In multistep math word problems, one or more problems have to be solved in order to get the information needed to solve the question being asked. This lesson will provide help and guidance that will help solve these types of problems.
Read the tips and guidance and then work through the two multistep word problems in this lesson with your children. Try the two worksheets that are listed within the lesson (you will also find them at the bottom of the page.)
Word problems are fun and challenging to solve because they represent actual situations that happen in our world.
In any word problem, the true challenge is deciding which operation to use. In multistep word problems, there may be two or more operations, and you must solve them in the correct order to be successful.
Since word problems describe a real situation in detail, the question being asked can get lost in all the information, especially in a multistep problem.
Before rushing to solve the problem, it is worth your time to slow down and clarify your understanding. Be sure you know what is being asked, what you already know from the problem, and what you need to know in order to solve the question being asked.
Use a highlighter on written problems to identify words that tell you what you are solving, and give you clues about which operations to choose. Make notes in the margins by these words to help you clarify your understanding of the problem. 
Discuss with your children how one danger when solving this type of problem is stopping too soon – after answering only the first part of the problem.
Steven is reading a book that has 260 pages. He read 35 pages on Monday night, and 40 pages on Tuesday night. How many pages does he have left to read? 
Steven is reading a book that has 260 pages. He read 35 pages on Monday night, and 40 pages on Tuesday night. How many pages does he have left to read? 
260 pages tells you the total pages to be read. 35 pages is the amount read on Monday. 40 pages is the amount read on Tuesday. How many pages does he have left to read? is the question you are being asked. Most students recognize that they need to add together 35 + 40 to get the pages read so far. The danger is you might think you can stop there. 
Adding 35 + 40 will tell you that Steven has read 75 pages so far, but if you go back to check the question you are being asked, you will see that your answer does not match what you are being asked. You will have to take another step to get there. 
Steven has read 75 pages so far, but you are being asked what he has left to read, not what he has already read. To get your final answer, you must subtract what he has read from the total pages to be read: 260 – 75. Steven has 185 pages left to read. 
260 – 75 = 185 It’s important to clearly show that you understand what your answer means. Instead of just writing 185, write: Steven has 185 pages left to read. 
Whenever you finish a math problem of any kind, always go back to the original problem. Think: “What is the question I am being asked?” Make sure that your final answer is a reasonable answer for the question you are being asked. I was asked, “How many pages does he have left to read?” My answer is: Steven has 185 pages left to read. My answer is reasonable because it tells how many pages Steven still needs to read. I added together 35 and 40 to find out the total pages he had already read, and subtracted from the total pages in the book. The number he has left should be less than the total in the book, since he’s already read some. 185 is smaller than 260. My answer makes sense. 
You can tell that there are lots of things to remember with a multistep word problem, even when the problem itself is relatively easy. But that’s what makes these problems challenging: you get to use both sides of your brain – your logical math skills, and your verbal language skills (working with words). That’s why they are often more fun to do than problems that are just numbers without the details and context that word problems give you. The better you understand how to solve them, the more fun they are to solve.
You might find that this problem is more difficult that the one above.
A man bought a dozen boxes, each with 24 highlighter pens inside, for $8 each box. He repacked five of these boxes into packages of six highlighters each, and sold them for $3 per package. He sold the rest of the highlighters separately at the rate of three pens for $2. How much profit did he make? 
How much profit did he make? is ultimately the question you are being asked. Profit is the amount earned from all sales, minus the amount spent to buy the highlighters. 
The danger is stopping here, because it took so long to get to this point, that it feels like the end. Don’t forget that the question asks you how much profit he earned. Profit is the amount earned minus the amount spent to buy the highlighters.

It’s important to clearly show that you understand what your answer means. Instead of just writing $76, write: The man made $76 profit. 
Remember, whenever you finish a math problem, always go back to the original problem. Think: “What is the question I am being asked?” Make sure that your final answer is a reasonable answer for the question you are being asked. I was asked, “How much profit did he make?” My answer is: The man made $76 profit. My answer is reasonable because it tells the man’s profit. I figured out the total he had spent, $96, and subtracted it from the total earned, $172. Profit should be smaller than money earned, since the cost of the highlighters has to be taken out. $76 is smaller than $172. My answer makes sense. 

The first problem we did was relatively simple, while the second was much more complicated. All multistep problems require you to slow down and think clearly.
Remember: you won’t know if your answer is reasonable if you don’t understand what you are being asked to solve. Take time to highlight and make notes before you solve the problem, and always go back to the original problem when you finish to make sure you really answered the question you were being asked.
Click the links below and get your children to try the worksheets that will allow for practice with the multistep word problems.
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