A Student's Guide to Problem Solving

From the Exponent, Fairfax County Association of Teachers of Mathematics
Reprinted in The Virginia Mathematics Teacher

Rule 1: If at all possible, avoid reading the problem. This only consumes time and causes confusion.

Rule 2: Extract the numbers from the problem in the order they appear. Watch for numbers hidden as words.

Rule 3: If you've found three or more numbers, add them.

Rule 4: If there are only two numbers which are about the same size, subtract them.

Rule 5: If there are only two numbers and one is much smaller than the other, then divide them if it goes evenly -- otherwise multiply.

Rule 6: If the problem seems to require a formula, choose one with enough letters to use all the numbers in the problem.

Rule 7: If rules 1-6 don't seem to work, make one last attempt. Take the numbers and perform about two pages of random operations. Circle about five or six answers just in case one happens to be right. If all else fails you might get partial credit for trying hard.

Rule 8: Never spend too much time on solving word problems. These rules should get you through even the most difficult set of problems in a few minutes.