12 Surprising Study and Test Skills for Middle and High Schoolers [006]

12 Surprising Study and Test Skills for Middle and High Schoolers [006]

Ugh….Study skills and test prep.  I know it’s important to teach my son.  Often I neglect to think about the long term effect of not teaching this life skill.  To motivate me more, I like to think of the contrasting stories of Les and his twin sister Natalie on License to Drive.

Natalie was prepared for her driving test. Les reminds me of my own son: messy backpack and a wing-it attitude.  As we all know, he failed the written part of the test.  The contrast between these twins is stark.  I don’t want my son to be uptight, but I also know that I don’t want him rationalizing bad decisions like Les or relying solely on his street smarts.

Study skills and test prep tips for middle and high schoolers. http://mathformiddles.com/study-skills

That nagging feeling that you should’ve studied.

Study Skills and Test Prep = Life Skills

Studying helps your teen be a better manager of their own life.  This is the perfect time to learn valuable skills like taking notes, preparing in advance, and getting adequate sleep as we know these skills easily translate into the adult world.

When I am in a meeting now, I have to take notes.  I listen for the main idea and create a checklist of items that need attention.  I also know that if I have a deadline for a project, I can’t start it the night before and expect it to be any good.  If I’m sleep deprived, I can’t recall important information or even make sense when I speak.  No one enjoys that!

There are two ways to use this post.

  1. Listen to the podcast.  This was recorded for you and is packed with more information than we provided below.
  2.  Let your teen read this.  I address the student below as studying is your child’s responsibility.

Onto the tips!

1.  Organize Classwork and Notes

Open your binder, spread all your classwork and notes out.  Decide which pieces of paper are relevant to this upcoming test.  DON’T throw anything away just yet.  Put other classwork in a different folder or binder to hang onto it just in case your teacher loses a grade or an assignment is more important than you think.

2.  Rewrite Notes

Ugh.  I know, that one sounds like torture but actually can help you commit more of what you learned in class to memory.  This involves the senses.

The goal while working on rewriting notes is to be able to put them into your own words.  If you can’t do that, this should be a signal to you for help.  Ask your teacher, parent, tutor, or educational therapist for clarification until you can write it in your own words.

Back up…Taking Notes?

That moment when you realize you suck at taking notes. Study skills at mathformiddles.com/study-skills

That moment when you realize you suck at taking notes.


It’s almost as if I could sense your mouse clicking away just then because….you. don’t. take. notes.

It’s never too late to learn how to take notes!  We have several posts here on Math for Middles to help you to take those first steps to better note taking today.  You can read them here and here.  Reach out to your parent for help in learning how to take better notes.  They may have some tips from their days back in school that are surprising helpful.

3.  Vocabulary Matters

Look on your worksheets for text that is in bold or defined math vocabulary in your notes.  These are important pieces that further your understanding.  If you read the directions for a problem and you don’t understand the vocabulary, it may hinder your ability to do the problem correctly and to completion.

4.  Go Over Quizzes

Get feedback from your teachers? Don't understand a mark they made, ask for clarification. http://mathformiddles.com/study-skills

Get feedback from your teacher if you don’t understand their notes.

After you’ve organized all the work, you’ll need to look at quizzes closely.  Your teacher doesn’t have infinite amounts of time to make problems for tests.  Most likely, they’ll just reuse the same kind of problem but change out the numbers.  You can do the same to practice for that upcoming test.

Look over any feedback the teacher may have given you on your quiz.  If you don’t understand it, make sure to ask!  I once had a student that saw little blue circles on her quiz that made her think they were zeros.  This wasn’t what her teacher was trying to communicate at all.  Instead, her teacher wanted her to realized she had missed a negative sign in front of a number.  But the teacher didn’t convey that in her writing.

5.  Sleep

Pulling an all nighter is not going to help you do better on a test.  Start preparing for tests more than one day in advance.  This requires you to make time in your schedule.  Add it to the calendar, ask for help to stick to your schedule from a parent or friend.

Get at least 7 hours of sleep the night before a big test.

