Math Word Problems for Nursing School Entrance Exam Study Guide

Updated on Aug 12, 2011

The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:

Mathematics for Nursing School Entrance Exam Practice Problems

Many of the math problems on tests are word problems. A word problem can include any kind of math, including simple arithmetic, fractions, decimals, percentages, and even algebra and geometry.

The hardest part of any word problem is translating English into math. When you read a problem, you can frequently translate it word for word from English statements into mathematical statements. At other times, however, a key word in the word problem only hints at the mathematical operation to be performed. Here are the translation rules:

EQUALS keywords: is, are, has

English Math
Bob is 18 years old. b = 18
There are 7 hats. h = 7
Judi has 5 cats. c = 5

ADDITION keywords: sum, more than, greater than, older than, total, altogether

English Math
The sum of two numbers is 10. x + y = 10
Karen has $5 more than Sam. k = 5 + s
The base is 3 inches greater than the height. b = 3 + h
Judi is 2 years older than Tony. j = 2 + t
The total of three numbers is 25. a + b + c = 25
How much do Joan and Tom have altogether? j + t = ?

SUBTRACTION keywords: difference, fewer than, less than, younger than, remain, left over

English Math
The difference between two numbers is 17. xy = 17
Mike has 5 fewer cats than twice the number Jan has. m = 2j – 5
Jay is 2 years younger than Brett. j = b – 2
After Carol ate 3 apples, r apples remained. r = a – 3

MULTIPLICATION keywords: of, product, times, each, at

English Math
20% of the samples 0.20 × s
Half of the bacteria × b
The product of two numbers is 12. a × b = 12

DIVISION keyword: per

English Math
15 drops per teaspoon
22 miles per gallon


You know you will need to use the distance formula when you see movement words like: plane, train, boat, car, walk, run, climb, or swim.

  • How far did the plane travel in 4 hours if it averaged 300 miles per hour?
  • D = 300 × 4

    D = 1,200 miles

  • Ben walked 20 miles in 4 hours. What was his average speed?
  • 20 = r × 4

    5 miles per hour = r

Solving a Word Problem Using the Translation Table

Remember the problem at the beginning of this chapter about the jelly beans?

Juan ate of the jelly beans.Maria then ate of the remaining jelly beans, which left 10 jelly beans. How many jelly beans were there to begin with?

  1. 60
  2. 80
  3. 90
  4. 120

We solved it by working backward. Now let's solve it using our translation rules.

Assume Juan started with J jelly beans. If Juan ate of them, that means there were of them left, or × J jelly beans. Maria ate a fraction of the remaining jelly beans, which means we must subtract to find out how many are left. Maria ate , leaving of the × J jelly beans, or × × J jelly beans. Multiplying out × × J gives J as the number of jelly beans left. The problem states that there were 10 jelly beans left, meaning that weset × J equal to 10:

× J = 10

Solving this equation for J gives J = 60. Thus, the right answer is choice a (the same answer we got when we worked backward). As you can see, both methods—working backward and translating from English to math—work. You should use whichever method is more comfortable for you.

The practice quiz for this study guide can be found at:

Mathematics for Nursing School Entrance Exam Practice Problems

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