Mathematical word problems are ubiquitous and standard for teaching and evaluating generalization of mathematical knowledge for real-world contexts. It is therefore concerning that the neural mechanisms of word problem solving are not well understood, as these insights represent strong potential for improving education and remediating deficits in this domain. Here, we investigate neural response to word problems via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Healthy adults performed sentence judgment tasks on word problems that either contained one-step mathematical operations, or nonarithmetic judgments on parallel narratives without any numerical information. Behavioral results suggested that the composite efficiency measurement of combining accuracy and RT did not differ between the two problem types. Arithmetic sentence judgments elicited greater activation in the fronto-insular-parietal network including intraparietal sulcus (IPS), dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), and anterior insula (AI) than narrative sentence judgment. Narrative sentence judgments, conversely, resulted in greater activation predominantly in the left ventral PFC, angular gyrus and perisylvian cortex compared with reading arithmetic sentences. Moreover, task-dependent functional connectivity analyses showed the AI circuits were more strongly coupled with IPS during arithmetic sentence judgments than nonarithmetic sentences. Finally, activations in the IPS during arithmetic were highly correlated with out-of-scanner performance on a distinct set of problems with the same characteristics. These results show arithmetic word problem performance differences may rely more heavily on fronto-insular-parietal circuits for mathematical model building than narrative text comprehension of similar difficulty. More broadly, our study suggests that quantitative measurements of brain mechanisms can provide pivotal role for uncovering crucial arithmetic skills.