Solving Multi-Step Problems with Addition & Subtraction

Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

In a multi-step addition or subtraction problem, you need to perform more than one mathematical operation. In this lesson, learn how to solve multi-step problems and practice your new skills with some practice problems.

What is a Multi-Step Problem?

Johanna loves apples, so she goes to the store and buys ten apples. On the way home, she stops at her grandmother's house, and her grandmother takes away three of the apples. When she gets home, she finds out that her mother has five more apples and she gives them all to Johanna. How many apples does Johanna have now?

To determine how many apples Johanna has in the end, you need to add or subtract apples from the total more than once. This is a multi-step addition and subtraction problem because there are several steps that must be performed in order to get a final answer.

You may need to add some quantities and subtract others, and you need to carefully read the problem in order to determine exactly what you need to do to solve it.

How to Solve a Multi-Step Problem

The first step in solving a math word problem is translating the words into math. To determine if you need to add or subtract, look for keys words like addition, sum, or more that tell you to ADD two quantities together. Key words like difference, take away, left, and remove tell you that you need to SUBTRACT.

To translate a word problem from words into mathematical symbols, look for words like these that tell you when to subtract and when to add
Adding and Subtracting Words

In this problem, Johanna starts with ten apples, and then her grandmother takes away three of them. Does this mean that you should add or subtract three apples from the total?

Remember that take away is a key word that tells you to subtract, so subtract three from ten to find out how many apples Johanna has after she leaves her grandmother's house.

10 apples - 3 apples = 7 apples

Next, Johanna goes home, and her mother gives her five more apples. The key word more tells you to add five to the total.

7 apples + 5 apples = 12 apples

Johanna started with ten apples, three were removed, and then five were added. In the end, Johanna had twelve apples!

Practice Problems

Let's try a few more practice problems to make sure you understand.

Derek has 14 sticks of gum. He gives 5 of them away to his friend Mark and then gives 3 more sticks of gum to his friend Felicia. How many sticks of gum does he have now?

First, look for the key words. In this problem, the key word gives away tells you that you should SUBTRACT.

He starts with 14 sticks and gives 5 away to Mark. How many does he have after that?

14 sticks - 5 sticks = 9 sticks

Next, he gives 3 more sticks to Felicia. How many does he have now?

9 sticks - 3 sticks = 6 sticks

After giving gum away to his friends, Derek has only 6 sticks left!

Samira had $43. On her birthday, her mom gave her $25, and her dad gave her $20. Then, she spent $56 on a new video game. How much money did she have left?

Since her mom and dad both gave her money, you should add these amounts to the amount she started with.

$43 + $25 + $20 = $88

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