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Thread: maybe a stupid question?

  1. #1
    New Member
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    Dec 2017

    maybe a stupid question?

    my kid is finishing up his first semester in a college level algebra class. he currently has an 86% but his is 'white knuckling it'. he told me he is nervous about the semester test because they have gone over so much, he feels that he's not retaining it. he says he doesn't know which formula to use when approaching i guess a word problem...?

    my question is this: is there a clue in any given problem as to which formula must be used?

    i cannot tell you what formulas they covered in class but is it like: "when you see this, you must use the quadratic formula or the binomial theorem...etc"

    thank you for the help

    by the way i am not a math person. but i know math is straightforward and doesn't change. he is kind of like me, we both like geometry but algebra is like putting a needle in the eye

  2. #2
    Elite Member
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Rule of Thumb: Concepts are more important than formula memorization - almost always.
    Rule of Word Problem: If you don't know what something is, give it a name. Then you can talk about it.
    Rule of Understanding: Why is the student not here to represent himself? We help with homework.
    "Unique Answers Don't Care How You Find Them." - Many may have said it, but I hear it most from me.

  3. #3
    Elite Member
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    Sep 2012
    In word problems, you must FIRST translate into mathematical symbols the relevant information. Until that translation is done, you cannot possibly know what techniques or formulas apply.

  4. #4
    Elite Member mmm4444bot's Avatar
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    Oct 2005
    AZ, Seattle, San Diego
    Quote Originally Posted by derekc View Post
    … my question is this: is there a clue in any given problem as to which formula must be used?
    Sometimes. Sometimes not.

    For example, if a word problem involves moving objects, and it asks for a distance, or an amount of time, or a rate of travel, then the formula Distance=Rate·Time will probably be useful.

    With some exercises, the student must create a formula (i.e., an equation) because we don't have formulas (to memorize) for covering every possible scenario.

    For example, a taxi meter has a drop charge of $2.50 and adds $0.35 per tenth mile, with $36 per hour added for waiting time. A customer pays the driver $17.49 total. How many miles was the trip, if the taxi waited a total of seven minutes at traffic lights and the customer gave the driver a 20% tip? We don't memorize formulas for this type of exercise; it's easier to just work it out, in steps.

    Word problems in algebra almost always require writing an equation, followed by solving it. To write an equation, one must think about the given information, and determine two quantities that are equal. Writing these quantities as algebraic expressions comes from first assigning symbols to represent unknowns (especially the unknown for which the problem asks).

    In my opinion, when math students lack confidence going into an exam, it's often because they have not practiced enough outside of class. With more practice comes more exposure to different types of word problems. With more exposure comes greater pattern recognition and recall.

    At the University of Washington, the math department recommends studying five hours outside of class for every one hour of class attended, to be successful. Most math courses are three hours per week, in class. That means 15 hours per week studying outside of class.

    I'm glad that you're taking an active interest in your child's education. With a lot of practice, things do get easier. Encourage your child to keep trying; they will know when they feel confident.

    "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going." ~ Helen Keller

    PS: We're also here to help, with specific exercises. If your child gets stuck, have them post the complete exercise statement (in a new thread) and show whatever work they can.
    "English is the most ambiguous language in the world." ~ Yours Truly, 1969

  5. #5
    New Member
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    Dec 2017

    thank you

    thank you for the replies. i will direct him to this site to see what you have written and to engage with his own questions under his own username.

    TKHUNNY, i will get him him here. i partially wanted to know myself because i am a pattern seeker. i wanted to see if there was a pattern to make this less daunting for us. i get hopelessly lost in algebra and i am trying not to let my confusion and frustration rub off on him.

    you guys are heroes!



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