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What is mental math?

By Brendan R. Hodnett, MAT

At a Glance

  • Mental math is a group of skills that allow people to do math “in their head” without using pencil and paper or a calculator.

  • Mental math is useful in school and in everyday life.

  • Mental math can help kids understand math concepts better and get to the answer faster.

Mental math is a group of skills that allow people to do math “in their head” without using pencil and paper or a calculator. One of these skills is remembering math facts, like 8 × 5 = 40. Other skills include rounding numbers and estimating calculations.

Mental math is useful in everyday life to answer questions like:

  • What is the sale price for this item?

  • Do I have enough cash to buy everything in my cart?

  • Am I getting the correct amount of change from the cashier?

  • When should I leave in order to arrive on time?

Mental math can also help kids understand math concepts better. Using and practicing mental math regularly helps kids improve their number sense .

For example, which is a better deal? Buying a box of 10 packs of gum for $18.00 or buying individual packs for $2.50 each? Use mental math to quickly estimate that the 10-pack must cost less than $2.00 per pack because 10 × 2 = 20. This is a better deal than the second option where each pack costs more than $2.00.

Mental math is useful in other ways too. It keeps math facts from getting rusty. It can also help get to the answer faster.

For example, what is 47 + 65? It’s easier to do this in your head if you break the numbers down into their digits’ values: 40 + 60 = 100 and 7 + 5 = 12. Add those two totals and you get the answer of 112.

Doing mental math requires strong memory skills. Math facts and other number concepts have to be retrieved from long-term memory. Our brains also use a skill called working memory to keep track of the steps needed to solve a particular math problem.

When kids struggle with mental math, it doesn’t mean they’re not smart. Kids develop math skills at their own pace. Difficulty with mental math could be a matter of needing more time and practice to “catch up.”

Trouble with mental math could also be a sign that your child needs more support to get better at math. Learn about math challenges in kids and ways to help .

Key Takeaways

  • Doing mental math requires strong memory skills.

  • Regularly practicing mental math can help improve other math skills.

  • Trouble with mental math can be a sign that kids need more support to get better at math.

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Share What is mental math?

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Email
  • Text Message
  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom