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29 Dec 2014
Times Tables

I would say without any shadow of a doubt it is a good knowledge of times tables if I were to be asked the most important skill associated with passing external examinations at age 16 or thereabouts. Through the thirty years of my teaching career, We have come across so many students (both in schools so when private students) who do not know their times tables at age 16 well enough so that you can calculate such things as a fifth of 45 or even the total duration of 8 ropes, each 4.5 metres long.

Times tables games
The points I make have universal relevance across the whole world, even though i write as a teacher in the UK, so my examples relate specifically to this country. We have a system of examinations now by which there is nearly always a calculator examination paper along with a non-calculator paper at each level from age twelve. So a good knowledge of tables is definitely needed in the non-calculator paper, but is of great benefit in the calculator paper too, as knowing that seven eights is fifty six is much less time consuming than having to press the appropriate buttons on a calculator. Inside an examination, seconds count.

A moment's thought will disclose lots of the instances where times tables are used. Every money problem in any currency involving a multiplication ($12.67 x 9) or division (Find the average of $34.50, $33.60, $59.90 and $46.80) uses times tables. Percentages (Find 17% of 12.50), fractions (cancel 45/75 to the lowest terms), geometry (find the internal angles of the regular octagon), algebra (expand 7a(3a 6b 9c)) and speed problems (get the average speed of the car that travelled 960 kilometres in 8 hours) are just a few of the many more examples that can be found on examination papers.

A way of practising times tables would be to complete random tables squares, i.e. tables squares in which the numbers 1-10 are distributed randomly across the top of the the table and down the left-hand side. I am currently working with a group of 9 and 8 year olds in a local primary school, several of whom can already complete this kind of table correctly in about 5 minutes. At sixteen years old, the fantastic majority of students will be able to easily beat that period - and get them all correct, obviously.

The question of whether times tables from 1 to 10 is sufficient often crops up. Should youngsters be aware of twelve and eleven times tables? If you live in a mostly metric country, 1 to 10 is sufficient for all examination work and I would then concentrate on learning the square numbers up to 20 x 20 as these are very useful for Pythagoras' Theorem. If you live in a country still using inches and feet for everyday measurements, then you will probably need to learn tables up to 12 x 12.

So, if you or your youngsters are taking external examination some time soon, the one thing you could do to improve your performance more than anything else is to get those tables truly and well in the old brain box!

Alan Young is a teacher of mathematics for thirty years both in primary and high schools. he has worked in the private as well as the public sector and coached a huge number of private students in this subject.


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