Improving times tables fluency

In 2020, children in Year 4 will be required to take a multiplication tables check (MTC). There is much debate about the need for this test and its format but also about the most effective way to teach and practice times tables, as efficient recall without the need to use precious working memory capacity in calculating tables facts is helpful in making larger multiplication and division calculations and problems easier to solve.

In 2017, Underwood West Academy carried out research which concluded that the teaching of times tables may be made more effective by using a conceptual approach, which concentrates on examining the connections and patterns in the tables facts, rather than “business as usual”. We theorised that there might be an optimum balance of procedural and conceptual approaches to practising times tables.

Description of the innovation

Pupils had four 15-minute times tables lessons each week. Teachers were provided with conceptual and procedural activities for these lessons: conceptual activities were games that focused on the connections and patterns in tables facts, while procedural activities were games in which pupils practised multiplication facts.

Summary of the evaluation

Thirty-four Year 4 classes (876 children) took part in the evaluation. Classes were allocated to one of five conditions, with each condition using a different balance of conceptual and procedural activities during times tables lessons. The intervention lasted for 12 weeks. Before the intervention started, all participating pupils carried out a simple times tables test comprising of 25 spoken multiplication questions. The same test was repeated as a post-test.

Summary of findings

The results of the trial showed that no one balance of practice activities was more effective than another. We conclude that times tables may be best taught by using a balanced approach – teaching both the concepts behind them and practising them in a range of ways with low-stakes testing.

Lead school   

  • Underwood West Academy

Main findings

  • No one balance of practice activities was more effective than another

Download the protocol document