Teaching Tips

How to Improve Mental Math Calculations

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Before we visit the depth of the topic it is important to understand “why” mental math calculation is important.

Imagine you are in a mall looking for a gift for your friend. You buy something nice and want to get it gift wrapped. The cashier gives you a 10% discount on the MRP if you pay Rs. 50 extra for the gift wrap. The gift is for Rs. 700 and you can easily buy a spare gift wrap from a local shop for Rs. 20. What would you do?

If you are not sure of this, you might pull out your smartphone to calculate while a little child standing next to you calculates it mentally and gives you the answer before you even enter the digits.

So, mental math calculations don’t just save you from embarrassment but also make your life easy.

What is mental math?

The first thing people think of when it comes to mental math is faster calculations. But is that all?

Not really. That’s just one part of mental math, which is arithmetic. Mental math also has the following two parts:

  1. Spatial: A perfect example for this would be the dice. Children play ludo, snakes and ladders, monopoly, ocean raiders, etc. every now and then. The best way to make numbers interesting for them is to let them calculate on their own and take the next step. Moreover, beyond the world of numbers there are numerous other concepts on which we can make children focus on, like nets. An example of this is shown below.
    2Shapes, area, positions, spaces make a lot more sense when they come in a graphical, rather visualized form.
  2. Logical: Direction sense is the best example here. Sure we have Google Maps to navigate today. However, some people are really good with directions and they use logic to figure out whether they’re traveling towards the north, east etc. They can also figure out the right direction incase they get lost somewhere.

Why are some people good at it?

Just like some people are good at swimming, singing, dancing etc. there are people who are good at mental calculation. One can only get better by practising.

Dedicating some time every day to practise mental math will help you get used to it and retain it as a usual flow of knowledge.

How can students build this skill?

Students can build this skill by tackling each part of mental math, separately and broadly.

In this article, we’ll focus on mental arithmetic. This can be mastered by better “number sense” which means a strong foundational understanding of how numbers are built. It also includes understanding their properties and relationships with each other.

Paul Giganti Jr., who teaches mathematics to teachers at the University of California at Berkeley, explains the steps of giving a huge build up to improving mental math.

For example, the ability to break 18 as 10 + 8 in some cases and 20 – 2 in others depending on the context of the situation is the initial process of working on enhancing mental math.



This looks complicated or cumbersome when written out but to fluidly decompose numbers this way and then add them, is a significantly faster strategy than the standard addition algorithm.

34 x 17 = (30 x 17) + (4 x 17) ;We know that 17 x 3 and 17 x 4 can be easily calculated

= 510+68 = 578

So get set and go improve the mental math skills of your students using these steps. Additionally, you could also take a look at how Cuemath teachers help their students build their mental math abilities.

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Aishwarya Sinha Ray

Aishwarya is a math expert and works with the Curriculum team at Cuemath. She believes in bringing out the "why" of every simple mathematical concept that we have learnt. Her articles focus on basic math and she makes them interesting by including simple puzzles and fun facts. Follow her articles to understand how passionate she is about making math interesting for us.