Frequently Asked Questions about Showing Your Work

1. How do I show my work?

2. Why do I have to show my work?

3. I know a faster/better/different way of doing these problems, can I do it that way instead?

1. How do I show my work?

The idea behind showing your work is to give the instructor the step by step process you used to get your answer.  When the actual math is difficult to show, you can explain what you did or what you were thinking instead.  When doing revisions for a lesson, it is not necessary to show your old work--redo the problems, and show the new work that goes with your revised answers.  If you get the same answer as you did before, or keep getting a different answer, still show your work; your instructor wants to see this in order to help you.


Ex. 1. Addition/Subtraction

Ex. 2. Multiplication/Division

Ex. 3. Properties

Ex. 4. Fractions

Ex. 5. Equations and Inequalities

Do not turn in work where you do not include the variable, or where you leave out the inequality sign. This sort of work isn't helpful because you aren't showing the entire process. Also do not turn in a "check" of the work (where you fill in the value for the variable from the beginning). You must solve for the variable, as I have shown in all the examples above.

Please space your work vertically, as I have above. Having your work strung together on one line is messy and difficult to read.

Ex. 6.  Formulas

Ex. 7. Factoring

As you continue in mathematics, the problems get much more complex.  These examples, however, should give you a good basis for how to show your work.  Remember, the lesson itself probably gives you a step by step method of solving the problems--this is exactly what your teacher wants to see you using when you show your work.

2. Why do I have to show my work?

There are several reasons why you need to show your work.

  1. Your teachers are not mind-readers.  If you're getting problems incorrect, chances are good that there's something you don't understand--but your teacher won't magically know what it is that's giving you trouble.  Showing your work lets your teacher see what you did to get your answer, so s/he can offer suggestions to help you.

  2. You are less likely to make a mistake with your work in front of you.  When you write out your work, you often catch your own mistakes--like trying to say that -3 and +2 equal 5 (when really that should be -1).  When you do a problem in your head, these mistakes are harder to find and correct.

  3. Practice!  Writing out the steps makes them harder to forget, and if you're having troubles there is no better way to practice than actually doing the steps.

  4. To check that you're using the right method to solve the problem.  Often if a teacher can see your work, s/he can remind you that you are adding when you should be multiplying, or trying to factor through FOIL when you should be using the quadratic formula.

  5. Because maybe you weren't wrong.  On occasion, there are mistakes in the tests used, and if the instructor can see from your work that you got the problem correct, then you'll still get credit for getting the right answer.

3. I know a faster/better/different way of doing these problems, can I do it that way instead?

This is something that must be evaluated on a case by case basis, so you'll need to ask your instructor.  Many times the answer will be no, because the lessons build on one another and are trying to reach an ultimate goal--one you won't reach if you don't understand the lesson.  (Put another way, there is a difference between knowing how to do something, and knowing why you do it that way--many of the lessons try to teach you both.)