6.  Study Group

Just like rewriting your notes and putting them into your own words, you also can take advantage of a study group with the same goal.  Take different parts of the previous chapter of math and divide it into sections.  Assign one to each person and have them prepare it well enough to teach it to someone else.

Beware.  Groups might not work for everyone.

If working in a group causes you to goof around Snapchatting a friend your Bambi face, you’ll be better off studying on your own.

7.  Sacred Study Space

Seth Perler teaches teen students to create a special space in their home where nothing but studying happens there.  This space should have everything you need in it to be successful.  Don’t forget to keep yourself as distraction free as possible.  Turn your phone on airplane mode while you work so that social media updates don’t get the best of you.

Music is more distracting than helpful.

8.  Chew Gum

Use gum for focus, not entertainment.

When tension is running high, gum can help with the senses to calm and focus the mind.  Just don’t blow bubbles in your friend’s face. 

9.  Power Up with Protein

Choosing mostly carbs the day of a test can leave you hungry and distracted.  Instead, opt for more protein in the morning or try eating a Snickers or yummy protein snacks like these.

Power Balls…delish and teen approved!


10.  Avoid Chatting with Friends About Nervousness

Before a test, it may be tempting to talk to friends about how you feel like you are going to bomb a test.  Avoid this at all cost!  Wait until after you’ve finished complaining about the test.

It’s simple, talking about how poorly you feel like you will do raises your anxiety level and thus makes it more likely it will happen because you are leaning into the fear monger instead of your knowledge.

11.  Get Physical!

Jump out the jitters…or power pump it out?

As a human, you have in your DNA the response to fight or flight upon a stressful situation.  Back when we were scavenging and hunting for food, this was a helpful response.  Today, it can get in the way of our performance on a test as we feel this urge to run from a test.

Doing a little bit of exercise before your test will help to focus your mind.  Try doing a lap around the school building or jumping jacks in the bathroom at school, whatever you can to get rid of this primal instinct.

12.  Talk It Out

I know that I mentioned don’t talk about how nervous you are to a friend about the upcoming test, but talking to your parent, teacher, or tutor about how you feel about upcoming tests can really help.

Learning to change your thinking takes time, but is worthwhile work as you learn how to frame your mind each time you approach a test. Use this free guide with a trusted adult today to help you start the conversation.

Related Resource:  Whole Brain Child Connection.  How to Help Your Teen Be Successful

What To Do When Studying Doesn’t Seem to Help

We realize that sometimes you feel like you are spinning your wheels in a topic.  There are so many options you have when you feel stuck.

Go to Class with One Goal:  The Main Idea

During each class, try to think big picture.  What was the main idea of this lesson?  If you can’t seem to figure that out, approach your teacher after the lesson is over and ask for help.  Resist the urge to start with, “I don’t get it.”  Instead, start with, “What was the main idea of our lesson today?”

Compare it to what you heard during class.  If they don’t match up, this is a sign to ask for more help.

Get Comfy with Questions

Approaching a teacher (especially a grouchy one) can be the worst!  But remember that teaching is their job.  Questions also help a teacher evaluate where they can improve.  If questions never get asked, they can’t adjust their delivery of the content to help you.

Come to your teacher with a list of questions if talking to them makes you nervous.

If even the thought of that makes you break out in a sweat, take it one step back.  Send questions via email.  Teachers love email because they can answer questions when it is convenient for them.

Ask for More Examples

If you are stuck, ask your teacher to explain a concept in a different way.  But give them a hint of how you learn best.  If you grab information in a hands-on way, tell them that!  Ask for a YouTube video of a real life example.

No teacher will be annoyed that you are asking questions. The perception of you will be one of a student that CARES about their results in class.

Focus on Getting Help with Executive Function

The front part of your brain is under construction.  This is where all the functions to carry out one main goal, like taking a test can be troublesome for some students.  Getting help with executive functioning can help you for a life time, not just in your geometry class.  Hiring executive function professionals like Seth or Marydee may just do the trick.

Get a Tutor or Educational Therapist

Sometimes you just need a different approach all together!  Let a parent know that you are ready for some outside help.  You can definitely use our services here on Math for Middles or ask for referrals from your teacher.

