My second-grader gets all tense and often louses up on timed tests in math. Is this type of test really the best way for him to learn basic facts? -- All Timed Out


Timed math tests may not be the best way for students to learn basic math facts, but they sure are a popular way in most schools. The worst thing about timed tests is that they cause stress in both high- and low-achieving students -- leading, in some cases, to a permanent aversion to mathematics. And during timed tests, students may become so stressed that their working memory becomes blocked, and it becomes harder for them to recall previously learned facts.

The new Common Core Standards in math de-emphasize the rote memorization of math facts. The way math facts should be learned is through using them in different situations and developing number sense. For example, ask your child to show you a number from 6 through 10 using her fingers. For the number 6, the child might display three fingers on each hand, or two fingers on one hand and four on the other. The child could then describe what she did by writing 3+3 = 6 or 2+4 = 6. Through meaningful activities, she will begin to commit the math facts to her memory as well as gain an understanding of numbers and math.

Of course, it is practical to hold basic math facts in one's memory. Once children have gained number sense, they can also learn and remember math facts.