# 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.

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:

Example:

(ii)
329 people attended a concert on Friday night. This was 97 more than the
(i)             (i)
number of people who attended the previous night. A total of 754 people
(i)
attended the concert on Saturday and Sunday. What was the final total
attendance for the four nights of concert?

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 – addtion? 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.