How old is the captain, really?

Do you remember the question about the captain’s age? In one study, 97 elementary students were asked a version of it that read: “There are 26 sheep and 10 goats on a ship. How old is the captain?”

You might be surprised to learn that 76 of them attempted to give an actual solution to the problem. 

In a classroom setting, pupils often learn word problems as merely arithmetic tasks. But we now know that many linguistic components impact a problem’s difficulty.

Standard word problems, the ones that have one clear solution, are the easiest ones to solve. Unfortunately for us, the problems we encounter in the real world aren’t usually standard word problems. Our world includes contradictions and often gives us problems with multiple solutions, or puzzles with no solution at all.

Approach them accordingly.