Why Mastery of Math Facts is Important

Discover why young mathematicians should master their math facts and use this strategy to motivate their proficiency.

By Mollie Moore


Do you remember playing Around the World or doing speed drills in math class when you were in school? Most teachers do. Yet, many games and drills that used to be effective for reinforcing math skills have been abandoned in today’s math classroom. Is this the best idea for our students? I would argue that this abandonment is to their detriment. Additionally, I would like to offer a few similar learning strategies that do not require much class time, but will help motivate your students to learn their math facts.

Memorization is Key

Mastery of one’s math facts means that when asked what eight times four is, a learner will say thirty-two so quickly that your question and his answer flow as one thought. Fast, consistently correct responses to math problems can include addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division problems. Without using their fingers or drawing diagrams to the side of the paper, learners should use their memory readily respond to math problems. 

With the push in math education that emphasizes discovery learning and more rigorous standards, why should a teacher take the time to practice math facts? Consider the reasons listed below:

  • Math facts are a foundational tool. Like a firefighter needs his hose or a nurse needs her stethoscope, math facts are necessary for all mathematicians, no matter how young or old. Nearly every math problems utilizes computation in some way.
  • Mastering math facts prevents errors in computational work. Learners who have mastered their facts will have memorized them correctly. This then will prevent errors resulting from not remembering a trick correctly, drawing a diagram incorrectly, or typing something into a calculator incorrectly.
  • Pupils can focus on higher math skills by mastering math facts. When learning a new skill, it is best if they can focus on the new concept. By knowing their math facts automatically, it takes away a stumbling block in learning that new concept. Both students and teachers do not have to use their time and energy to figure out eight times seven, but rather they can focus on the new skill, like how to find the area of a rectangle. Mastery of math facts allows the brain to focus better on the new concept. Comparatively, this is similar to when a student is looking for the main idea in a passage. If he must sound out the words, it detracts from his comprehension. He is distracted in his search for the main idea because he is still working at decoding the words.
  • Recalling math facts leads to higher test scores. Though the reason for the connection between higher test scores and math fact recall is not exactly known, there have been links shown between the two. It may be because of the increase in accuracy of their work. or the ability for these learners to grasp higher math concepts as mentioned above. Regardless of the reason, mental mastery of math facts leads to higher scores in comparison to dependency on calculators.
  • Confidence is promoted by math facts mastery. While this can take time to achieve, once students master their facts, they tend to have more personal confidence. They realize how much they learn inside the classroom and it is easier for them to notice math being used in the outside world, such as on maps and at grocery stores.

Finding a Strategy

Here is a system to motivate a class that only takes five minutes twice a week:

Part 1: On a set day in the middle of the week, begin class by reviewing math facts by using flashcards. As the teacher, read off the fact as the class reads it. In unison, the class is to say the answer, similar to this:

  • Teacher: "8 x 4 = ?"
  • Class: "32"
  • Teacher: "9 x 5 = ?"
  • Class: "45"

A continuous rhythm to help students stay on pace is the goal. Review facts for about five minutes. Regular practice at home should accompany this strategy.

Part 2: On Fridays, each student is given a timed fact quiz for any operation. Everyone will start on the easiest fact quiz. As an example, this first quiz could be fifty multiplication facts for 0-4. Some facts may repeat. Give an appropriate time limit. For fifty multiplication facts, consider three minutes or perhaps, five minutes for one hundred facts. Whatever one does not finish in that time frame is marked wrong. Those students that receive one hundred percent move onto the next fact quiz, which is slightly more difficult. If a student misses any problems, he will retake that quiz the next week. Also, when someone misses more than he missed the week before on the same quiz, he must write the facts missed five times each. For example, if on week two Jennifer misses five problems, and misses seven problems on week three, she would have to write all seven facts five times each for homework. The reinforcement of writing will help cement the answer into her memory. Being able to move up a quiz level is motivation enough for the majority of your learners.

Here are some others things that I have tried in order to make math fact quizzes even more exciting:

  • Place a chart on the wall where pupils can place a small sticker for each perfect fact quiz. They love noticing their growth. Keeping up with or passing their friends is also motivating.
  • Once the whole class passes the second quiz, bring in brownies. At times, this might mean giving certain learners some extra time on the quiz. However, this allowance builds confidence and gives everyone a sense of success and progress. No matter how long it takes, it will give the class a sense of satisfaction when everyone has completed a level.
  • Create a few big checkpoints. One checkpoint that I have used is earning a donut when a learner is at the half-way point of the fact quizzes (or you can use a non-food item, like a sticker or a homework pass.) The donut (or prize) is placed on the corresponding student's desk. When they see the donut shop bag on a student's desk, his/her classmates soon realize that the individual has passed quiz number seven. Needless to say, this creates quite a buzz in the room. Another checkpoint is at the end. When all of the quiz levels have been mastered, individuals earn entrance into a pizza party. Once all the levels have been mastered, you can give pupils quizzes with one hundred facts to try to master (while the rest of the class finishes their 50-question quizzes). This way, everyone is taking a quiz. You can vary the allotted time to differentiate this strategy. 

Take ten minutes of class time a week to give your pupils a foundational tool, help them prevent errors in their work, allow them to focus on higher math skills, lead them to higher scores, all while promoting confidence in their math skills.

Related Resources:

Math Drills

Want students to practice their math facts independently when they finish early? If you have iPads, check out this app that is targeted toward lower elementary leaners. It allows pupils to practice all four operations. It also tracks their progress, so one can know with which facts a student struggles.

Math Fact Card Games

Seeking an interactive way for learners to review math facts or number sense? Use these various games that combine math and playing cards. After they learn these games, each game can easily become a station activity for early finishers.

Math Evolve: A Fun Math Game

Looking for an app that individuals can play on their level with any operation? Math Evolve may be your solution. Students are able to choose their operation, their difficulty, and their speed while simultaneously mastering math.