Mother daughter maths 2

How to brush up your mental maths skills for National Numeracy Day

The benefits of good numeracy skills are endless - here's how to sharpen up your numbers game in a flash

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How to brush up your mental maths skills for National Numeracy Day

Whether you’re helping your kids with their homework, listening to statistics in the news, or monitoring your salt and sugar intake, we all encounter numbers and basic maths on a daily basis.

"If you think you’re not a numbers person, you’re just not a numbers person YET."

But, according to new research from National Numeracy, almost half of adult Brits admit to struggling with daily numeracy tasks - and over a third of us admit that some daily tasks involving maths leave us feeling stressed.

To raise awareness of the benefits of good numeracy and to demonstrate just how simple it is to improve your numbers skills, May 16 marks the first ever National Numeracy Day. The event wants to show everyone that being “good” with numbers isn’t a special talent – it’s something we can all learn by just exercising our brains for a few minutes every day.

We spoke to Rachel Malic, Communications Manager for National Numeracy, about what they are doing to help people brush up on their arithmetic.

Rachel says: “Half the adult population is at the numeracy level of a primary school child. After you leave school, you do tend to lose a lot of your numeracy skills. This isn’t something to stress about – it’s just because you’re out of practice.”

Check out some simple ways to sharpen up your numbers game here, including a quick test to check your own numeracy skills.

Why should we improve our numeracy skills?

“There are dozens and dozens of reasons. Of the people we speak to, their main motivations tend to be that they either want to get savvier with their finances when running the household, or want to help their children with their homework and to help them stay positive about maths at school. 

“Numeracy skills are also helpful for lots of other areas you wouldn’t initially consider – for example, your health and wellbeing – from counting calories and monitoring your salt and sugar intake to understanding your blood pressure.”

What basic numeracy tasks should we all be able to do?

“Percentages pop up everywhere: store discounts, travel fare increases, interest rates, and all across the media, so it helps if you can do the basics. Our handy percentages hint sheet (pictured below) breaks down how to easily find a percentage of any figure.

“Another numeracy skill that can help you save money is being able to work out whether special offers are good value in the supermarket. Being able to divide costs by the number of units helps you figure out which option is the best value for you.” 

How often should we practice our numeracy skills?

“Remember that it’s normal to be nervous with numbers (almost half the population feel nervous about numbers) but the more practice you do, the better you’ll get and your confidence will fly. Finding even 5-10 spare minutes each day to exercise your brain will improve your skills enormously in just a couple of weeks.”

What resources does the National Numeracy Day website offer?

“There are plenty of fun, free activities you can do with the kids at home, including a multiplying and dividing activity based on a cupcake recipe, and some fun shapes and space maths for all the family using a ball of string (pictured below).

What would you say to people who think they’re bad with numbers?

“If you think you’re not a numbers person, you’re just not a numbers person yet. There’s nothing in your brain chemistry that means you can or can’t do it. But if you want to improve, you can, and there are plenty of resources out there to help you!”

Test your own numbers know-how here: