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Home > Math >How to Practice Times Tables

Learning the Times Tables:
Guidelines and ideas for practice


Susan Jones, M. Ed. 08/99

1. Practice makes permanent - Practice the right answers. Looking the answer up (on a calculator or a times table grid) is better than guessing. Did somebody tell you practice made perfect? That's only if you're practicing it right. Each time you guess an answer wrong, you're practicing the wrong answer. So, if you're not sure what the answer is, find out, *then* practice. Learn ways to figure out the answer until you can remember the answer quickly. Eventually, you want to have these answers at the tip of your tongue, the end of your fingertips, automatically and easily.

2. Don't be satisfied with being able to figure them out. Times tables are one of the things you will use for the rest of your life, in school and life. You'll need to know the times table as part of figuring something out. The more you have to think about the times table, the more time it will take and the more chances you'll have to make a mistake. Don't think that you "know" your times tables if you usually get it right and it takes a while. You want to have these answers at the tip of your tongue, the end of your fingertips, automatically and easily.

3. Learn a few at a time. You want these to go into your long-term memory. If it takes you a year to learn them well, you'll have the rest of your life to know them. You could look at all of them every day for five years and not learn them, or learn two each week and know them all in less than a year, and know them for the rest of your life.

4. Learn them in a sensible order. You can learn them in numerical order (the zeroes, ones, two, threes, fours...) or you can learn them from "easiest to hardest," but make a plan, and take the time to master them as you go.

5. Review the ones you know. If you already know some of the tables, practice them before you start tackling the ones you don't know yet. It's a good confidence booster and besides, practice makes permanent! If you have to go back and practice them more to get fast again, do it.

6. Think about the math while you're learning these. There's more to learning the times tables than passing a test. Know what the times tables mean, what they would look like if they were rows of desks in a classroom or packages with the same price tag or dollars per hour.

Different Ways to Practice the Times Tables

1. Flashcards - plain and fancy

Flashcards are the "old standard" way to learn the times tables, and may work for you, especially if you follow the guidelines and tackle a few at a time. You can also make flaschards with hints on one side of the back and fold that part over if you need help to remember an answer. After you do that, put it back in the deck, and practice it until you don't need the hint any more.


8 x 3


It's great to be completely sure...
8 x 3=24

Your hint can be one of the memory tricks described below, or any other hint that will work for you.

Start with a small deck and only add a few cards at a time. As the deck gets bigger, you'll want to sort them into three piles as you go over them: one stack for the ones you missed (hopefully a *small* stack ). The next stack is for the ones you got -- but it took a little while, and one stack for the ones you knew right away. When you're doing other work, you can grab the deck you know and practice it in less than a minute; or practice the 'slow' deck once or twice to get it faster.

2. Number lines

Start with a number line long enough to handle the times tables you're learning.
Take a small card with each "times table" without the answer on it and place it over the answer on the number line. The card needs to be small enough so it doesn't cover up too much of the number line.
The first time, you might need to count to get the cards in the right place; practice until you can do it quickly. Make sure you've got the right answer by checking the times tables practice chart. Say the times table and the answer, even trace it with your fingers, as you quickly put the card in its place. See if you notice any patterns as you do this.

Next, take half of the cards shuffle them, and do the same thing. Do this until you don't have to check your answers. Finally, take away the number line and do the same thing. You might want to do them in order first.

Remember, if you learn just five of these in two weeks, but learn them well, you'll have learned them all by the end of the year. So, take your time!

When you're done with the first half, add the next one or two biggest tables and go through the same process.

Quality is more important than quantity here. It's a good idea to get a small number of tables so that you know them fast and easy and take a break to do something different. Then, go back and see if they are still fast and easy. If they're not, practice the hard ones with the number line, and consider learning smaller groups of them.

3. Number charts

You can also use a chart of the numbers 1-100, instead of a number line. It will take up less space - but your card with the times table on it will have to be smaller.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20


4. Visual Memory Tricks

Draw a picture to go with a times table that gives you trouble. You can draw a real example of the times table -- a dozen eggs for 6 x 2=12, a checkerboard for 8 x 8=64. You could draw two football players wearing jersey number 7 for the 49ers to show that 7 x 7 is 49. There are books that have examples of these for every times table if you run out of ideas.

Have one version of this drawing that has the times table and the answer on it, and trace it and say it as you look at the picture. Then just look at the picture and try to remember the times table that goes with it. And finally, look at just the times table, and remember the picture and the answer that goes with it. Your 'hint' for your flashcard can be the picture without the answer.

5. Auditory memory tricks

some of the times tables rhyme -- "6 x 8 is 48." Or, you can make up your own -- "It's great to be completely sure, 8 x 3 is 24." Great and 8, be and 3, and sure and four all rhyme. Your hint for your 'flashcard with hint' can be the first part of the rhyme.

6. Story Mnemonics

Make up a sentence with the times table numbers in it, and a picture to go with it. For instance, "Dinner for 6 at 7 on 42nd Street." You can act out calling this reservation in to the restaurant, try it in different voices, draw different pictures (what does 42nd street look like, anyway?) -- have fun with it!

7. Fill-in-the-chart game

Cover each space on the times tables practice chart with a bingo chip or piece of paper or cardboard. Use either 10-sided (or 12-sided if you're learning the tables to 12) dice, or shuffle your flashcard decks. If you use your flashcard decks, you can focus on certain times tables and leave the rest uncovered.

Roll the dice or draw a card, and see how quickly you can call out the right answer to the times table that goes with it. Check under the cover to make sure you're right.

Don't play this game until you know the tables pretty well, since you don't want to be making wrong guesses. Or, you can give yourself 20 points for getting the answer right in 3 seconds or less, 5 points if you could figure it out in some other time period, and 3 points if you looked and then said the times table and the answer three times, and returned that card to the deck.

8. Repeat yourself, compete with yourself

Make quizzes with just a few of the times tables that you know, but not quickly. Put 25 questions on the quiz -- but repeat the same 4 or 5 times tables throughout the quiz. Don't look back unless you have to and you'll find yourself getting faster and faster. You might even have a grid handy, which you'll want to look at the first time to make sure your answer is right.

If there are a few times tables that give you trouble, put those on a quiz over and over again, even if the other tables only show up once. Or make lots of flashcards with the same times table) . Put the answer on the first one, and only look back if you have to... but do look back if you have to. If you had to look back, cover up the answer and trace the problem and say the table with the answer.

Compete with yourself for accuracy and speed. You've mastered them when it's only your writing or speaking speed that slows you down.



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