Mental math. We all have to do it, but not everyone is good at it. Do you dread the idea of being called on in class to solve a word problem? You are not alone. Fortunately, there are some steps that you can take to help improve your mental math skills so that you will feel more confident when faced with those dreaded word problems. Here are 12 ways that you can improve your mental math skills.
1. Practice Mental Math Problems
Do not let yourself get away with thinking that you do not need to practice mental math problems. It is very important that you continue practicing, because the more you do it, the easier it gets and the better at it you will become.
2. Do Not Memorize Formulas
When you are solving a word problem, do not simply try to memorize the solution to that problem or a formula that you think might solve it. It is important to understand the process. If you know how to set up and manipulate an equation, then find out what type of equation needs to be used to solve a word problem and then choose the correct formula for that equation.
3. Use a Focused Approach
When you are solving a word problem, do not try to tackle it in all at once. It is best to break the problem down into smaller steps so that you can focus on one part of the problem at a time so that you know what you are doing before moving onto the next step.
4. Read Word Problems Slowly
Do not read your word problems too quickly or skip over any words because this will cause you to miss important information needed to solve the problem correctly. Take your time when reading each word problem so that you understand exactly what it is for and how much time/effort it will take to solve.
5. Use a Number Line
When solving word problems involving fractions, percentages, or decimals, you should always use a number line because sometimes these types of problems are easier to visualize on a number line than when using an equation.
Make sure that you are using the correct numbers when drawing your number line in order for it to help you solve the problem correctly.
6. Approach Problems with Confidence
Do not let yourself be overcome by fear when approaching word problems because this only makes it harder for you to figure out how to solve them correctly. You can do it! Be confident! You know what you need to do and there is no reason why you cannot figure out how to do it.
7. Use a Calculator Sparingly
While some word problems can be solved quicker if you use an electronic calculator, most of the time you would end up using more time on it than if you had just tried to solve the problem using mental math. Try solving word problems without using a calculator first and then check your solution with the calculator only if necessary.
8. Keep Track of Units Used
When solving word problems that deal with quantities, rates, time, distance, speed, etc., it is very important to keep track of the units used so that you are not confused about how many units are being mentioned in each step or at different parts of the problem.
You should try drawing out diagrams of each step so that you know what type of units are being used and how many of them there are.
9. Think Clearly and Broadly
Do not get stuck on one part of a word problem while trying to solve it. It is important to “keep your head in the game” and stay focused, but if you get stuck on one section, do not let it throw off all other parts of the problem because this will only lead to making careless mistakes which will add up until you completely mess up the entire problem.
Try thinking about the problem more broadly or try approaching it from a different angle by shifting around your approach to solving it instead of just repeating what you have already tried over and over again.
10. Practice Mental Arithmetic
The more you practice mental math, the faster you will be able to solve word problems in your head.
By practicing with different types of numbers, this will also help you become more familiar with how certain types of equations are set up so that when similar equations come up in solving a word problem, it would be easier for you to quickly figure out the right steps to take.
The more comfortable at doing things in your head, the better it will be when you have to deal with word problems on standardized tests.
11. Take Notes as You Read
Some people may prefer not taking notes as they read through a word problem because they feel like then they might lose focus and not know where the information is coming from as they read through the problem.
This might be true for some students but others who are used to reading out loud or citing references as they write need to keep their notes organized so that they do not lose track of where certain information is coming from. You can use abbreviations and symbols, or you can just number your notes so that you know which comes first, second, etc.
Most importantly, you should make sure to write down important information such as units given in word problems because this will help prevent getting lost later on if any questions arise concerning how many units there were at different points of the problem.
12. Think Before Writing
Writing things down about a problem almost always slows us down instead of speeding up our solving process because we feel like we need to jot down something as we read it without really thinking about what is important and what will help us solve the problem.
If you find yourself slowing down by taking notes, then chances are that this process of just writing everything down as you read word problems will not speed up your solving process over time because there is a very limited amount of information that can be written for each word problem and therefore, writing things down as you read does not give much benefit than if you take the time to think before writing anything.