Do better in Math Word Problem

06 Jun 2019
Do better in Math Word Problem

The word problems that my child is facing in primary school are too difficult. He is struggling to get them correct. How can I help my child do better at word problems? 

Many parents of primary school going children often face this problem when their child progresses to Primary 4 or 5. Their worries get worse when they receive their child’s first full length Mathematics exam results in the middle of Primary 5.  

Parents start to get anxious and some even start to panic as they think about their child’s eventual performance at the end of Primary 6, the PSLE.  

The question that I hear most often from parents is, ‘How can I help my child get better at Math?’ Coming in a close second will be, ‘Would sending my child to a tuition centre help?’ 

Mathematics Curriculum in Singapore 

Understanding the intent of the Mathematics curriculum and how the Mathematics curriculum in Singapore is structured will be useful for parents who want to help their child do better at Math.  

The broad aims of mathematics education in Singapore are to enable students to  

  1. Acquire and apply mathematical concepts and skills; 
  2. Develop cognitive and metacognitive skills through a mathematical approach to problem solving; and 
  3. Develop positive attitudes towards mathematics.

(Curriculum Planning and Development Division, Ministry of Education Singapore, 2012) 

The nature of the curriculum is intended to train our children to have the ability to think creatively and critically, essential skills for us to thrive in the 21st century. The mathematics curriculum is designed to be a tool that will be used to develop such skills.  

Do not focus on examination grades alone. 

This may sound counter-intuitive but having a mindset shift will be crucial in helping the child.

That is - if parents pay less attention to the absolute grade but gave more attention to helping the child understand concepts throughout the year, the longer term reward will pay off.  

Having too heavy an emphasis on examination grades will take the intent of the curriculum away from our children, depriving them of the opportunity to develop critical thinking skills that would be more useful to them as adults. 

Spiral Curriculum 

The structure of the curriculum is spiralling upwards in nature. Higher order concepts are built upon foundational ones. It is important for our children to learn these concepts in hierarchical sequence. Simply put, the things that our children learn is built upon what they have already learnt in their previous years. 

Do NOT focus ONLY on word problems.

Yes. I am serious about that. We must understand how word problems are crafted. These are questions that require our children to recall basic skills and concepts they have learnt and, apply them into the situation. That means they will need to have mastery of these skills, before they can attempt to solve these problems.

If your child has issues trying to solve word problems, he may benefit by revisiting concepts and skills taught to them the year before. I have come across some Primary 6 students who benefitted immensely by simply revisiting Primary 4 and 5 topics.

Doing this not only helped these students get better at the basics, their confidence level also grew. This translated to a student who was able to make dramatic improvements in their grades eventually.

Would signing up for more tuition classes help?

As a teacher for the last 14 years, I get this question a lot. I always have a standard reply. Yes and no.

If your child needs help in mastering the basics, then, yes. Tuition could help. However, do not fall for tuition centres that prey on your insecurities as a parent and try to sell you a miracle pill that they claim to be able to solve a large percentage of questions.

Be wary of centres that tell you they can turn your child’s grade from 20/100 to an A in a few months.

If your child is already doing well, spend the money on charity instead.

Doing more harm than good.

Tuition has always been touted to be Singapore’s shadow education system. The tuition market is estimated to be worth more than a billion dollars in 2014 in Singapore. Competition amongst tutors and tuition centres is fierce and to stand out, some centres market themselves to be able to produce ‘miracles’ in their student’s grades.

To do this, they teach their students to be exam smart. To spot similar questions and apply a fixed method to solve the questions. The aim is to simply score in the exams and the compromise is, deep understanding.

Many students do not even know what they are doing when they’re applying the methods taught.

Are we then really helping our children or, are we doing the reverse?


So how can you help your child do better at Mathematics? Focus on mathematical concepts. This takes a skilful and caring teacher/tutor to understand your child’s conceptual gaps. This need not always take a long time. Sometimes, a 30min consultation is sufficient, leaving your child more time to do other work or even just to rest.  

Do not place an over emphasis on exam results. Instead, focus on your child’s learning process. Get tuition if you must but do choose your tutor or tuition centre wisely.

By Wei Qiang – Community Manager iMath; MOE-trained teacher with more than 14 yrs experience