The simple truth about learning tables

by | Jan 8, 2016 | Maths, Parents, Schools & teachers, Teach, Uncategorized | 0 comments

The media is tables-mad this week and all the experts they have wheeled out to discuss the subject have been unbearable to listen to. Children are going to have to sit tables speed tests. So what?

Here is the nitty gritty of it all:

Talk of ‘rote learning’ is dated rubbish. We’ve all moved on. If you want your child to learn a table, write or print it out in full for them, and then click on a free tables speed test online. Or download an app on your smartphone or tablet. They simply read the answer and fill it in as the random questions pop up. After a short while they will find they don’t need to read it anymore and that table is learnt. Once they’ve done a few like this they can move to a mixed tables test and keep going for 5 minutes per evening. Within a week or two the job is done.


Talk of the 11x and 12x table being unnecessary because we use a decimal system is rubbish. The more number stuff we recognise off-by-heart, the easier maths questions become. And if the decimal system is the focus of an argument, why are we learning the 9s or the 8s? Maths – both in tests, and in life – does sometimes stray into numbers other than multiples of 10!

The 11x table is a simple pattern with a couple of tough ones tacked on at the end. There is a trick for those.

If 12 x 11 is a problem – separate the digits of the twelve, add them up and put the total in the middle…132. This works for 10x 11x and 12x which are the ones they tend to forget.

If children are struggling to learn tables, perhaps lacking access to online games at home, then holding back on the 11s and 12s until the rest are learnt is fine. There are children with specific learning difficulties who will need extra support and resourcing, but that is everyday stuff for class teachers across the world and not reason enough to alter the curriculum. The majority of children have no problem with learning another couple of tables, so it is a realistic goal to aim for.

Talk of smartphones and google being there for simple calculations is particularly feeble. Who hasn’t punched the wrong answer into a calculator before and thought the answer looked wrong? Children need the basic tools to be able to spot erratic answers for themselves.

And there is a point missing with the whole google-the-answer argument. In life tables are sometimes needed in their simplest form, but in maths exams children are expected to apply their knowledge to solve problems. If you see a question with a 72 and an 8 in it, or even a 0.072 and a 0.08 you will already be wondering whether the answer is something to do with a 9, before you even start the question. And that familiarity with number will put you ahead of someone who doesn’t know their tables.

When we remove pure number facts from the maths curriculum we are removing an aspect of learning that some children actively enjoy and excel at. If maths is purely about problem-solving, it becomes a comprehension activity, which favours certain children who are already using this skill across all of the other subjects. Wordy maths puts many children off who delight in playing with numbers. Boys particularly…

The best app at the moment is the Times Tables Speed Test. It is red and green and you can google it. Tests are in grid formation.

Our fastest year 4 child can do the 3×3 grid (9 questions) in 9.21 seconds.

Our fastest year 5 child can do the same grid in 7.18 seconds.

It is a brilliant competition that can be done in the car or any spare moment. You have to get your eye in first and then bash those tables out at top speed. Go on, give it a try…