own time, or play a friend and engage in some healthy competition. Just don't let it turn ugly.

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