What Is Mental Math? How To Practice It?

Last Updated on October 1, 2022 by Editorial Team


What exactly is mental math?

We will jump right to the definition but first, let me just ask, what’s 3 + 3?

Almost all of you have given the right answer and most probably within 2 seconds without even touching a pen or paper.

The real question is how?

This is because our brain is already been trained to do simple calculations like these. It has already achieved a state where we no longer required special tools to do basic arithmetic calculations. This ability to mathematical calculations quickly and without any help is called  Mental Math.

Mental Math is our ability to do mathematical calculations in our mind without the help of any device, such as calculators and mobile phones, etc. The more we develop mental math skills, the faster our brain will have computational power. The level of mental math depends upon the amount of practice and the environment in which we practice our mathematical skills.

Also, the level of education plays an important role.  Obviously, there are some exceptions that may contradict this.

How effective mental math is for dyscalculia?

In order to answer this question,  first, we need to consider the fact that dyscalculia is a learning disorder whereas Mental Math is more of a habit. Dyscalculia is an issue that needs to be attended to first before jumping into developing our mental maths skills. I mean you can’t teach a baby to run while he is struggling to take his first few steps.  

As the child grows and begins developing the number sense, Mental math becomes equally important in his/her routine. We have already discussed in our previous blog post on dyscalculia that other than understanding numbers, Dyscalculia is also marked by visual difficulties such as processing and distinguishing visuals as well as pattern recognition and at the same time, Mental math acts as a visualization workshop for our brain. Every time an arithmetic question is thrown to us, our brain starts looking for the raw material – which are the numbers, Tools -which are the operators, and finally, it starts the operation to make our final product – that is the answer. In general sequence, we take the first number and then the second number, then you look for all operators, and then finally do the operation. For individuals suffering from dyscalculia, this effectively improves the visual representation of numbers.

How to practice mental math?

Broadly, there are two ways in which you can effectively practice and improve Mental math. 

1. Theoretical approach

In this kind of approach, initially, we learn mathematical concepts by writing on paper and then practice the concepts in other ways orally. The idea behind this is to have a sound knowledge of every aspect of solving a problem so that our brain gets comfortable solving it without the help of any device. However, there is no single way to follow this approach. Different problems have different ways. It totally depends upon the comfortability of a child. We would explain by taking one of the most commonly used techniques.

Let us take the example of the cumbersome sum of 5 numbers, say 567, 643, 699, 146, 365.

First, we will be going to solve it as we normally do (on paper). Take a stopwatch and note down the timings. Do follow the steps accordingly.

1. Start the timer. Solve 

567  +  643  +  699  +  146  +  365

Got the answer? Note down the time

2. Now try to do it in your mind and note down the timing.

Next, we will write down a new way of solving it. Let’s write the sum like this

Now try doing it in your mind and note down the timing.

You will notice that although it took more time to do the calculation on paper with the second method, it was way easier and took less time when you did it in mind. Still, it is unfair that we already know the answer while solving the second method. Hence, it is recommended that you use this method first and then move to the normal one. Also, try comparing the results by using different numbers. The best way to use this method used is to create a pre-made template in your mind.

A general picture of the template would be like this

practice mental math tricks

Memorize this template and use it repeatedly for lengthy calculations. Our brain memorizes way better when information is sequentially provided in small pieces than provided randomly. This is the main reason behind the structural aspects of this template. It took less effort for our brain to process the numerical information this way.

2. Physical approach

The physical approach involves our interaction with tangible real-life objects. You come across several examples in daily life where you can improve your mental math skills. The main idea behind this approach is to train our brain on effectively picturing the scenario whenever a related arithmetic question is asked.

Let’s dig a little deeper by using some real-life examples :

2.1 Staircase

Steps in the staircase can greatly help in practicing number sequence and series. It improves counting for dyscalculics. It’s mostly helpful for training our brain for faster addition and low-level multiplication.

In addition, put numbers on steps with temporary markers. Stand on number 1. Now start climbing the step number of the addition result. Let’s add 1 +5, which is 6. Start taking steps to reach 6. Do not jump. Take steps one by one.

how to practice mental math

2.2 Corners around the world

Squares and rectangles are in a lot of numbers around us. May it be doors, tiles, tables, room walls, or egg trays. Imagine dividing the shape into horizontal as well as vertical lines. Start from 2 horizontal and 1 vertical line. Count the number of parts. Multiplication is effectively improved through this. Now, step by step, start increasing the number of lines. Do it for both the lines individually. The tiled floor room is the best option if you have trouble imagining the lines.

2.3 Abacus 

Abacus is a manual aid to calculating that consists of beads or disks that can be moved up and down on a series of sticks or strings within a usually wooden frame. It is considered one of the best ways to develop number sense. Numbers are physically constructed and manipulated in Abacus. Practicing 10-15 minutes daily can effectively build your math calculative skills.

Abacus for dyslexia and dyscalculia treatment

Wrapping up,

Mental math is our ability to do simple calculations quickly. This is the result of math fluency we achieve as we grow and practice the subject. Learning disabilities such as dyscalculia may impact mental maths skills. However, adapting to a new learning process at an early age, special practice on a regular basis, and a game-based learning approach can really make a difference.

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