Can You Solve These Basic Word Problems from Elementary School?


By: Kathryn Davis

7 Min Quiz

Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Word problems date back to ancient times. They prevailed into the dark ages, throughout the voyages of our ancestors, and into the modern elementary school classroom where they now work daily to torment and frustrate innocent kids.

Usually built into lesson plans in order to switch things up just as students begin to grasp traditional math problems, word problems can be based on pretty much any mathematical function. They can be used to disguise simple addition and subtraction problems, or more complex equations that deal with fractions and probabilities. Whatever the goal, word problems are usually set up to challenge students into approaching traditional number problems from a different angle.

A true wolf in sheep’s clothing, word problems usually look fairly friendly at first glance. Some teachers argue that word problems are important for helping students to recognize the real-world application of the stuff they learn in math class. Other teachers might admit that word problems are a form of cruel and unusual punishment …

Want the chance to prove to your 9-year-old self just how smart you’ve grown up to be, despite all those math-induced tears? Think you have what it takes to breeze through these classic word problems straight from elementary school?

Take this quiz and see if you have what it takes to pass elementary school math class again!

Mike has one cat. Martha has 4. How many cats do Mike and Martha have between them?

You're right. This question is straight from the 2nd grade. Add Mike's 1 cat with Martha's 4 cats for a total of 5 cats. A victory lap for you!


How many minutes are there in each week?

There are 24 hours each day, each of which is 60 minutes long, which means there are 1,440 minutes per day. Since there are 7 days each week, we multiply 1,440 minutes per day by those 7 days, leaving us with 10,080 minutes per week and a fresh sense of exhaustion because, whew, that's a lot of minutes!


Mickey's Spotify account is set up to charge $9 to her account automatically each month. How much does Mickey spend for Spotify in a year?

Spotify makes it easy on Mickey. All we have to do is multiply $9 per month by the 12 months each year; Mickey spent $108 on unlimited listening.


Mark has 5 times as many CDs as he has books. He has 35 CDs. How many books does Mark have?

(The number of CDs Mark has) = 5 x (the number of books he has). "B" is the number of books Mark has. 35 = 5B Solving this gives us B = 7. Mark has 7 books.


Olivia has 56 pairs of shoes; she needs to organize her closet. She divides them up into 8 equal groups so they fit neatly on her shelves. How many individual shoes are on each of Olivia's shelves now?

Close reading is key here: Sure, Olivia has placed the 56 pairs of shoes she has onto 8 different shelves, making each shelf contain 7 pairs of shoes—but the question wants to know how many individual shoes there are. Not how many pairs! We divide Olivia's 56 pairs of shoes into 8 equal groups, then multiply that by 2 in order to account for every shoe.


Leo has agreed to cook dinner for his Tinder date. Looking at the recipes his mom sent, Leo finds that he'll need 8 pans for 3 dishes. The first dish called for 2 pans, while the other 2 dishes called for an equal number of pans. How many pans did Leo use for dishes #2 and #3?

Thankfully, this problem is a pretty easy one, so Leo should be able to impress his Tinder date. If we look at our initial 8 pans, remove the 2 pans that we know will be used for the first dish, we're left with 6 pans. The second and third dishes need an equal number of pans—so we divide by 2 to find that we'll need 3 pans per dish.


Sam gets 3 weeks' worth of paid vacation each year from his job at the accounting firm. He's already taken 1 week off, and he has a 4-day vacation planned for the end of the month. After Sam has taken his upcoming break, how many vacation days will he have left this year?

If we start by converting the units of Sam's vacation from weeks to days, we find that 3 weeks translates to 21 days in total. This means that Sam has already taken 7 days (1 week) plus next week's 4 days—a total of 11 days so far. Subtract these 11 days from the total 21 days; we're left with 10 days of vacation! Use them wisely, Sammy.


You've got a large box. That box contains 18 more small boxes. In each small box are 36 iPhones. Before you break into it, how many iPhones does the large box hold in total?

We have 1 large box, which includes 18 smaller boxes. 1 x 18 = 18. Those 18 boxes each hold 36 iPhones. 18 x 36 = 648 iPhones! That's a lot of potential for cracked screens.


Glen's painting business charges $225 for paint and materials, and $35 per hour labor. Glen wrote an invoice this morning charging a customer $330. How many hours did Glen spend painting for this customer?

Glen wrote the invoice for $330 in total. If we subtract the standing fee of $225 for materials, we're left with $105. We know Glen charges $35 every hour for labor, so we divide the remaining $105 by $35 and are left with a total of 3 hours.


Lilly and Emma have a total of 49 toys. If Lilly has 5 more toys than Emma does, how many does each girl have?

Since Lilly has 5 more toys than Emma does, we can take those 5 off the total number and set those aside for her. We're left with 44 toys in total, which we can divide equally between the 2 girls, leaving each with 22 toys. If we return Lilly's 5 toys to her, she'll add those to her 22, leaving her with 27 toys in total—and leaving Emma with the same 22 toys as before.


Amy and her boyfriend are "taking a break" from their relationship, so Amy is trying to text him less. At the end of last week, Amy looked back and saw that she'd texted him a total of 49 times with an equal number of messages every day. How many times a day did Amy text her boyfriend last week?

Since we know Amy texted her boyfriend 49 times throughout the week, and we know there are 7 days each week, all we need to do is divide 49 by 7—which just-so-happens to come out to an even 7 times per day! What do you think? Is Amy being too clingy?


Elliot can eat 1/4 of a burger in 1 minute. How long will it take him to finish his whole burger, plus 1/2 of Linda's burger?

It takes Elliot 1 minute to eat 1/4 of his own burger, so to eat 4/4, it'll take him 4 minutes. When he eats Linda's burger, he'll need to eat another 2/4 of a burger, adding 2 minutes worth of burger-eating time.


You started with $35 and withdrew some more money from your bank account. You buy a new phone case for $34, 2 books for $16 each and 2 sweaters at $24 each. After the shopping, you have $32 left. How much money did you withdraw from the bank before your shopping trip?

If you add the total cost of the day's purchases, plus your $32 leftover, you'll come up with $146—but remember, you had an extra $35 in your pocket before you even went to the bank. Subtract that starting $35, and find that you took $111 out of your account, which seems like a really random amount, you weirdo.


Ben bought 3 sodas at $1.20 each, a box of gummy bears at $1.50 and a box of chocolates at $1.70. How much did Ben spend in total?

With 3 sodas at $1.20 apiece, Ben spent a total of $3.60 on sodas. Then, he purchased a box of gummy bears for $1.50, which brings him to $5.10. Finally, Ben tossed in a box of chocolates for an extra $1.70, leaving his bill at $6.80.


Bill's birthday is in January. He's exactly 6 months older than Rob. Allison's birthday is the week before Rob's. When is Allison's birthday?

Since we're not given any information as to the exact date Bill's or Rob's birthday falls on, we can assume that Allison's birthday is in May, June, or July—but we don't have enough information to determine whether her being a week older than Rob bumps her into a different month as Rob, or even whether the 6 months between Bill and Rob leads us into June or July!. Either way, happy birthday everybody!


If I walk 4 miles in an hour, how long will it take me to walk 18 miles (assuming I don't stop for snack breaks or naps)?

Since I'm so disciplined and I won't be stopping to take any breaks, I can assume I'll keep my pace of 4 miles every hour. I want to walk 18 miles, so I divide this total mileage with my 4 miles per hour and find I'll have finished my walk in a quick 4.5 hours!


It takes Lucy 25 minutes to get ready each morning, and 45 minutes for her to get in the car and arrive at work. She has an early meeting tomorrow, so she needs to be at work by 9 a.m. For what time should she set her alarm to make sure she gets to work right on time?

Lucy needs to be to work by 9:00 AM. If we add the 25 minutes it takes for her to get ready in the morning to the 45 minutes it takes her to commute to work, we get a total of 1 hour and 10 minutes. 1 hour and 10 minutes before 9:00 AM is 7:50 AM. Rise and shine, Lucy!


Bart the Mattress King opened a new factory 3 years ago. In the first year of production, Bart's factory produced 1,130 mattresses. In the second year, it put out 3,790 mattresses. In its third year, Bart's factory produced 5,490 mattresses. There was an unfortuate fire in the third year that destroyed 1,200 mattresses. In total, how many mattresses has Bart's factory produced?