Related Parent Resource:  Living with Learning Difficulties

These years during middle and high school are a gift as you learn how to manage topics and expectations.  Remember to keep it all in perspective.  Just because you feel like you can’t pass the written part of a test like Les, doesn’t mean there won’t be an application to the real world.  These are skills for adulting.

Parents, ready to cut homework drama in half?  Enroll in our free course to learn how.


Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.
Prevent the ‘New Normal’: How to Keep Your Teen from Living in Your Basement Forever [005]

Prevent the ‘New Normal’: How to Keep Your Teen from Living in Your Basement Forever [005]

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Over the decades, we’ve laughed at Wayne and Garth living in the basement, giggled at Tripp failing to launch out of his childhood room, and almost wet our pants laughing at Matt Foley living in a van down by the river.

These fictitious basement dwellers are a reality for many parents of adult children today.

Why DO so many young adults live at home?

Experts cite that millennials are choosing to live at home due to rising housing costs, college tuition baggage, and no jobs.

While some of those are real concerns, I believe there is something else at play here.

Adulting is Hard

Meet Bobby. (name has been changed) An 18 year old that lived in his mother’s dark, dusty basement for close to 20 years past his high school graduation. He struggled to hold down a job and moved several times between his divorced parents’ homes.The real reason adulting makes you tired. | mathformiddles.com/ef

Showering was not important.

Work was a pain.

People were annoying.

He vacillated between resolving to do better and lying in bed for days. In other words, adulting was hard in every aspect of his life.

Now it would be easy to label him as a lazy, unmotivated dude. As I reflect on how his life went from 18 – 34, I saw dysfunction in the brain.

Failed Launches

Bobby lacked the skills he needed to be successful. He had tried several times to launch himself out of his childhood home, but yet the dysfunction in his brain prevented him from doing so.

He didn’t become impaired at 18, rather this dysfunction got more unruly at the age of 11. This same issue is starting in your own tween and teen right now.

We know that starting around age 11, teens pre-frontal cortex is under construction which is a gift as it is the dysfunction that needs to happen so your child will want to launch from home.

Related: Why Your Smart Teen Does Stupid Things Sometimes

But why do failed launches occur?

It’s due to poor executive functioning. These skills reside in the pre-frontal cortex and continue to develop as late as 30 years of age. (Maybe that’s why Wayne and Garth got it together a little more in the sequel)

Good news?

There is plenty of time to help your teen develop the skills to live a happy life.  If you are a parent with an adult child living with you, it’s not too late. I tell my students, there is always time to learn.

Bad news?

Many teens and adults have impairments to the front part of the brain. Executive functioning issues coexist with ADHD, autism, dyslexia, sensory processing, auditory processing, anxiety, depression, and many others. This makes typical development happen at a slower rate.

I think Bobby had an undiagnosed issue that led to his poor executive function skills.

Could your teen be battling an undiagnosed issue? Keep reading and see if any of this resonates with you.

What is Executive Function and How Does It Affect My Teen?

Carrying out multiple steps can be challenging. Let’s look at the processes needed to complete a math homework assignment.

Why is homework so hard? It's complicated. Check out the executive functioning connection to homework. | http://mathformiddles.com/ef

Click to enlarge

Does this help you have empathy for what your teen is trying to do with a set of skills that are not fully developed?

Each of these steps are found within the 8 Key Executive Functions.


Graphic of 8 Key Executive Functions

Click to enlarge

Now is the time to start working on these skills. But before we launch into that conversation, first let’s stop and talk about something that will 100% affect the outcome of your work on executive functioning.


Children look to you when they are forming their identity. What messages about your teen’s behavior are you sharing?

Seth Perler, an educational coach, taught that many well intentioned parents share these 3 common shame messages with their teens:

  • The Laziness Lie – Here, adults will directly or indirectly communicate to a child that he is lazy.
  • Try Harder – Here, adults tell a child that they just need to put in more effort
  • Don’t Care – Here, adults communicate to a child that they must not care about school, grades, learning, etc. “If you really cared, you’d do something about it.”

I’ve watched this unfold with my own students and myself. Last year, I was frustrated with my son because I knew he was smart, but he was struggling. He lacked the ability to be organized and I did label him as lazy and uncaring about his grades.

It wasn’t until I found Michelle Icard’s book, that I was reminded about executive functioning. Since then, I’ve worked harder to operate as my son’s assistant manager instead of sending these shame messages.

For example, today I looked at his grades. I channeled my favorite boss (Doug) and I emailed my son about his grades. I requested that he take a look at the missing assignments. Then I asked him to follow up with his teachers.

When he read the email, he came to me and reported what had happened. I ended the conversation by letting him know that I would be checking back in next week to see how he was doing. My husband saw the grades and was frustrated, but I was able to share how I handled it without getting emotional.

What Can You Do to Teach Executive Function Skills?

It takes time to develop these skills.  Remember What About Bob?  Baby steps.

Baby steps to the backpack.
Baby steps to writing in the planner.
Baby steps to turning in work.

Click on each of the key areas to explore various ideas for healthy executive function skills that you can work on starting today.

#1 Impulse Control

Do you have a teen that blurts out the first thought in his mind?  Interrupts you constantly?  He is lacking impulse control.  His brain is firing and he doesn’t pause long enough to be aware of his thought before it leaves his mouth.  This is part of metacognition.

Spending time teaching your teen to be aware of his thoughts and regulation of those thoughts takes practice. For real life examples, be sure to read Melissa Taylor’s post about metacognition.

#3 Flexible Thinking

If your teen is struggling to adjust when a plan suddenly changes, he might need help with flexible thinking activities.  In math, your teen may struggle with abstract concepts and grasping various ways of solving math problems.

Understood.org has a great page full of games and tips on building flexible thinking.

#5 Self-Monitoring

This is your teen that is shocked at the F in the grade book or misses the most important detail in an assignment.

Journaling can be an effective way to start building self-awareness.  Provide prompts for your teen to reflect on one small part of her day.  In our family, we do this verbally at the dinner table.  We ask questions each night and I record them so we have some things documented about how each of our lives are going.

Recently, I asked each of my children to tell me about when they felt brave that day, how did they help someone, and if they had failed.  This was hard for some of my boys to reflect on but with a few minutes, all of them were able to recall each of those moments.

Reflecting on your day is a great first step to teaching self-monitoring.

Start the conversation with your teen by using this Self-Awareness Checklist.

#7 Task Initiation

If your teen feels paralyzed by overwhelm because he is not sure where to start, he may need help with task initiation.

Strategies that help with task initiation:

  • Clear distractions.  If the space is messy, clean it up.  Create a sacred study space.
  • Identify the easiest task first.  This may be writing his name on the paper!  Scan the work for a small task that takes a little bit of time.
  • Use technology.  I have a son that doesn’t like to write.  We use Google Voice inside of Google Docs.  This helps him clear his mind of his thoughts.  Then he edits his work.
  • Use timers and alarms for short bursts of work.
  • Talk about why he might be avoiding the work (metacognition)
#2 Emotional Control

Does you teen struggle with emotions more than other teens?  Does a small mishap spiral into something bigger?

Your child needs help learning how to keep their feelings in check.

Be sure to check out this helpful emotional intelligence activity guide.

#4 Working Memory

I see this frequently as a tutor.  A student of mine will have the steps for a math problem down by the end of the hour, but when I see them two days later–it’s gone.  Students with this problem are suffering from a weak working memory.

Students can benefit from:

  • Drawing notes
  • Using a template for note taking that is customized for their learning style
  • Visual and auditory tips, tricks, and tools
  • Sticky notes in books
  • Study partners
#6 Planning & Prioritizing

Goal setting is hard for teens and adults.  How do you break something that seems big into manageable pieces?

Strategies that help with planning and prioritizing:

  • Chunking assignments into bite size pieces
  • Buying a used copy of a book that your teen is reading in class and rip it into smaller chapter amounts
  • Make a plan, even when you don’t want to
  • Work with a trusted adult to identify the steps to accomplish a goal
  • Find another adult to hold you accountable for completing steps
  • Rip out pages in your school planner that do not pertain to the school year (example: June – August)
  • Use digital sticky notes to keep track of steps (I like Google Keep)


#8 Organization

I think most of us struggle with organization!  Work together to create a predictable schedule and organization to help your teen be successful.

