Getting started solving a problem can be intimidating. I remember how hard it was to know what the first step to do was. I also remember how many people would just skip around in the book trying to find a formula, any formula, that they could start plugging numbers into. It didn't matter what the formula was or how it was meant to be used. If they could plug numbers into it, they would.

This random method of finding a formula and desperately plugging numbers into it almost never leads to the answer. It might lead to an answer, but probably not the answer to the question you were asked.

So, how should you start a problem? Here is a brief list, in order, of the steps that I think will help a student solve any problem. The list was designed to help students as they start out to build their own method of problem solving. As you become better at problem solving, these steps will become automatic and you will be able to confidently start any problem.

  1. Read the Problem
  2. Read the Problem Again
  3. Sketch the Problem
  4. Label the Diagram
  5. What are you looking for?
  6. List all Information You're Given on the Problem
  7. Are you Requested to Use a Specific Formula or Technique?
  8. Start to Solve the Problem

It would probably be helpful to go through an example of how to follow these steps and
show how this helps organize the information you've been given.

 Click here to follow an example.

2007 Arizona Board of Regents for The University of Arizona