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Basic Word Problems

A word problem in algebra is the equivalent of a story problem in math. When you solved story problems in your math class you had to decide what information you had and what you needed to find out. Then you decided what operation to use. Addition was used to find a totals and subtraction was used to find changes in values.

The approach to solve problems with algebra is usually quite different. Word problems are solved by separating information from the problems into two equal groups, one for each side of an equation. Examine this problem.

Sara has 15 apples and 12 oranges. How many pieces of fruit does she have?

We know that the sum of 15 and 12 is equal to the the total amount of fruit. As explained in the Basics of the Equation lesson, an unknown number or value is represented by a letter. The total number of pieces of fruit is unknown, so we will represent that amount with x. When the value that a particular variable will represent is determined, it is defined by writing a statement like,

Let x = Total Amount of Fruit

Once again, the sum of 15 apples and 12 oranges is equal to the total amount of fruit. This can be used to translate the problem into an equation, like the following:

15 + 12 = x

The next step is to solve this equation.


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