Singapore Math Guru

Mastering Problem Sums – Part 2

This is part 2 of ‘Mastering Problem Sums’. Check out part 1 here.


We are back to present more tips on mastering problem sums! To recap on the points in part 1:

  • Tip number 1Underline key information, words or numbers
  • Tip number 2 – Convert key information to a model to help you better understand the question.


Now the next tips sound simple, but are also important:

  • Tip number 3 – Compute. Now, after you are done with the sentence, you may be able to work something out. Do so immediately. For example, a question says: John has 47 marbles and Mary has 34 more marbles than John… At this point you would have already drawn a comparison model and labeled it after underlining the key information. Then you would be able to find out what Mary has. 34 + 47 = 81. So Mary has 81 marbles.
  • Tip number 4 – Add new information to the model that you have drawn earlier or write any new information down. For example, since Mary is found to have 81 marbles, add that to the model.
  • Repeat the above. Now that you are done with the first sentence, repeat the steps above. If your information has been presented well enough with clearly labeled models and diagrams and step by step workings without skipping even the most menial of steps, eventually the brain will come to understand the question fully and get the “aha!” moment.


stockvault-pencils133046It’s pretty much like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle. You do what you can for starters, piecing together bits until it finally makes sense.

Now, very often, students read the entire question. Then what happens next is incredible. They forget the substance of the question! Don’t we all do that at one point or another, even as parents though!

This is exactly why one should not read a problem sum from start to end straight, like a story book. Very simply, the brain simply cannot process so much in so short a time. Therefore, you really have to understand how your brain works.

Now, for those skeptics out there, try this. Take an examination paper, flip it to question 18 of paper 2 and read it from start to end immediately. And then cover the question, and reproduce its content by solving the question. The truth is, most of us won’t be able to do it.

That’s why it is so important to employ tips 1 to 5 above. It forces the brain to think and see things in a disciplined manner. So often, many parents lament at why their kids cannot improve in math, and just as often, you can narrow it down to those few points above. In fact, one of our teachers who contributes to our site, commented that by using this strategy alone, it has helped many students improve by 10 marks in a short span of time.


stockvault-a-smart-girl-with-glasses-reading-a-book158955Why? Because it helps one to reduce and eliminate errors. To all students who are scoring around 85 to 90, do this and embrace it, and you will get your A star! For these students, it’s not the “know how” they lack, but the techniques to reduce and eliminate errors.

Finally, since the key information has been underlined, checking will be a lot easier. Because a simple glance at the key information helps in checking the workings one has done. As checking is done, the calculator should be on hand to verify accuracy.


A common problem – unbelievable as it may seem – with some students, as they are using the calculator, they never seem to look at what they are pressing and get the wrong answer which affects the workings down the line. Hence, checking with the calculator is a “must”.

Check out Mastering Problem Sums – Part 1

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