Rock Valley College

Problem Solving

Four-Step Method with Ten Problem Solving Strategies

The Problem Solver four-step method is a systematic guideline for solving problems. This technique incorporates ten useful problem-solving strategies as the student follows the four steps. It is designed to help students become more competent and confident in their ability to solve problems.

The Four-Step Method

1. Find Out what the problem means and what question must be answered. Look up words and phases that are unfamiliar. Figure out what is happening in the problem. It is necessary to identify the important information and the unimportant information. Is any information missing that is needed and what must be done to get that information? Sometimes the problem may need to be broken up into smaller problems.

2. Choose a strategy. Find the strategy or strategies that will help the most with a particular problem. Here are some common strategies that may be useful:

a. work backwards
b. guess and check
c. make the problem simpler
d. use or look for a pattern
e. make a picture or diagram
f. use or make a table
g. make an organized list
h. use logical reasoning
i. brainstorm
j. act out or use objects

3. Solve it. Using the strategy selected, work on the problem until an answer is found to the question. Record the work in a way that is easy to follow. If this strategy fails to produce results, try another strategy.

4. Look Back. Look at the problem once again to make sure the solution makes senses. Recheck the steps involved in the strategy. Make sure the question has been answered.

Resource: Moretti, Gloria et al, The Problem Solver 6. Sunnyvale, CA: Creative Publications, 1987.