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. Throughout the thirty years of my teaching career, We have run into a lot of students (both in schools and as private students) who have no idea their times tables at age 16 good enough to be able to calculate things such as a fifth of 45 or the total duration of 8 ropes, each 4.5 metres long.
Times tables games
I write as a teacher in the UK, so my examples relate specifically to this country, but the points I make have universal relevance across the whole world. There exists a system of examinations now in which there exists nearly always a calculator examination paper and 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 reveal most of the instances where times tables are utilized. Every money problem in any currency involving a multiplication ($12.67 x 9) or division (Discover 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 its lowest terms), geometry (discover the internal angles of a regular octagon), algebra (expand 7a(3a 6b 9c)) and speed problems (find the average speed of any car that travelled 960 kilometres in 8 hours) are just some of the numerous more examples to be found on examination papers.
A way of practising times tables is always 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 on the left-hand side. I am just currently employing a selection of 9 and 8 year olds within a local primary school, a number of whom can already complete this kind of table correctly in about five minutes. At sixteen yrs old, the excellent greater part of students must be able to easily beat that point – and acquire them all correct, of course.
The question of whether times tables from 1 to 10 is plenty often crops up. Should youngsters understand the eleven and twelve times tables? 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 mostly metric country. If you live in a country still using feet and inches 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 well and truly in the old brain box!
Alan Young has been a teacher of mathematics for thirty years in both high and primary schools. he has worked within the private and also the public sector and coached a lot of private students within this subject.