5 Steps to Solving Problems with Formulas

Many people struggle with math. Solving a math problem can challenging and stressful at times, but with practice and good strategies, the process can be made easier and even satisfying.

Here are the steps that I use myself and teach to my students in order to maximize the probability that we all arrive at the same answer for the same reasons.

Let's consider a relatively straightforward calculation from Geometry: the volume of a cylinder.

Step 1: Write the formula

Write an appropriate formula for the mathematical context that you are considering.

Step 2: Define your variables

Write down every variable in the formula. Then search for the values of each variable in the problem. In the vast majority of cases, you will be given all of the information you need except for the value you need to calculate.

Step 3: Substitute

Rewrite the formula, replacing variables with their values.

Step 4: Simplify or solve

In many cases, you will get a number as your answer. In other cases, you will only be able to simplify the results.

Step 5: Interpret

Write your final answer in a complete sentence, using appropriate units.

Handwritten Version

I like to number my steps and circle them to avoid confusing them with my work.

Typed Version

Here is the same work, but typed using the Google Docs Equation Editor.