A Parent’s Guide: How to Teach Problem Sums to Your Child

Problem sums can be a source of headaches for many parents, especially when your children are having difficulties in solving them. Unlike other math questions, problem sums require competencies in a number of skill sets before a child can effectively tackle them. Hence, as a parent, you must first know what underlying skill sets your child may be missing before you can effectively teach them problem sums.

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Skill 1: Vocabulary

A child might face difficulty because he or she cannot understand the context of a word in problem sum questions. Below is an example:

“Mr Lim bought some books for his students. A total of 100 books were bought for boys. Girls have 20 more books than boys. What are the total books that Mr Lim bought?”

In the sentence above, the word ‘total’ was used twice. A child with a weak vocabulary may not understand the context of how the word is used. If your child suffers from this problem, you will first need to broaden their vocabulary and improve their comprehension before going into the actual problem sums.


Skill 2: Comparative adjectives

Another language-related skill your child needs to solve problem sums is the ability to understand the relationship between words. Problem sums use many comparative adjectives that describe mathematical relationships. When a child doesn’t understand these comparative adjectives, he or she will use the wrong formula in their problem solving.

Examples of such comparative adjectives include:

“more than”
“twice the”
“less than”
“equals to”
“has fewer than”
“has X times more”
“has X times less”

All these adjectives are meant to replace the four basic arithmetic functions i.e. addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  If a child misunderstands how these adjectives relate to each of these functions, he or she will apply the wrong calculations. If your child has problems in this area, we recommend that you spend more time teaching them how to map these adjectives to the arithmetic functions.


Skill 3:  Understand numerical process

A third underlying skill to solving problem sums is to know which numbers to use first and what calculations to apply to them (add, subtract, multiply or divide). The best way to develop such logical thinking in numerical processes is to use the Singapore math model method. This method uses visual representation to replace abstract numbers and variables. By using models, children can easily see which numbers should be used and how they should be used.

If your child has problems in understanding numerical process, it is best to build their proficiency with the math model method first before asking them to practice more problem sums.


Problem sums are not inherently difficult. They are challenging to some children due to the underlying skill sets that the particular child might not possess. By knowing what some of these underlying skills are, you can better identify the weaknesses of your child and guide them accordingly.


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