How to improve at mental maths: our tips and tricks

Mental maths is an excellent skill for children to have, but how, as parents and teachers, do we help them to develop this skill? Luckily, there are many mental maths practice strategies and aids to help with this. Take a look below to find out how!

In this blog, jump to:

What is mental maths?

Mental maths is the ability to calculate maths in your head without working it out on paper or needing memory aid prompts, such as a times table square. It requires an understanding of basic number structures in order to complete calculations quickly.

Having a good knowledge of mental maths has been found to lead to increased accuracy and speed of thought. Most importantly, it can help children to feel positive about their own skills, helping to boost their confidence and independence.

The number one question often asked by students is ‘how to get fast at mental maths’, and there are lots of techniques that can help to boost their skills.

Improvement requires lots of mental maths practice and a knowledge of some helpful mental maths strategies, so we’ve outlined some below to help get you started. Let’s take a closer look!

How to improve at mental maths

There are many ways to aid your child or pupils’ mental maths practice, and much of this is to do with increasing confidence and using repetition.

Use flashcards

One of the most important aspects of mental maths practice is repetition, repetition, repetition! This is how many of us as adults remembered times tables or basic numeracy facts that we still use in our own mental maths to this day. Consolidation of these times tables takes time, and flashcards are a great way to help.

Making flashcards with sums on them (addition, subtraction, multiplication or division, depending on your child’s numeracy level) is a great way to practice this skill. And best of all, flashcards can be easily transported and used on the go, making them ideal for use on trips!

You can add an extra element of challenge to this by adding in a timer for a time trial challenge or having a competition between two children if they’re at a similar level.

Number bond practice game

Number bonds are the basis of how children work out most mental maths problems, so encouraging young learners to practice them is a good way to increase their skills in mental maths.

Ask them to think of all the addition combinations they can that make 10, such as ‘8 + 2’ and ‘6 + 4’. Doing this will help them to understand number bonds better. Then, once they feel comfortable with this, encourage them to move on to reaching 20, 50 or 100.

Developing your child’s logical thinking

Developing logical thinking is vital for children as they get older, and one way to do this (while getting in their mental maths practice!) is by using real-world situations to get them to tackle problems.

For example, when baking with them, ask them to double the weight of each ingredient by two. Or, when you’re grocery shopping, ask them to divide sweets into three equal groups or to round up the prices when completing the shopping.

Most tasks can have mental maths tasks attached to them without any preparation, so feel free to let your creativity shine!

Use DoodleMaths

DoodleMaths is an app that’s specifically designed to help children to develop their mental maths skills.

Designed to be used for just 10 minutes a day, its interactive exercises and games keep learning fun and engaging, ensuring that children always look forward to maths practice!

Why not download the app to try it for free today?

Or discover Doodle for schools

Mental maths strategies

As well as activities to aid your mental maths practice, there are also numeracy strategies you can use to help your child or pupils improve both their mental maths skills and their confidence when completing mental maths.

Splitting into hundreds, tens and units

If your child is confronted with a large addition or subtraction sum, a great strategy to teach them is to break it into smaller parts.

It’s best to break the hundreds, tens, and units up so that they can be added together separately and then totalled at the end.

For example, take a look at the following sum:

541 + 235.

By breaking this down, the numbers can be more easily added together:

500 + 200 = 700, 40 + 30 = 70 and 1 + 5 = 6

These can then be put back together for a final number – 786!

Once your child has gotten the hang of this, they may find it easier to keep the tens and units together and to separate the hundreds, as this makes it easier when the unit adds to over ten. For example, 418 + 513 (400 + 500 = 900, 18 + 13 = 31, meaning that the overall total is 931).

Discover our apps

Rounding numbers for easier calculations

Mental maths practice is all about finding patterns or using strategies to break down and tackle trickier problems. One simple way to make difficult addition or subtraction sums easier is to round up or down to a number that your child is more comfortable working with.

Children are more confident when adding or subtracting numbers that end in five or zero, so adjusting calculations to suit this and readjusting them at the end can help tackle more complex problems.

For example, think about the following sum:

492 +180.

By rounding the 492 up to 500, the calculation becomes much easier than before. So, to round up to 500, your child will need to add on 8. Be sure to remember this later!

500 + 180 is much easier to work out, and equals 680

And now comes the final calculation: remember to take away the 8 you added on earlier! This means that the total should be 672.

Flipping around the question

Most children find addition easier than subtraction, but many are not aware that they can flip difficult subtraction sums to help answer them.

For example, imagine your child or pupil is working on the following:

21 – 18

This can easily be flipped round to __ add 18 = 21.

If your child doesn’t struggle with subtraction sums, this method is also a great way to double-check quickly if the answer they have worked out is correct.

The takeaway

Mental maths practise takes both time and patience, but there are lots of tried and tested ways that you can use to support your children. Remember: repetition is key with all of these strategies, as this will help embed the required knowledge.

So, what are you waiting for? Get counting today!

Or discover Doodle for schools

Related posts


Are you a parent, teacher or student?

Get started for free!

Are you a parent or teacher?

Maths information pack

We ask for your contact info so we can send our info pack directly to your inbox for your convenience

Exam prep information pack

We ask for your contact info so we can send our info pack directly to your inbox for your convenience

Case studies information pack

We ask for your contact info so we can send our info pack directly to your inbox for your convenience

Information pack

We ask for your contact info so that our Education Consultants can get in touch with you and let you know a bit more about Doodle.

Student Login

Which programme would you like to use?

If you’d like to use Doodle’s browser version, please visit this page on a desktop.

To log in to Doodle on this device, you can do so through our apps. You can find out how to download them here: