Times tables - rote learning and timed tests, or times tables learned another way?

Try these ideas- Regardless of how confident you feel about maths, you CAN really support your child with times tables tests.


three seven spot ladybirds real life maths

A child encounters real life examples of the two times table before they are tested on it - pairs of shoes, eyes, hands...these real-life experiences create images in our memory that can be visualised to help, for example, the abstract sum ‘3x2’ come alive and make sense. The two times table generally presents few difficulties.


When a child encounters the three times tables test, which can be as early as year 1 in the UK, they usually have no real life context to draw upon. Songs, especially listened to just before bed, are a good strategy but whilst some will get the facts muddled from the start, for others the memory will not last long.


Times tables tests can be a trigger for maths anxiety


The time pressure during the test makes it difficult to think, and research has found that this experience is a trigger for maths anxiety.


Relatively recent brain scans have revealed that the area of the brain which remembers ‘6x3’ for instant recall is a different part to the area used for mathematical problem solving, and so a child who doesn’t remember ‘6x3’ for instant recall can still become a great mathematician if, and it’s a very big if, they are not humiliated by timed tests, leading them to believe “I am rubbish at maths.”


I’m an accomplished mathematician but I don’t always remember for example ‘6x7’. I do remember ‘3x7’ however, and it makes sense to me that ‘6x7’ is double ‘3x7’ and I find doubling twenty-one is straightforward. So when I need ‘6x7’, I work it out, almost instantly, and no-one else would know that I don’t remember it!



Regardless of how confident you feel about maths, you can really support your child with times tables tests.

Best ways to help your child with times tables tests


☺Talk to them about the evidence that remembering times tables facts for a test is different to being good at maths.
☺Have fun playing with real life sets of three, sets of four… Take some photos and talk about them together. Then try drawings of sets of three, sets of four…
☺ With objects and drawings, support your child to discover and talk about the patterns that link different sums. For example: 3x4 is the same as 4x3, 4x3 is double 2x3, 4x3 is the same as 3+3+3+3, 5x3 is half of 10x3, 9x3 is 3 less than 10x3. These connections help our brain remember.
☺ Delay using apps and online games that have a timed element.



This is a longer process. However, I’ve worked with GCSE students, really inhibited because either they can’t recall or quickly work out times tables and freeze, or they mistakenly remember, for example, 8x4 as 36 and loose the marks for a higher level question, they otherwise knew how to do. There are ten years of schooling between year one and GCSE, and so time spent visualising, linking and understanding times tables is very worthwhile.


I am passionate about these principles, and they have been fundamental to the development of Number Chase games and activities.
Have fun playing alongside your child.


©Number Chase 2020