If you think that just knowing your numbers holds the key to acing the Primary School Leaving Examination’s (PSLE) Maths paper, think again. Junior will need to understand the words as well, points out maths consultant at ACE-Learning Systems, Dr Lai Chee Chong. Notes the author of Ministry of Education-approved maths textbooks, “Word problems require more thinking than straightforward calculations.”

Dr Lai adds that students should adopt Polya’s effective problem-solving strategy to crack word problems. Named after the Hungarian mathematician, George Polya, this method is split into four steps:

**(a) ****Understand the problem** Break down the question into chunks of information and try to make sense of them in parts.

**(b) ****Make a plan** To solve it, your child should stick to the approach he is most familiar with. However, remind him that he should be ready to change his method, if necessary.

**(c) ****Solve the problem** Be systematic ― know what steps to take and when stuck, relook and retrace your steps.

**(d) ****Look back** Don’t assume that the solution you have arrived at is the only correct one. ALWAYS check to see if it satisfies the question.

Apply these four steps when attempting practice papers. If your child makes it a habit, it will shave the time he spends solving problems. Besides adopting this critical strategy in solving word problems, Dr Lai stresses that junior’s revision should also cover four topics pupils commonly struggle with:

## Break down the question into chunks of information and try to make sense of them in parts.

**Problem Topic #1: Geometry**

**PROBLEM** Not spotting the right geometric properties of shapes in a question.**TRY THESE **Pull out the critical information the question provides and pencil it in the diagram, in case you need to make changes. Make inferences, then add this information to the diagrams: Label the right angles, parallel lines and equal lengths. Remember to be flexible ― to analyse the problem, turn the question paper (not your head) to examine the diagram and work out the answer.

**Problem Topic #2: Area**

**PROBLEM** Composite figures — a combination of different shapes in different sizes — tend to muddle students’ minds. Dr Lai cautions, “Beware of overlapping areas, too!”**TRY THESE **Divide the composite into parts — triangles, circles, squares, rectangles — then use the additional information to find the area of each shape. As the composite is the sum of all the shapes put together, you arrive at the total area by adding up all its shapes/parts.

**Problem Topic #3: Volume**

**PROBLEM** Calculating the volume of composite solids — a combination of different solids in different sizes — can also be tricky.**TRY THESE **Divide the composite into parts, then calculate the volume of each one. As the volume of the composite is cumulative, you get the volume of the composite by totalling the volume of each shape.

Click to learn about common pitfalls to avoid!

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