If we add the first year's production of 1,130 with the second and third years' production of 3,790 and 5,490 mattresses respectively, we come away with 10,410 mattresses. It doesn't matter to the question that any of Bart the Mattress King's mattresses were ruined in the fire, since the question only asks how many were produced in total—not how many were sold or how many still exist.


Amber and Eli will harvest their cornfield this weekend. There are 250 rows of corn. Each row has 184 corn cobs. It should take the pair of them about 15 hours to harvest the field. At the end of the weekend, how many corn cobs will Amber and Eli have harvested?

We have 250 rows of corn, which each holds 184 cobs. The amount of time it'll take to harvest the field isn't relevant to the question—all we need to do is multiply 250 rows by 184 cobs. That's a lot of corn cobs!


Makayla watched 5 movies, John watched 6 books, and Jess watched 7. They watched 1 of the movies together, but the rest of the movies were totally different. As a group, how many different movies did the trio watch?

The key here is to pay attention to that one movie everybody watched together. Shave 1 movie off everyone's total movie count, add the adjusted totals together, then paste that 1 movie back on for our grand total! Let's just hope that 1 movie wasn't Birdman...


Mia broke her right arm at basketball practice. Before she got hurt, she was able to type 8 words per minute on her phone. Now, using her left arm, she can only type 5 words per minute. How many fewer words can Mia type in 5 minutes with her left hand than in 5 minutes with her right hand?

Careful reading is important here. Now, of course, we know at a glance that for every 1 minute, Mia types 3 words fewer with her left hand than with her right. But the trick is to multiply each total by the 5 minutes Mia is allowed to type in this situation. So we're looking at 8 words x 5 minutes, minus 5 words x 5 minutes—for a total of 15 words fewer over the course of 5 minutes spent typing with Mia's left hand, rather than her right.


Brad's mom told him 4 weeks ago that he'd have to start paying his own phone bill—$50 every month. He started putting away the money he used to spend on coffee in order to save up for his phone bill. He's set aside $9 a week for 4 weeks now; how much money will he need to pull from his bank account to pay his mom in full?

Brad's done an okay job of saving up, but he'll still need to pull $14.00 from his account. If we take $9.00 he's saved each week and multiply by the number of weeks he's been saving—4 weeks—we find that Brad has $36.00 saved up. His owed $50.00 minus his saved $36.00 leaves him $14 short. Here's hoping Brad's mom is feeling generous this month!


Your new band knows 24 songs. You're planning to play 6 songs in your first set, 8 in your second—and you're saving 1 for an inevitable encore. How many unplayed songs will your band have left for the third set?

Your band is really good, so you'll need to be careful to keep that one song set aside for the encore. This means you'll play 6 songs, plus 8 songs, plus 1 song, only counting your first two sets and your encore. From your total 24 songs, subtract these already-reserved 15 songs—then play the remaining 9 for your third set!


Ellen and Matt took a trip to the beach, where they stayed for a week. It rained for 3 of the days, producing 3mm, 6mm, and 10mm of rainfall. In the same week, it rained a total of 23mm at Ellen and Matt's home. Which place got more rain, and by how much?

Since we know the sum of the rainfall at Ellen and Matt's home is 23mm, we need to add up the total rainfall at the beach—(3 + 6 + 10) = 19mm—and subtract the smaller of the two amounts from the larger one. Based on this, we find that Matt and Ellen's home received 4mm more rainfall while they were away.


My grandma has 9 chickens. Each chicken lays 6 eggs each week. If my grandma sells eggs for $3 a dozen for 2 weeks, how much money will she need to take from her savings to buy a new TV for $200?

If we look at grandma's 9 chickens and each lays 1/2 dozen each week, we find ourselves with 54 eggs in 2 weeks—which we'll divide in half to make for 27 full dozen eggs. Each of these dozens is sold for $3.00, so my grandma makes $81.00 per week—or $162.00 in 2 weeks. Subtract $162.00 from $200, and grandma only needs to take $38.00 from savings to buy that new TV!


Micah recently joined a kayaking club that had 19 kayaks. Each of the club's trailers could transport 3 kayaks on the top row and 4 kayaks on the bottom. The kayaking club wants to know how many trailers they'll need to take every kayak to the river next weekend. How many trailers will they need?

