Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Word Problems

As a degree requirement, I’m taking a basic mathematics class. Mostly I’m learning that my choice to become a writer instead of a mathematician was probably a good thing. However, a few weeks ago I realized just how important word choices can be in the math world.

The test question went something like this:

John Smith owns 200 acres of land slated for development. 47.5 acres will become a recreational area, and the rest will be divided into 2-1/2 acre residential lots. How many lots will Mr. Smith have?

The way I read it, we were to determine how many 2-1/2 acre lots could be created from the acreage remaining after the 47.5 recreational acres were taken out of the equation. That turned out to be a correct assumption.

Some of the students in my class, though, read too much into the problem. They counted the recreational acreage as one lot, and then added that to the number of 2-1/2 acre lots.

Now, it was never stated that the rec area should be counted as an additional lot. But that’s how these students interpreted it. Confusion could have been avoided if the question writer had simply added one word:

How many residential lots will Mr. Smith have?

As for how I really feel about this class I’m taking:

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