Mental Maths

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Arithmetic is of great importance to most of us in our daily lives. Whether it is making calculations in connection with an occupation or working out the grocery bill most of us tend to use methods we learnt as children in school. But those methods are not the only ones available to us. The time and effort put to learning faster or easier to apply methods can be well worth while.

An over dependence on calculators means many students fail to develop their mental maths ability to the degree that they should. This can lead to problems of poor number sense, failing to see when an answer is of a totally wrong magnitude to be sensible,

Basic arithmetic is sometimes referred to as “social mathematics” because it is what most of us comes across in everyday life. When paying for groceries, reading reports on a survey in a newspaper or calculating how much you should be paid for two and a half hours work at a certain hourly rate we want to know how the figures work out. And when we are interested in the calculations concerned we usually have no great difficulty in working them out. A student beginning algebra may be confused when asked to do calculations involving variables like x and y, yet have no problem when asked to do the same calculation when the x is an ice-cream cone and the y a bar of chocolate. We can often put up mental road blocks based on some unfounded fear of maths for which there is no need. We can sometimes tell ourselves that we can not do sums in our heads. But we can. We do them all the time without being conscious of it. And like everything we can get better with a little practice. We can use little tricks or techniques for special cases.

Mental estimation techniques give us quick answers to everyday questions when we don’t need to know the answer to the last cent or decimal point. We estimate the answers to addition and subtraction problems by rounding, which can be useful when estimating the grocery bill. As each item is rung up, round it up or down to the nearest 50 cents.

Most people will be able to multiply or divide by powers of 10 by moving a decimal point or adding zeros. If asked what is 100 times 55 they will quickly reply 5500 without much thought or effort. By playing around or experimenting with numbers and spotting patterns we can get many more such tricks, shortcuts, techniques or whatever you want to call them. Playing such mind games will in turn help you to become better at seeing patterns in numbers, and this is an important part of studying mathematics. If studying arithmetic or geometric progressions for example, it is often necessary to be able to spot the pattern that determines the next number in the sequence. Spotting patterns can often help simplify mental calculations. You will not always have a calculator with you, or may not always want to be seen to use it.

Shortcuts are most useful when they help with something you use often. There is not much point in putting a lot of effort into learning shortcuts to do things that you never use in practice. But for things that you do often they are well worth while.

Mental calculations involve using specific techniques created for solving specific types of problems, rather than memorizing the answers to equations. There are many techniques for doing rapid mental calculations, particularly if you look beyond what is normally taught in schools. Unfortunately if you do not use them often you are likely to forget most of them.


What is mental maths used for?

Mental maths is the process of doing mathematical calculations in your head, without the use of a calculator, or pen and paper. We do this in everyday life. For example:

  • Working out the cost of sale goods when shopping. If there’s a 20% off sale, you’ll know exactly how much you expect to pay.
  • Calculating a tip. If you dine out and receive a good service, chances are you’ll leave a tip. Mental maths allows you to calculate how much a 10% or 20% tip would be.
  • Metric conversions. You don’t have to travel far to see measurement units change. Many of us still think in terms of miles for driving distances, but most road signs are now in kilometres. Similarly it allows you to easily work out the difference between inches and centimetres, pounds and kilos etc.
  • Working out exchange rates. If you holiday abroad, you may need to exchange currency to spend while you’re there. Mental maths makes it easy to work out how much value for money you’re getting, and how much currency you can expect to receive for your own currency.

There are many other places mental maths is used, probably without even thinking about it, in everyday life, such as cooking recipes, comparing values of products/services when shopping, working out a score/grade or calculating interest due on a loan.

Students preparing for certain exams, particularly where the use of a calculator is not allowed, will need a certain competency in mental maths.

For example, the Graduate Australian Medical School Admissions Test (more commonly known as the GAMSAT) is a test used to select candidates applying to study medicine, dentistry, optometry, physiotherapy, podiatry, pharmacy and veterinary science at Australian, British, and Irish universities for admission to their Graduate Entry Programmes (candidates must have a recognised bachelor’s degree, or equivalent, completed prior to commencement of the degree).


Benefits of Mental Maths?

Of course, many will argue that we now all have a calculator to hand in every life situation, thanks to ever-evolving smartphones. However, that’s not to say that mental maths teaching and skills are now redundant. There are plenty of benefits, stemming from good mental maths skills development.

At a basic level, things like concentration levels and listening skills are improved, and self-confidence is also improved as a result of practising mental arithmetic problem solving.

In addition, mental maths actually keeps our brains sharp, getting stronger and more efficient with use. That’s why it’s recommended that students continue practising and learning mental arithmetic throughout their education.

Mental maths also greatly improves a person’s number sense, which improves the ability to understand relationships between quantities, allowing logical thinking and plotting to develop.

Lets you work faster (less likely to run out of time in exam, more time to concentrate on more difficult parts, can follow the teacher in class sensibly).

By developing good mental maths skills from a young age, students are able to improve other skill-sets and easily work out answers to mathematical scenarios in everyday life.

People who are good at mental maths are generally more:

  • focused. “Scary” numbers do not faze them. They identify the logic required to solve the problem and then use skills already mastered to solve it.
  • Efficient. Being able to do simpler stuff quickly leaves them more time to deal with the more difficult elements.
  • Confident. Nothing succeeds like success. This carries over into other aspects of their lives.

Success in mental maths requires practice but not to the extent that you get tired of it and demotivated.   Have a look at Mental Maths.

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