# What Counts as Math Practice and Why Do Students Need It?

Whether we realize it or not, we use math every day. Math helps us make it to school on time, cook our meals, manage our money, and even follow the rules of the road. As adults, we don’t always notice when we’re using math. It’s become second nature thanks to repeated practice.

Today, we’ll look at how math practice can help your students succeed in school and life—and what you can do to help make their practice time more effective.

What is math practice?

Math practice is any activity, assignment, or dedicated working time that allows students to apply lesson skills and concepts they’ve learned in math class. It’s the most common way to help students build their mathematical skills and apply what they learned in different contexts.

Math practice can be guided or independent, depending on where you are in the lesson. In middle and high school classes, teachers often use guided practice to show students how to do a skill, like factoring. They then give guided examples before having students apply the concepts independently. Students typically do independent math practice by themselves, in pairs, or in small groups.

### Math practice vs. math facts

Learning math facts is a type of math practice, but it’s typically reserved for students in grades K-4. Math facts serve as the foundation for higher-level math practice. When students are fluent with their math facts, they can rely on recall of counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to help them solve formulas and equations.

### Rote practice vs. dynamic practice

There are two different types of practice students can do in math: Rote and dynamic. Much of math facts practice is rote, meaning the goal is to master skills through memorization. Students follow procedures and do repetitive drills to learn the information.

Upper-level math practice can also benefit from rote strategies. You need to know and remember a formula so you can use it. You may need to memorize that pi is 3.14 or the y-axis is vertical. Repeating these facts over and over can help them stick in your brain.

But as students progress to higher-level math, knowing and remembering these facts isn’t enough to help them succeed. They also need dynamic practice, where the goal is to understand and apply facts, rules, and formulas. With dynamic practice, students can make sense of the concepts and their relationships and use experiences and games to better understand and apply mathematical concepts in the real world.

Why is math practice important?

Most students, even those who like math, need review and repeated exposure to new mathematical concepts to help them stick. Math practice at any grade or ability level allows students to:

### Use what they learn

Learning a math concept and discovering how, when, and where to apply it are slightly different skills. For example, students may learn and memorize the area formula for a rectangle (A = l x w). But memorizing the formula isn’t enough. They need to know when to use it and why.

Practice can help students recognize the correct times to use each piece of mathematical information. For example, word problems or projects may show them that the area formula helps them determine how much space a rectangle takes up and that, in the real world, things like pools or basketball courts take rectangular shapes.

### Give meaning to abstract concepts

Math facts got their name for a reason. They’re either right or wrong. There’s no debate that 1 + 1 = 2. But once students start to get into upper-level math, they need to be able to do more than recall a fact. They need to make sense of more abstract concepts in algebra, geometry, and other math and science courses.

Working in the abstract can be difficult, especially if students don’t understand what they’re doing—or why they’re doing it. Practicing math gives meaning to concepts like why students may need to calculate an interest rate or why it’s necessary to find the slope of a line. At first mention, these topics may not make sense to students. With repeated practice and seeing them applied in different scenarios, they can start to make meaning from them.

### Improve problem-solving and critical thinking skills

Problem-solving is a component of math, but it’s also an important life skill. Working on math problems, especially word problems, helps students think through scenarios, find important information, and use their knowledge to find a solution.

Problem-solving and critical thinking go together. To solve problems, you need to be able to think critically or evaluate and interpret information. Math practice serves double duty, allowing students to learn and apply both types of thinking to various situations.

### Become logical and creative thinkers

Practicing math concepts can help students become more logical and creative thinkers. Logical thinking is necessary in math because you have to be able to reason if your answer makes sense. For example, if you’re subtracting or dividing, your answer should be smaller than the largest number in the problem. If it’s not, then, logically, you can determine you didn’t get the right answer.

But because there’s more than one way to solve many math problems—especially more complex problems—practice can also boost your creative thinking. If you have to examine a problem from a few angles to get the correct answer, that can boost your creative thinking skills.

### Reinforce the use of mathematical tools and strategies

When students have to think critically, logically, and creatively to solve problems, they’ll use many strategies and tools. They may use graphing calculators, rules, or compasses to do certain types of math. Practice helps them get comfortable using these tools independently and choosing the right times to rely on tools vs. the information in their heads.

As math concepts become more complex, students learn more problem-solving strategies to find the correct answers. When they have to practice, they can select the right strategy from their mental toolbox, apply it, and see if it works. If it doesn’t, they can return to the other strategies they know and use a different one to repeat the process.

### Apply what they learn to everyday life

Practice—especially projects and word problems—helps students understand how the math concepts they’re learning in class apply to the real world. In some cases, it may be things like finances or measurements that affect everyone. It may also be specialized information that could apply to their future careers, such as computer programming, medicine, or engineering.

Math practice helps them take the concepts they learn beyond the classroom and understand their applications in the real world. This can give the concepts more meaning and make them stick better.

### Make mistakes and learn from them

Ungraded practice, especially, is the perfect time to let students loose on a new concept and let them make mistakes. Sometimes, mistakes can be the best teachers. They help you look at problems differently and learn when to ask for help or more guidance. Allowing students to try things and make mistakes without repercussions can help them learn.

### Build confidence

Practicing math and seeing improvement over time can build students’ confidence. Math is a cumulative subject. You need the right foundations to master the next level. This isn’t always an easy task. Some students may want to give up because it’s hard.

