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Author: Penny Fray

Why do we need to learn the times tables?

Why do we need to learn the times tables?

You wouldn’t dream of building a house without first digging the footings and putting the foundations in place.

Nor would you attempt to put a meal together without assembling the right ingredients in the correct proportions.

Everything starts with a solid foundation, and in maths, that’s where times tables comes in. Schools have to make sure that children learn the times tables as part of the national curriculum. There is no silver bullet to learning them; it is simply a case of going over and over it until it is solidified into memory.

When children (or parents!) complain about having to learn it, it’s because they haven’t understood why it’s important. A few years ago OFSTED did a study that said that, without a solid grasp of the times tables, children’s ability in maths suffered. If you can get children to understand this, they will more easily buy into the reason for learning.

It’s a short cut

For instance, another way of viewing a sound knowledge of times tables is taking a shortcut rather than going the long way round.

If you were presented with a maths equation such as (8 x 8) / 4

And if you just knew that 8 x 8 was 64, you would not lose valuable seconds working it out before getting on with the rest of the equation.

It also helps with division. Imagine having to answer 40 ÷ 8. If we knew our times tables we would come up with the answer in a nanosecond (it’s five). If we had to do 42 ÷ 8 ,we would instantly know the answer was 5 remainder 2.

In fact, the times tables is a key building block for the much harder multiplication and division that children need to learn later on. It’s also the foundation of fractions so it is vital know them to understand fractions.

And here’s the clincher.

It saves time – which really helps when it comes to the 11+

This is where it comes in really handy for the 11+ exam. The test doesn’t just want to test a child’s knowledge, it wants to see how quickly a child can access that knowledge.  How fast can they process the question and still get it right?  Maths comprises XX% of the test, if a child knows all the times tables, imagine how much faster and easier the whole thing will be?

It’s worth remembering, though, being able to remember the times tables isn’t the be all and end all, it won’t suddenly make you a maths genius. Rather, it’s a very useful building block along the way to building that magnificent house.


Here are some great resources for learning the times tables.

Hit the Button is available on Apple and Android is a fun way for kids to rapidly improve their times tables. The division tables are also very useful.

Times table practice books, like Carol Vorderman Times Table Made Easy, or Usborne Lift the Flap Times Tables for younger children. WHSmiths has a good collection.

How do you pass the 11+ ?

How do you pass the 11+ ?

Parents all come to Pen and Ink Tuition for the same reason – they want their child to have the best chance of passing the 11+ test.

For the uninitiated, this is the so-called Transfer Test that helps to decide whether a child can go to grammar school or not. There are two papers, each around 45 minutes’ long.

They are supposed to be tutor-proof, but research has shown that this simply isn’t the case. 

So tutoring is, rightly or wrongly, one of the best ways to help children have the best chance of passing.

But that’s just the beginning.

Perhaps one of the questions I get asked the most by parents is: What do we need to do now to have the best chance of passing?

Being clever is one thing, but not everything

How do you decide if your child is right for grammar school? Clearly, if they are already in top sets at school then that’s a good start, but even then, it all depends on what levels other children in the school are at. The top set in one school may not equal the top set in another.

It’s also well worth speaking to teachers around the end of year 4 or early in year 5. They will have a pretty good idea of whether your child could pass the exam by then. In addition, good tutors offer free assessments.

Even if your child is top of the class, there are not many very clever ones who will sail straight through the exam without even trying. It requires hard work.

But hard work isn’t everything either

But hard work alone won’t be enough to pass the test. Whilst its true that the more vocabulary a child can learn, the better they are at times tables and other maths basics, the quicker they will be able to answer questions, this alone will not be enough to see them through.

Attitude also plays a huge part. When children get to grammar school they will be expected to be self-motivated and self-starters. In secondary schools in general children are expected to take much more responsibility for themselves. In grammars the academic demands will be even more rigorous than what they have thus far been used to. Your child has to want to be in that kind of environment.

It’s the same with the test. Children have to have a certain determination to want to pass and be prepared to put in the necessary time to do so. Some are only doing it because they are being told to, and they will have less of a chance of passing.

Practice, practice, practice

Practising does always improve their chances. No time learning vocabulary, or practising papers, will ever be wasted. The trick is to find a balance between that and other schoolwork and extra curricular activity.

It’s a team effort

The best combination is a child’s determination to succeed, and parental support helping them to work.

A year spent preparing is much better than a solid month of cramming, at least for most children. That’s because it takes time to build up the vocabulary and maths knowledge needed. That said, I offer courses in August as both refreshers for, and preparation for, the looming test in September.

Starting early also pays dividends. I was delighted when one child, who came to me with weak maths skills, went on to pass the 11+ two years later. Their sheer determination and perseverance paid off.