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Quantitative problem-solving: You CAN do it!

By Caleigh Treissman, 3rd-year Psychology major

Quantitative problem solving takes some practice, but there are many strategies you can use to make the solution clear! To improve your quantitative problem solving skills, try to focus on learning and practicing the process of solving problems, rather than solely memorizing and drilling formulas or calculations. If you understand on a conceptual level the processes in your course, you will be better equipped to apply those processes to problems you haven’t seen before.

Think of it this way: You can’t solve every single possible problem. But you can master the conceptual thought process to follow for a particular problem type — and you can apply that to individual problems, no matter how tricky they may become on a test.

1. Start off by ensuring you fully understand what the question is asking!

  • What is the goal?
  • Identify ‘knowns’ and ‘unknowns’
  • Underline key numbers/terms/variables

2. Focus on understanding the fundamentals needed to solve a problem, rather than scrambling for an equation that includes all variables given.

3. When you start out, focus on ACCURACY not SPEED – it is better to get spend the time fully solving a problem than jumping between multiple questions in a rush! Once you understand how to approach a particular problem type, you can then start practicing for speed.

You can use our Concept Summary strategy in order to provide a structure for organizing fundamental ideas.

You can also follow our Decision Steps strategy to help yourself focus on the thought process alongside your calculations when working on a problem.

When it comes to problem solving, practice is key — just like when trying to play an instrument or learn a sport. Remember to focus on understanding the processes that go in to correctly solving a problem so that you can employ these strategies when faced with never-seen-before quantitative problems.

We have plenty more Quantitative Problem-Solving resources online.

Photo courtesy of Chris de Kok under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.