But with repeated practice, once they build their thinking skills and learn how to approach and address problems, they’ll see progress as they work toward their goals. That helps them recognize the benefits of practice and become more confident in their abilities.

### Work toward standard and skill mastery

The saying “practice makes perfect” exists for a reason. While you may not expect your students to be perfect, you *are* trying to help them master essential skills and meet grade-level standards. Perhaps a better saying would be, “Practice builds mastery.” And it’s true.

Even students with an aptitude for math won’t master every standard after just one lesson. The more they practice and apply what they learn, the more they build their skills toward mastery.

#### Elevate student skills

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

### Become successful in other subjects

STEM is all about cross-curricular applications of science, technology, engineering, and math. Sometimes, people add an “A” for art because these disciplines share common connections. Succeeding in geometry or trigonometry can help you in art. Getting good at formulas and equations helps you in chemistry, physics, and computer science. When students build their math skills, they’re setting themselves up for success in other classes and careers they may choose.

How can teachers help students with math practice?

Are you looking for ways to help your students buy into math practice and see results? We have nine tips to help you encourage them and keep them motivated, even when practice gets tough:

### 1. Align practice with standards and objectives

Your standards can help you figure out what match concepts your students need to know at their grade level. For example, __Common Core State Standards for eighth-grade math__ state that students should be able to use functions to model relationships between quantities.

Since you know your students need to be able to do this by the end of the year, you can create practice problems or activities to help them learn these particular concepts during guided and independent math practice.

### 2. Use formative assessments

Formative assessments are a great way to add lower-stakes math practice to your lessons. Bell ringers and __exit tickets__ are popular ungraded options to help students practice their skills before entering or leaving a lesson for the day. __Quizzes, worksheets, and performance tasks__ are also helpful ways to pulse-check students’ performance and give them additional practice of concepts before unit or standardized tests.

**Read more:** __What Is Formative Assessment? Everything You Need To Know__

### 3. Add visualizations

Math’s abstract elements can make it hard for some students to understand key concepts. Adding visualizations helps ground those concepts in the real world. For example, you may use illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, or manipulatives to help students see and work on complex problems.

### 4. Prioritize quality over quantity

More practice doesn’t always mean better practice. It’s easy to think that if we give students a lot of problems to practice, the skills will stick automatically. But if you expect them to do an entire worksheet of independent practice problems without the proper guidance and support, the volume of work doesn’t matter.

Instead, you can prioritize the quality of the practice over the quantity. For example, you may give students three word problems instead of a worksheet with 30 equations. The word problems may better build their skills and show gaps in their knowledge. That makes them more beneficial than doing three times the work because they produce better data and insights.

### 5. Emphasize the context of each activity

It’s helpful to give students context about each practice activity. This can help them understand the “why” behind each concept. Try providing context in areas like:

How the practice activity fits into your lesson.

How the activity will prepare them for the next lesson.

How the practice relates to something they’ve already learned.

When they could apply what they’re practicing to the real world.

### 6. Make it fun—and relevant

Beyond giving context for each practice activity, making the content relevant and fun is also helpful. While this may not be possible for every practice exercise, you can incorporate fun where it fits.

Review games, online games, and projects may be more fun than doing problems out of the textbook. For example, if students are learning about depreciation and interest rates, you may have them do a project that involves calculating __hypothetical personal finances__.

But it’s also helpful to try to make activities relevant where possible. You may use students’ interests and background knowledge when creating practice activities to make them more appealing. For example, you can use students’ names or hobbies in your word problems. If your students care about the situations they’re trying to problem solve, they’ll be more interested in practicing.

### 7. Try peer pairs

Sometimes, students learn, study, and practice better together. Try letting students work in peer pairs or small groups to do their math practice. You may group higher-performing students with struggling students within the peer pairs for a more guided practice experience.

Another option is to group students with similar ability levels to help them push each other’s thinking. In either format, students can work together and combine their skills and knowledge to practice the concepts.

### 8. Encourage students to ask questions

Students may feel embarrassed to ask questions when they don’t understand something in class, especially as they age. If a problem arises during guided or independent practice, they may hesitate to ask because they fear looking less-than-smart or getting teased by other students.

Creating a welcoming environment in your classroom where asking questions is encouraged can help. You can also use other methods, such as a question jar or box, that allow students to ask questions 100% anonymously or without other students finding out who asked.

### 9. Give positive feedback

In a subject like math, where an answer is either right or wrong, it’s easy to give a lot of constructive criticism. However, students may perceive well-meaning advice as negative if they’re always told to try again. Ensure you’re also giving positive feedback, even if it’s less frequent than constructive criticism. Positive feedback in math may look like:

Congratulating students on getting a correct answer

Pointing out skill improvement, even if students are still working toward mastery

Noting partial credit for things students did right, even if the final answer was wrong

Help students practice math with Formative’s independent student practice

Want to help students practice math the fun way? Try one of __Formative’s premade independent student practice sets__! Our middle school sets strengthen students’ algebraic thinking and problem-solving skills, while our high school sets support students to prepare for advanced mathematical concepts and real-world applications, like:

**Fifth grade:**__Decimals__**Sixth grade:**__Ratios and proportions__**Seventh grade:**__Factoring, simplifying expressions, and adding and subtracting linear expressions__**Eighth grade:**__Exponents__**Ninth grade:**__Algebraic expressions and quadratic equations__**Tenth grade:**__Geometry__**Eleventh grade:**__Polynomials and complex fractions__**Twelfth grade:**__Intervals and complex numbers__

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.