What does this problem want me to do?

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Solving problems in STEM courses often requires identifying the correct procedure for solving a problem. If, under the time pressure and stress of an exam, you jump right at a problem, you may choose the wrong procedure to solve it.

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To train yourself to look before you leap, when working on problem sets, ask and answer the questions, “What does this problem want me to do? How will I give it what it wants?” for each problem.

Rashmi Kumar, Ed. D., STEM Specialist at the Weingarten Center, consistently teaches her undergraduate and medical students to ask these questions before they jump at the problem, so they are more likely to pair it with the right procedure:

What does this problem want me to do?

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Define the goal of the problem

It might make the work a little more fun, and you will be faster and better at problem-procedure pairing on the midterm:

How will I give the problem what it wants?”

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Identify the procedure that should be paired with the problem

Imagine…

Susana is about to solve a STEM problem. She asks herself,

What does this problem want me to do?

She answers,

Hmm, it wants me to calculate the torque at a perpendicular force.

Then she asks,

How will I give it what it wants?

And answers,

First I have to convert the units into the expected format. Next, I’ll need to identify the right equation. Then I’ll be ready solve the equation.

Simple and easy, right?

Practice it until it is an automatic habit and you will do it under pressure.

And for added fun, try saying “problem-procedure pairing” ten times fast!

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By Staff Writer: Nicholas Santascoy, Learning Instructor

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