Mastering Heuristics Series: Unit Transfer Method In Solving Challenging Upper Primary Mathematical Problems

Upcoming Parents Workshop at mathsHeuristics™

30th May 2010 Sunday,
2 pm to 5 pm
$200 nett, inclusive of a complimentary Unit Transfer Method book

The Unit Transfer Method parents workshop is designed for parents who wish to take a more hands-on approach in their children’s Maths education. Parents will learn the very same problem-solving concepts and methodologies that their children need to master in order to score in Maths.

We all know that times have changed, but who would have imagined that the foundational mathematical problem solving skills we were brought up on mean practically nothing for our next generation?

The mathematics questions found in primary schools these days can leave even the most academically inclined parents stumped! Regardless whether you’ve scored A* in your own PSLE maths paper decades ago, we’re sure you’ve had difficulty trying to guide your child with his/her homework using your old-school algebraic equations. Even the relatively newer model approach, involving drawing rectangular boxes/blocks, doesn’t always work.

Perhaps the alternative Heuristics approach will put those seemingly impossible-to-solve problem sums in a “less intimidating” light. Heuristics simply refers to rules, processes or methods that the student can discover.

Mr Sunny Tan, Principle Trainer at mathsHeuristics™ covers six heuristics concepts in his first book titled, Unit Transfer Method (Part 1 of 4 in his Mastering Heuristics Series of guidebooks for tackling Upper Primary Mathematics). They are namely – Before and After, Excess and Shortage, Repeated Identity, Equal, Two Variables, and Ratio and Proportion. The Ministry of Education in Singapore has incorporated 11 Problem-Solving Heuristics into all primary-level mathematical syllabuses.

An NIE-trained ex-teacher specialising in Mathematics, with more than 10 years’ teaching experience, Sunny observed that schools do not actually teach a standard method nowadays. Parents who depend on tuition agencies or private tutors to improve their kid’s performance often overlook the fact that most tutors were also raised on the same Mathematics syllabus as themselves, thus may not be effective in coaching their kids.

With the aim of closing this gap, Sunny established the mathsHeuristics™ Programme as well as penned the Mastering Heuristics Series guidebook. His own academic research focuses on mathematical problem-solving, problem-posing and thinking skills.

Since its launch in January 2009, the book has received good press coverage such as in The Straits Times, and ParentsWorld and Wawa magazines; parents and academics too have raved about its simple, logical and powerful technique. The handbook boldly challenges you to solve a sample problem sum in five minutes – and it really can be done once you grasp the Unit Transfer concept, which emphases the use of ratio as a way to analyse the problem sums. Equipped with this concept, almost 90% of the challenging problems involving the six above-mentioned PSLE topics can be solved.

Dr Lua, a overseas Singaporean parent for the past eight years, was concerned that his son, Anthony, could not adapt to the method of solving problem sums taught in our local primary schools when Anthony joined in Primary 3. Anthony was not schooled in Singapore since pre-school to Primary 2 – he had undergone the British and Japanese education systems, which do not focus on examinations and grade achievements. “The experiential and applied Maths training acquired by my child in overseas schools would not allow him to cope with the aggressive and rigorous solving of Maths problems set by in the Singapore curriculum. In addition, my child lacks the visualisation skill needed in using and applying model heuristics to solve Maths problems,” said Dr Lua.

Being an academic himself, Dr Lua held many research discussions with Sunny to experiment how Anthony coped with using the Unit Transfer Method to understand and solve problem sums. Anthony now has a non-visualisation heuristics and tool to help him solve the higher-order Maths problem sums. In turn, from Anthony’s experience, Sunny was able to refine and re-invent his method further.

The main idea is to identify which variable in the problem sum remains unchanged, interpret the statement and convert everything to units for a solution. The method further teaches you to convert decimals and percentages to fractions first since decimals and percentages may be confusing to children.

Although students should also be trained in other problem-solving methods, many who have learnt Sunny’s Unit Transfer Method feel that this particular method has been effective in solving many of the difficult problem sum questions. Requiring visualisation, the Unit Transfer Method explains all sums in simple tabulation format and complements the widely taught model approach, which uses diagrams. This helps the student to systematically organise information in the problem sums.

The Mastering Heuristics Series gives two perspectives:


  1. Concepts in action – to show how easy and efficient Mathematical Heuristics are in solving challenging mathematical questions. 
  2. Concepts being applied – to systematically show every step involved in applying each Mathematical Heuristics concept.

The Unit Transfer Method guidebook is a useful standalone resource for hands-on parents who want to be able to guide their children in their maths homework. The easy-to-follow step-by-step instructions make the Mastering Heuristics Series an ultimate practical guide for parents. Needless to say, it also serves as a companion for students enrolled in the mathsHeuristics™ Programme, while keeping their parents abreast with what they are learning.

Purchase online at or self collect at the mathsHeuristics ™ centre

Interested parents can also sign up for workshops, such as the three-hour Unit Transfer Method parents workshop conducted by mathsHeuristics™ at Goldhill Centre (Thomson).
Upcoming Workshop: 30 May (Sunday), 2-5pm. See more information.



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