Recalling Math Facts Rapidly/Impact of Memory

Memory plays an important role in enabling a student to recall math facts accurately, relatively instantaneously, and with little effort while working through a problem.

Through short-term memory, information is first registered into the mind. The details of math facts within a problem must be registered and processed quickly, with the sequence and visual attributes of the facts preserved correctly. Active working memory plays an important role as well, since students must instantaneously recall facts while holding in mind the operations and steps of the larger problem. Finally, efficient organization of math facts in long term memory aids the student’s quick and easy access of those facts contained in the problem. Thus the demands upon memory are numerous.

Here are some strategies for developing and improving students’ recall of math facts.

Helpful Hints

  • Teach strategies for developing accuracy with math facts before building speed in recall. Make sure students have mastered math facts (can recall them accurately and with ease) before testing or drilling them under timed conditions. 
  • Provide students with techniques for working through facts that are not consistently recalled.  
  • For example, many students use their fingers as a concrete counting mechanism. This requires them to stop, put down their pencils, etc., and often interferes with the students’ ability to fluently work through a problem. An alternative is the "touch math" technique, where the student touches points on each number with his/her pencil while counting. This technique provides a concrete reinforcement for the student, while also helping to preserve the fluency of the problem.  
  • Integrate drill and practice activities into a fun format, such as a game with a deck of playing cards that students can play in pairs, or software that offers well-designed math activities.  
  • Encourage the use of calculators to check accuracy and to do computation when appropriate (e.g., when facts are embedded in longer computations). It may be helpful for some students to write down numbers before entering them, or to use a calculator with a paper printout to reinforce the facts.