Since we have all the necessary information, we can start with the 19 kayaks we've got. If we add the trailers' top row, 3, with their bottom row, 4, we come away knowing that every trailer can carry 7 kayaks. By dividing the 19 kayaks we have by the 7 spots per trailer, we find that we need 2.71 trailers—but since the kayaking club likely won't be thrilled about the concept of chopping up one of its trailers to perfectly tailor it to the amount of space needed, we can round up to the 3 trailers we'll end up needing for next weekend.


Maggie owed $10,000 on her student loans. Since graduating, Maggie has made 3 payments of $110 each. Each month Maggie's loan balance gains $10 in interest. After her first 3 payments and the compiling interest, how much money does Maggie still owe on her student loans?

Maggie's been doing a pretty good job of paying down her student loans. So far, her loans have accrued $30.00 in interest on top of the initial $10,000.00, and Maggie has paid $330.00 in total. Maggie has, essentially, paid $100 per month, plus enough on top of that to make her interest obsolete. $10,030.00 minus $330.00 comes to a solid $9,700.00.


AJ has applied for 18 jobs. He's been offered interviews at 4 of them. What percentage of the jobs he's applied for has he been offered interviews?

Remember, percentages are always found by dividing the smaller number given by the larger one. If we divide AJ's 4 interviews by his 18 applications, we get .222222222—or a 22% success rate (assuming AJ wants a job!).


Sophie has 16 scarves she needs to get rid of. She has 6 friends she'd like to give them to, but she wants to be sure everyone gets the same number of scarves so no one gets petty. How many scarves will each friend get? How many will be leftover?

We look at the given numbers to find that 6 can be divided evenly into 16 twice, leaving behind 4 scarves. If we try to add another scarf to each person's pile, we find that 4 people will have 3, while 2 will only have 2. Sophie's friends are too petty to handle this, so Sophie should plan to give each friend 2 scarves and donate 4.


Quinn's website has 7 pages. Each page contains 9 links, but when Quinn checked his site at the end of the year, each of the first 5 pages had 2 links that were missing or broken. How many working links are there on Quinn's whole website?

We're unable to draw a firm conclusion as to how many working links there are on Quinn's site. Although we can assume that 2 broken links is a rule for all of Quinn's pages, we really can't be sure. Until Quinn makes it through the rest of the pages, we won't know how many working links there are.


Wendy is hoping for a white Christmas, though there's no snow on the ground right now. There are 3 days until Christmas. It's supposed to snow 2 inches tonight, 7 inches tomorrow, and then it's supposed to be warm enough to melt 3 inches of snow before it snows and extra inch and a half on Christmas. How much snow will there be at the end of the day on Christmas, if the weather stays true to the forecast?

Since there's no snow on the ground currently, we can add today's snowfall of 2 inches to tomorrow's snowfall of 7 inches. Then we'll subtract the 3 inches' worth of melting snow and add the additional 1.5 inches on Christmas—for a grand total of 7.5 inches!


Brian wants to spend as close to $30 as possible (without going over) on his sister for her birthday. He wants to buy her 2 presents and is considering a pair of headphones ($19), a sweater ($22), a pair of socks ($6), and a lamp ($14). Which presents should Brian buy?

The key to this one is close reading. Brian wants to buy 2 gifts for as close to $30 without going over. The combination that gets us closest to this goal is the sweater plus the pair of socks!


Josh and Louise can afford to invite 8 people to their destination wedding. With both sets of parents and Josh's 2 brothers invited, how many friends can Josh and Louise afford to bring?

Josh and Louise can invite 8 people in total. They're inviting their 2 sets of parents - 4 people - and Josh's 2 brothers. This leaves them with 2 open spots of the 8!


You slept for 8 hours every night last week. How much of the week did you spend awake?

We start by figuring out how many hours there are, in total, each week (168). Then we move on to find how many hours 8 hours per night for 7 days is—which turns out to be 56 hours. Subtract the hours spend sleeping from a week's total hours, and we come away with 112 waking hours.


After taxes, you make $9 every hour. Your rent costs $250 each month. How many full hours do you need to work in order to pay your rent?

Since you're taking home $9.00 for each hour you work, we can divide the owed $250 by your $9 per hour. If we round up our resulting number of hours (27.7 hours) to make for a full hour, we find that you'll need to work 28 hours a month in order to pay rent.


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