The importance of Problem Solving as a skill

The importance of Problem Solving as a skill

Let us hear what Pranav, has to say about, “The importance of Problem Solving as a skill”

 For many, facing problems may be a cakewalk, may be a nightmare for some, and for many, it is something that they would rather never talk about. It is inevitable and there are some problems that are more complex than others. Given the mysterious aura surrounding problem-solving, I am here to clear some of the doubts and misconceptions regarding how problem-solving helps and must be made an important asset. However, before I delve deeper into this topic, I would like to throw some words of caution, followed by a disclaimer .

I, Pranav would first like to thank 4IITeens for giving me this wonderful opportunity to share my views and secondly my faculties at 4IITEENs-  the famous trio Natarajan Ponnusamy, Samaresh Mondal, Subba Rao better known as CNP PSR MSN Sirs for their guidance and constant support throughout my IIT Journey.

 Let me start by saying that IIT JEE was not my end goal. An end for me is a satisfying career in science and engineering. Nevertheless, since I am now in my 2nd year of IIT, I can proudly proclaim that I am one of those proud students of 4IITeens growing strong in IIT, Madras.

Problems are inevitable and there are some problems, more complex than others. Despite their size, a problem-solving skill will help to solve it effectively. Problem-solving skills refers to our ability to solve problems in an effective and timely manner without any impediments. Just like any of the other skills, the art of problem-solving can also be learned and worked upon. Improving your problem-solving skills will definitely give you an edge, that will make you stand out from the crowd.

In this fast-changing global economy, this ability has permeated into all spheres. Whereas at high school level, it has found its way into the field of mathematics, science and technology. Even human processes that are involved in problem-solving are often studied by cognitive scientists. Demonstrating lateral thinking and analytical abilities are much more important than just accepting issues at face value. It will help you to assess what exactly going on.

Let me take you down the memory lane as I tell you about one of my experiences. I, a Maths wiz back at school was invited to a Maths Olympiad summer program during Class 10. I was certain that am the best but fate had other plans. Within my first 5 weeks, I began to encounter problems on almost every other tests which made me to not even solve a single one. Yes! Not even a single one. I was very disappointed and at the end of the program, learnt 1 bitter, unsettling fact. I realized that most of the students knew only fewer tricks than me, yet managed to strike big and most shocking part was that they did not even have formula sheet. 

The main difference between Olympiads and other state/local contests is in problem-solving and what people may generally call as Mathematics. For them, math is a series of tricks that are used on a set of problems and they become a routine of “Learn them, use them, forget them” as quickly as they come to an end. Many people like me know the painful truth that Mathematics is not just a process of memorizing formulas but to use problem-solving skills to solve a broader range of problems.

Once the fiasco is over, I realized what went wrong and I did not want to take further chances with IIT coaching. I joined 4IITeens for a 2-year intensive IIT-JEE coaching. I was both shocked as well as fascinated about the way my faculty taught and how learning is a two-way process. The combined efforts of Natarajan Ponnusamy, Samaresh Mondal, Subba Rao aka CNP PSR MSN Sir’s and regular classes, I realised  that I was learning much more. Finally when I got AIR 3495 Rank and joined IIT Madras, my happiness knew no bounds. I will be forever indebted to 4IITeens as this is no mean feat.

Right from my beginning days at IIT, I learnt how my batch got split into two groups. One group understood that all that was being taught are derived from a small number of basic principles. They loved classes while the other group saw each destination not as a result of the path from building blocks, but as another place whose coordinates had to be memorized again if they ever visit again. The difference between those in the successful group and the struggling group was how they approached mathematics. The group who seemingly involved no mathematics at all and those who took a memorization approach to maths were doomed to do the same again in chemistry. The skills made the problem solvers to flourish while the rest perished when it comes to applying those skills.

Problem-solving is very crucial in education because it transcends into the base. By developing problem-solving skills, the student not only tackles problems but also can work out logically through any problems he/she may face. A memorizer can only solve problems that he/she has encountered already, but the problem solver can solve problems he/she’s never seen before. A problem solver can be flexible, can diversify and can create too.

Some of the main steps that I identified for successful problem solving is listed below:-

1)    Identifying the problem: This is the first step to identify an issue first. It gets tougher if one doesn’t know how to solve. It started with reading the problem statement.

2)    Make a game plan: Plan on what to do. Do not go rushing in as it won’t help. Know the skills, properties and information that is useful in aiding your decisions. Have a Plan B in case Plan A fails.

3)    Solving the problem: A problem cannot be solved by just staring at it. You need to get going and start to do something.

4)    Reflect on actions: Skilled problem solvers tend to look back at their work. In mathematics, it will usually mean figuring out if an answer is reasonable enough. In engineering and other areas, they can look back and see what went wrong so they can tackle a similar problem better next time.