3 Tips to avoid careless Maths problem sum mistakes

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“Careless!” – A dreaded word parents never want to hear from their child’s teacher. 

Many parents wonder how they can help their children be less careless when doing maths problem sums. While we may not be able to completely eradicate carelessness, here are 3 important steps we can take to at least minimise these mistakes from occurring. 

Tip #1: Circle or underline key information

Most pupils are told to circle or underline information in problem sums. But because pupils sometimes read without really understanding what is important in a question, they can end up circling or underlining almost everything!

The point is not to highlight everything. So what information are pupils supposed to circle or underline? Let’s look at the following example:

Figure 1

The goal of circling or underlining information is to help pupils focus on what is key in the question. There are usually 2 types of key information to take note of: numbers, and the phrase associated with a number.

As a pupil reads a question, they should circle numbers and underline the phrase or word the number refers to. The kinaesthetic act of circling and underlining, combined with reading, helps the pupil focus and connect the number given in the question to what it stands for. Refer to Figure 2:

Figure 2

You will notice that ‘300 more’ is circled instead of just ‘300’ as it is important to know that there are not 300 bronze beads but 300 more bronze beads than gold beads. The word ‘altogether’ has also been circled as this is what the question is asking.

Tip #2: Use statement tags

What are statement tags? They are a word or phrase labelling what a mathematical step is for. They can be written in front of or behind the mathematical working as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3

As there is no necessity to write statement tags in upper primary or for the PSLE, pupils tend to write their working steps in one enormous chunk which can confuse them. Statement tags help pupils formalise a logical flow in their thought process and allow the teacher to follow the pupils’ working. 

Tip #3: Circle intermediate answers

A 4 or 5-mark question requires a number of steps to solve.  A common careless mistake is using the wrong intermediate answer for the next subsequent step in the working process. If you know that certain intermediate answers will be required later, circle it for easy reference as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4

Circling key intermediate answers allows pupils to easily see and check if they had used the right numbers correctly

So, there it is. Three practical and simple steps that pupils can use to help them minimise careless mistakes when solving problem sums. We hope you found them useful.

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