What’s the Problem in Problem sums?

I’ve heard so many parents complain about the difficulties their child face when doing problem sums, and that practicing on more assessment books or repeated explanation and teaching sometimes just don’t seem to work.

So, what exactly is the PROBLEM in problem sums?

To help you understand this academic task better, we are going to analyse and break down the steps and cognitive skills needed to excel in this section of the subject of Mathematics.

Firstly, I need you to understand that Cognitive Skills are underlying sets of abilities that we need to have in order to understand, remember and apply the content (i.e subjects like English, Chinese, Maths, Science,etc) learned in school.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to help you understand and find out if your child has the necessary abilities to do the task given, and not discussing about the complexity of the questions.

Alright, using a ‘relatively easy’ question adapted from the Primary 2 level, we will be breaking down the underlying skills needed to solve the question:


Analysis of Skills needed:

(i)    Visual Discrimination

  • To clearly see the numbers given in the correct sequence (329, not as 392)

(ii)    Meaning of Words (commonly known as Vocabulary)

  • When is ‘previous night’ referring to? (Ans: Thursday night)
  • The word ‘total’ was mentioned twice, but are referring to different parts of the question

(iii)     Verbal Relations (how the words, ideas are related or linked)

  • ’97 more than the number…. the previous night’ (more than which number?)
  • Were there 754 people for Saturday and another 754 people for Sunday?

(iv)     Selecting & Applying Numerical Processes (which numbers to use first, how to use them – addition? subtraction? Or both?)

  • There are three sets of numbers: 329, 97, 754 (which order should they be used? And how are they to be used in relation to each other?)

If this question is as easy as it seems, why then are some children having difficulties scoring it? The key, then, may be the lack of or weakness in critical underlying abilities.

Just as an athlete works on improving his skills so that he can perform better, a child can achieve more if they are equipped with stronger learning abilities to handle the tasks given to them.

To find out more about your child’s underlying ability to learn, CLICK to register for our Complimentary Learning Assessment.

Article contributed by Thinkersbox



Good Tips!

Thank you for sharing with us.

smartmummy | Tue, 21/06/2011 - 10:53pm

More than analysis skills

Good explanation...

For some children who suffer dyslexia or are weak in their spatial awareness, the may find it difficult to "see" & understand problem sums as well, especially those with diagrams..

Usually these children display difficulties in doing mazes & puzzles will they were young..

smileenrichment | Thu, 09/06/2011 - 10:48am

interesting... thanks for


thanks for sharing :)

WCW | Mon, 06/06/2011 - 6:52pm

Good Article

I remembered when I was in primary school, alot of my classmates fear most is Problem Sums. They said that it was the problems sums which gave them PROBLEMS!

Momokosan | Sat, 04/06/2011 - 12:25pm

Stare for answer

Nice article. My kids always find difficult on how to start to solve a problem sum. He would stare at the question for along time.

lostinedu | Tue, 31/05/2011 - 12:32pm

Very good analysis. For a

Very good analysis.

For a moment, i thought u were gonna reveal the answer... hehe..

Think the crucial part lies with the 2nd sentence: ... 97 more than the number of people...

The word more is the key question. to add or subtract... most kids, logically speaking wld be thinking to ' add ' since its ' more '

That's where careless mistakes come about.

Hey kids, think about it. I have given u the clue.

poppy15 | Mon, 23/05/2011 - 11:59am