What is number sense?

By Bob Cunningham, EdM

At a glance

  • Number sense refers to a group of key math abilities.

  • It includes the ability to understand quantities and concepts like more and less.

  • Some people have stronger number sense than others.

Number sense is a group of skills that allow people to work with numbers. These skills are key to doing math — and many other tasks.

Number sense involves:

  • Understanding quantities
  • Grasping concepts like more and less, and larger and smaller
  • Understanding the order of numbers in a list: 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.
  • Understanding symbols that represent quantities (7 means the same thing as seven)
  • Making number comparisons (12 is greater than 10)
  • Recognizing relationships between single items and groups of items (seven means one group of seven items)

Some people have stronger number sense than others. Kids and adults with poor number sense may struggle with basic math operations like addition and multiplication. They can also have trouble with everyday tasks and skills like measuring, handling money, and judging time.

Trouble with number sense often shows up early, as kids learn math. For some people, the difficulty lasts into adulthood. But with time and practice, these skills can improve.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Bob Cunningham, EdM serves as executive director of learning development at Understood.