The Importance of Mental Math

In a world where calculators are so ubiquitous, parents may be asking themselves, “Why should my child develop strong mental math skills?”

After all, a calculator tool comes standard on every smart phone, so a calculator is always on hand. Besides, they will learn (if they  haven’t already) the algorithms that we learned in school for multi-digit addition, subtraction, multiplication and addition. So why go though the hassle of learning to do these problems mentally? It turns out, the answers to this question are numerous.

A strong mental math foundation:

  • Harbors a deeper conceptual understanding
  • Creates a better memory
  • Increases accuracy of calculations
  • Improves PSAT and SAT scores

These are some of the most important aspects of a mathematical foundation, and we don’t need to address here the importance of increasing SAT scores. The best time to build mental math foundation is between the ages of 5 and 10, but it’s never too late to start! If you realize you’re late changing the oil in your car, you don’t leave it because you should have changed it sooner, and now it’s too late! You change it right away!

Harbors a deeper conceptual understanding

Mental MathWhen calculating a problem with the traditional algorithm (i.e. carrying the one….), the most common problem is not remembering how to do the algorithm properly. This comes from not knowing why the algorithm exists as it
does. We were taught to memorize this method, often without learning why or how it works. Many students don’t know that “carrying the one” is splitting up our sum into ones and tens (e.g. 8+9=17, 7 ones, and 1 ten, so we carry the 1 ten over to the next column with the rest of the tens and continue adding).


When working with students who are having trouble doing these algorithms, we have found that the best way to help them is not by having them go over it again and again until they have memorized it, but working on both the mental math and the algorithm with which it corresponds. There are countless cases like this one where a student has been struggling with an algorithm, and when learning mental math, has that teacher’s favorite moment of “Oh!, I get it!”

Creates a better memory

Mental math promotes faster and faster calculations, allowing the brain to quickly recall memorized math facts to calculate the given problem. Mental math isn’t about memorization, though, it’s about manipulating what you are able to quickly recall to calculate a given problem. For example, we have students as young as 7 who are able to calculate 194 x 7 by multiplying first 200 x 7 , then subtracting 6×7, 1400-42=1358.

This comes as a result of a couple of steps:

  • The student practices mental math to the point where recalling basic calculation becomes effortless
  • The mental math practice also promotes retaining the results of the calculations after each step (i.e. remembering 200 x 7 = 1400, and that 6 x 7 = 42, so that the student may focus on the resulting subtraction)
  • Understanding the concept, and knowing the most efficient way to calculate the problem.

This translates to better recollection of everything, not just mathematics, and can even postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s

Bank ErrorIncreases accuracy of calculations 

As mentioned above, a very common mistake in algorithm calculation comes from a lack of conceptual understanding. This can result in a young student trying to calculate 610-130, and getting 780! However, by using mental math, a student will often use approximation so they will know what their mental calculation should be close to, and can adjust their calculations, resulting in a higher percentage of correct answers! The applications for this are countless, ranging from raising grades to helping activities that come up in everyday adult life!

Improves PSAT and SAT scores

SAT ChartWe’ve gone over how students typically do math problems by rote memorization of the process (i.e. recalling the algorithm) or by flexing their mental math muscles.

A recent study by the Journal of Neuroscience delves into the results of students who use each method to calculate their problems. The findings were quite conclusive (complete with brain scans). Students who used mental math as their primary method of calculation were shown to have consistently higher results on these standardized tests than those who had simply memorized the algorithms.

For those who like to read the technical jargon, the article describing the study can be found here.

And of course, if you are looking to improve your child’s calculation speed and ‘math fluency’ bring your child on for a free session at