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What is mental maths?

Mental Maths stopwatch
The ability to work sums in your head is an important skill that primary students must develop throughout the key stages. We explain what mental maths means in National Curriculum terms, and how you can help your child become a quick calculations whizz!

What does mental maths mean?

The concept of mental maths still means being able to give an answer to a maths question after thinking about it, rather than making notes on paper, but in school mental maths skills are expanded to include being able to truly understand maths concepts and solve problems in a logical, methodical way.

What mental maths skills are taught?

Children will always be taught to calculate in their head, but it’s not until Key Stage 1 that they’ll start to learn specific strategies to plan how they’d solve problems mentally.

For instance, in Year 1 they’ll learn to add by putting the largest number first, then counting up by the smaller number. They’ll also learn to add near doubles (5+4, 7+6) by knowing what adding the double would be, then increasing the value by 1, etc.

As they progress through Key Stage 2, they’ll use their knowledge of times tables to multiply and divide with increasing speed and accuracy.

Is mental maths tested in SATs?

Children will need to use mental maths skills in Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 SATs, particularly in the Year 6 arithmetic paper 1.

How can I help my child with mental maths at home?

There are a number of ways to work mental maths practice into everyday situations. For example, doubling a recipe, counting change, double-checking till receipts and scoring a game of Scrabble all involve using a knowledge of basic maths operations to work out the answers.

Download our mental maths tests for Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, Year 5 or Year 6 so your child can develop the quick problem-solving skills they need in an exam situation. Or, print off our division speed grids and multiplication drills to help your child memorise their times tables and think of answers more and more quickly.

You can also use maths SATs past papers to practise the mental maths sections, and become familiar with how the mental maths tests are administered. Each paper includes questions for you to read out, plus instructions on how to time your child and then mark their answers.

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