Problem Solving Strategies

Problem SolvingProblem Solving Strategies

As a college student your life is busy with a wide range of activities related to school, home, work, and friends. Throughout the course of any given day, you handle a variety of decisions and problems automatically. At times, however, situations arise which you cannot solve “automatically.” In those situations the use of problem-solving skills becomes an invaluable asset that allows you to make the best choices and decisions available. In addition, problem-solving is a life skill that will serve you well throughout your life.


Problem-solving is a tool, a skill, and a process. As a tool is helps you solve a problem or achieve a goal. As a skill you can use it repeatedly throughout your life. And, as a process it involves a number of steps.

It is not unusual for problems to arise when you are working towards a goal and encounter obstacles along the way. Students usually have many and varied goals, both related to school and to other areas of their lives, and it is likely that you will encounter barriers to your success at times. As these barriers are encountered, problem-solving strategies can be utilized to help you overcome the obstacle and achieve your goal. With each use of problem-solving strategies, these skills become more refined and integrated so that eventually their use becomes second nature.


Step 1 - Problem Definition

Before you are ready to take any steps to solve the problem, you first have to be sure that you are clear about what the problem really is. It can be easy to get distracted by solving a different problem than what is actually causing distress if it is easier than dealing with the real problem. This step involves thinking about the following questions:

  1. How is the current situation different from what I actually want it to be?
  2. What do I actually want, or how do I actually want things to be?
  3. What is preventing me from achieving my goals, or from things being the way I want them to be?

It can be very helpful to write down the answers to these questions so that you are forced to clarify that the problem you are defining is the actual one you want to solve. Just thinking about things in your head can cause confusion and end up distracting you from the actual problem at hand.

If you are dealing with more than one problem at a time, it may be helpful to prioritize them. That way you can focus on each one individually, and give them all the attention they require.

Step 2 – Problem Analysis

Once you have defined the problem, you need to think about it from different perspectives to insure that you understand all the dimensions of the problem.

The following questions can be useful to help you analyze the problem.

  1. How is this problem affecting me?
  2. How is this problem affecting other people?
  3. Who else is experiencing this problem?
  4. How do other people deal with this problem?

After you have completed this step, check to make sure that your definition of the problem still fits. It is not unusual at this point to find that the problem you really want to solve is different than the one you initially identified.

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