New primary-school times tables tests explained

Times tables test 2019 parents' guide
All children in Year 6 will have their multiplication skills formally tested in the spring term of Year 6 from 2019. We explain the multiplication check latest developments.

In 2016 the then Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, announced that children in Year 6 will be expected to take another test at the end of their primary education.

The Schools Minister Nick Gibb confirmed in February 2017 that the multiplication tables check will now be introduced in the 2018 to 2019 academic year, during the spring term. Year 6 children will sit the check.

Times tables test / multiplication check: the basics

Although details of the proposed tests were sketchy in 2016, primary-school children are still expected to know all their times tables up to 12x12. Under the current National Curriculum, children are supposed to know their times tables by the end of Year 4, but they are not formally tested on them other than through multiplication questions in the Year 6 maths SATs.

Why a new test?

Announcing the tests, Nicky Morgan said: "Maths is a non-negotiable of a good education. Since 2010, we’ve seen record numbers of 11-year-olds start secondary school with a good grasp of the three Rs. But some continue to struggle. That is why, as part of our commitment to extend opportunity and deliver education excellence everywhere, we are introducing a new check to ensure all pupils know their times tables by age 11."

Which children will sit the multiplication check?

The times tables test will be introduced in English schools only. It will be taken by children in Year 6, in the spring term, most likely at the same time as KS2 SATs.

In summer 2016 the test was piloted on 3,000 pupils in 80 schools. The timetable for it to be rolled out across all English primary schools is yet to be determined (though it is due to be introduced in 2018-19).

How will children be tested?

Children will be tested using an on-screen check, where they will have to answer multiplication questions against the clock. Their answers will be marked instantly. This is the first time that the Department for Education (DfE) has used computerised tests in primary schools.

What if a child fails?

At the moment, we don’t know how many questions children will be asked, how many they’ll need to get right to pass the test, or whether they’ll need to retake the test if they don't reach the required standard. However, the DfE says the purpose of the check is to help teachers identify which children are falling behind and target areas where they’re not being given a chance to succeed.

Is everyone in favour of the multiplication check?

As always, the introduction of a new test has prompted mixed opinions. While the Government insists that the check will help raise standards and benefit children who are struggling, others feel that another test is unnecessary.

At the time the tests were first proposed in 2016, the Shadow Education Secretary said that it indicated that the Government has ‘run out of ideas for educational improvement’ and should be focusing on tackling the teacher shortage. Meanwhile, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Christine Blowers, said: ‘We already have the most tested pupils in Europe. Such endless testing stifles creativity and is ruining many children’s experience of learning.’

Explaining his intention to introduce the test in 2018-19, Nick Gibb said, 'We think times tables are a very important part of mathematical knowledge.'

But Anne Watson, emeritus professor of mathematics education at the University of Oxford, responded by telling the BBC, 'My main concern is what he [Mr Gibb] has in mind for the children who do not pass the test. This group will include children with undiagnosed dyslexia, test anxiety, possibly some with slower physical response if this is a timed test, and might even include those who have perfectly good and fast methods of retrieval that do not fit with the test design.'

How can you help your child practise their times tables?

Because the National Curriculum for maths is so extensive, there is an expectation that parents will help their children learn their times tables at home and not rely on schools to bring them up to speed.

Some of the techniques you can use include:

  • Practising times tables by rote.
  • Asking your child multiplication questions out of order – such as ‘What’s 11x12? What’s 5x6?’
  • Asking your child the related division facts: ‘What’s 8/4? What’s 9/6?’
  • Using arrays to help your child memorise times tables – you can use fun objects like Smarties or Lego bricks to make it more entertaining.
  • Giving your child word problems to test their skills, like ‘If Peter has 800ml of orange juice and needs to share it between four friends, how much can they each have?’
  • Using apps and games like TheSchoolRun’s multiplication games to build speed.
  • Singing times tables using songs like Percy Parker.

Free times tables resources and advice for primary-school parents

For information, worksheets, games, eBooks and learning packs to help you support your child in learning their times tables go to our Times Tables learning hub.

Specific tips for each multiplication table: