# Why Math Facts Practice Matters—And How To Use It

You’ve heard students say it before: “Why do I have to learn this?” Math teachers, especially, hear this phrase often. Sadly, the answer “because the standards say so” doesn’t hit home with students (even if sometimes it feels true).

In the age of tablets and smartphones, students asking why they have to do math facts practice is a valid question. Why take up space in your brain memorizing facts when you can just use the calculator on your phone?

Today, we’ll examine why memorizing math facts is so important and how you can help your students learn them without making them boring.

What are math facts?

Math facts are the basic arithmetic functions students learn in early elementary math classes. They include addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Basic math facts in these four areas are the foundation for more complex math with multidigit numbers, like long division, fractions, or algebraic expressions.

Why does learning math facts matter?

Even with technology at their fingertips, it’s still essential for students to learn and master basic math facts. They help students:

### Build fluency

The more students practice and repeat math facts, the more fluent they’ll become. This is true for the foundations of any subject. For example, when students learn to read, they must first learn the alphabet. Then, they must learn how sounds make letters and how to read words on a page. The more they do each of these things, the __more fluent readers__ they become.

The same concept applies to math. Students must first learn their numbers, then how to combine them and take them apart to make new numbers. Brain science—explicitly working and long-term memory—helps explain why this works.

Math is an acquired skill. When we’re born, we don’t instinctively know how to count, add, or do any other mathematical operations. We need explicit instruction, guidance, and practice to master them. Since everything about math is brand new when students start learning it, you have to make sure not to overload their working memory.

Working memory is a part of the brain that processes new information. It has a limited capacity and can get overloaded and shut down if it tries to take in too much information at once. This makes it more difficult—if not impossible—for students to learn new math skills until the load on their working memory decreases.

That happens with repeated practice, which helps move the new information to long-term memory, where it’s chunked, stored, and more easily accessible for future use. Once all the new information moves to long-term memory, students are considered fluent and can take the next set of brand-new information into their working memory.

### Improve efficiency

When students are more fluent in math facts, they’re more efficient at recognizing numbers and solving equations. Fluent is a synonym for easy or effortless. When something comes easily, you can do it faster. When you do something faster, you’re more efficient.

In the real world, there may not be many scenarios where it matters if it takes someone one minute or five minutes to add two numbers together. But the faster students can do it, the more time they can save doing tasks like paying a cashier or calculating the tip at a restaurant when they get older.

### Prepare for higher-level math

Moving math facts to long-term memory, encouraging fluency, and becoming efficient with recall help prepare students for higher-level math in upper elementary, middle, and high school. When students can recall their basic facts easily, that frees up their working memory to __learn new concepts__ like problem-solving or memorizing complex equations.

As math becomes more complex, students have foundations and basics to fall back on when they try to learn something new.

### Decrease math anxiety and improve confidence

Math anxiety typically starts when students fall behind and can’t keep up with what they’re learning. It can start as early as elementary school with basics like counting. Repeated practice of math facts can help students catch up. When they get back on par with their peers, they become more confident, and their math anxiety decreases.

### Meet grade-level standards

Many state standards require students to be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide before the end of a specific grade. The standards require this so that students go to the next grade level prepared for what they’ll learn in those math classes. By teaching and practicing math facts, you ensure all students meet those standards and can confidently move to the next grade level.

How can teachers help students practice math facts?

Need help deciding the best ways to help your students practice their math facts? Here are a few tips to help you get started:

#### Elevate student skills

Supercharge instruction with interactive premade and custom student practice sets on Formative—for free!

### Use standards as a guide

Your standards can help you determine what math concepts students need to learn at their grade level. For example, __Common Core State Standards for second-grade math__ state that students should be able to add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies.

Since you know your students need to be able to do this by the end of the year, you can focus on helping them learn these particular facts during guided and independent math practice.

### Adjust practice windows

Should students practice their math facts every day? Or should they take breaks between practice sessions to soak up the information? Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula for determining the exact days, times, or windows you should use to practice math facts.

Short, frequent practice windows, using tools like flashcards, can help __strengthen long-term retention__. But spaced practice, which has students revisit concepts over time while taking breaks in between, has __roots in learning science__.

You can use a combination of both methods in your classroom to try to maximize retention without burning students out with skill-and-drill methods. For example, you may do 10 minutes of rapid-fire multiplication fact flashcards daily for a week. Then, you take a week off before you do it again. Finding a balance that’s frequent enough to build fluency but doesn’t burn students out while they practice is essential.

### Work toward mastery in smaller chunks

Standards may require your students to learn multiple sets of math facts in the same year. But trying to brain dump all of them at once would be too overwhelming for everyone involved. It’s helpful to work toward mastery in smaller chunks and then revisit and review groups of facts they should already know.

For example, when teaching multiplication tables, it’s beneficial to work on counting by 4s or by 7s up to 12s table as a group. Then, when students have mastered or nearly mastered one table, they can move on to the next. During specific practice windows, you can pull facts from tables they’ve already mastered to help encourage recall, review, and fluency while learning new material in smaller chunks.

### Provide different tools and strategies

Even for learning basic math facts, it’s helpful for students to make meaning out of what they’re doing. Why should they care if 2 + 2 = 4? Providing different tools and strategies can help them understand what these numbers represent and support them in figuring out math facts before they become fluent. Some examples of tools and strategies include:

Using manipulatives like blocks or groups of straws

Counting on fingers

Coloring in spaces on worksheets

Thinking of numbers as physical objects

Giving students other ways to look at or think about their math facts creates additional brain connections that help them with memorization and recall.

### Consider how to incorporate timed practice

Timed exercises are a popular way to determine if students know their math facts. If they’ve committed the facts to memory, students should be able to spit them back out automatically when prompted. In theory, this sounds like a reasonable assessment. If you can’t recall all the 5s times tables in a minute, you must not know them well enough. In practice, this isn’t always true.

As we mentioned, in the real world, there are very few situations where you’ll be put on the spot and asked to answer 5 x 9 on demand. If it takes 10 seconds to do it instead of five, that won’t matter. So why does it matter in class?

For students with test anxiety, these timed activities could cause them to blank or freeze up—even if they know the answers. Their brains focus more on failing or getting a bad grade than showing off their knowledge. Studies have also shown that math and __test anxiety can even affect working memory__, blocking students from learning new math concepts in the first place.

Timed exercises can still be a good pulse check for fact memorization and recall, but they shouldn’t be the only way you track students’ progress in learning math facts.

### Make it fun

Skill-and-drill approaches can effectively teach math facts but aren’t necessarily fun. If students get bored with the delivery method, they may tune out and avoid trying to learn or practice the material. There are other ways to help them memorize math facts without flashcards or timed quizzes. For example, in addition to these traditional methods, you could try:

Variations on the card game “War”

Dice games

Dominos

Math bingo

Online apps or games, like

__Math Fact Basketball__

Help students practice math facts with Formative’s independent student practice sets

Want to help students learn their math facts the fun way? Try one of __Formative’s premade independent student practice sets__! Introduce students to fundamental math skills using simple concepts for each grade, like:

**Kindergarten:**__Counting and sequencing__**First grade:**__Counting, sequencing, and number representations__**Second grade:**__Addition and subtraction__**Third grade:**__Rounding__and__multiplication__**Fourth grade:**__Place value, division, and standard form__

For custom practice that fits your classroom needs, __Formative__ makes it easy for you __and your students__ to __create independent practice sets__. Build them from scratch, use existing content, import any .CSV or .TSV file into the builder, or generate sets with AI.

Choose from four practice modes—flashcards, matching, quizzes, and writing—to study. Plus, encourage friendly competition among students with the practice leaderboard, or let them customize their practice experience by personalizing the background on each practice set!

Teachers also have the opportunity to see data about student usage for each practice set they create and assign, like:

Total practice time

Total sessions

Last practiced

Last performance percentage

Ready to see our student practice sets at work? Log into your Formative account to get started.