Use Google Drive to keep track of homework assignments.  My son often forgets to print his work.  This has saved our rear so many times!  He prints from school.

  • Clean the backpack out weekly together
  • Label everything in big bright letters (front and back)
  • Consider getting rid of binders and switching to paper folders for each subject.
  • Keep a rhythm to your morning and afternoon/evening.  Try having a snack, short tv break, homework, then dinner.  Keeping it consistent helps your teen stay on top of classwork.

Other resources:

Keeping Your Teen Organized

7 Systems for Organization


Suggested Reading:  Smart But Scattered by Peg Dawson

Successful Launch

I’m happy to report that Bobby did finally launch out his parent’s house. He started finding what worked for him. Many of the ideas I shared above, he started implementing in his own life.

There is so much you can do to help your teen develop these skills so he doesn’t end up in a van down by the river.

Help with Executive Functioning

If you’d like assistance with these skills, contact Kara Scanlon. As an educational therapist, she can help your teen work on specific strategies to get better function.

Also be sure to check out Seth Perler’s Student Success Toolkit. It’s a free five day email course packed with tips for assisting your teen with organization.

You might be wondering about your own executive functioning. If you struggle with keeping track of paperwork, focus, completing projects and such — you might enjoy reading/listening to Lisa Woodruff’s comprehensive guide to How ADHD Affects Home Organization.

For more homework tips, be sure to join my FREE Cut Homework Drama in Half course.

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.
Why Your Smart Teen Does Stupid Things (and how to keep your cool) [004]

Why Your Smart Teen Does Stupid Things (and how to keep your cool) [004]

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Dust billowed behind us, I felt liberated!  Music and wind blew through my hair.  Next to me was my best friend.  Driving was a blast.  We turned onto a long dirt road and I pounded down the gas pedal.

Living in the country, no one seemed to care about our speed.  We came upon an intersection and I saw a familiar car.  In unison, my friend and I waved.  Big mistake.

Quickly we started to slouch in our seats.  The blood ran out of my face.  That was my sister.  I am 14 years old and driving my mother’s truck.  Not my best moment.

Teens do stupid things sometimes.

I’m sure you can recall moments when you screwed up.  Today I find myself on the flip side of moments like this, watching in horror at times when my teen decides to do something stupid.

In the past, I would reflect on this truck driving experience and roll my eyes at myself until I read Michelle Icard’s book, Middle School Makeover.  She’s a parent too and hailed as an expert, though she brushes that idea to the side.

Michelle teaches us in her book as to why teens do stupid things like this.  Brain development.

Part of the Brain is On Vacation

Three areas of the brain are affected starting at age 11.  The prefrontal cortex (the manager) is responsible for critical thinking and controlling impulses. This area is basically taking a vacation.  This causes your teen to revert back to more toddler like behaviors.

It’s a happy thing that this part of the brain is checking out.  If the manager was in control, your teen would live in your house for…ev…er.  They have everything they need!


When “Anger” is in the manager seat for both parent and child.


The central part of the brain (the emotions) take over instead (think of Riley of Inside Out). Temporal areas (the file storage) are also affected. All of these areas are leading to a big shift in thinking and figuring out, “Who am I?”  

The best way for a teen to answer this question is to take risks.

Teenage Brains Need Risk

The manager part of the brain takes a break in an effort to encourage your child to push boundaries just like he did as a toddler.

Risk taking leads to your child having a desire to go to college, get a job, and move out.  This develops happy adults.

Michelle helped me to view my risky behavior of driving as a possible reason why I am willing to take risks and start a podcast.  Our goal is not to keep our teen from screwing up, but rather encourage risk taking for valuable life lessons.

But how do you not let your own anger be in the manager seat when your child is running with all the emotions?  You have to change your game.

Be the Assistant Manager

Think about the best boss you’ve ever had.  My husband has an incredible boss, Doug.  Our goal as parents is to be as much like Doug as possible.  We channel Doug when our teen does stupid things.  Michelle encourages you to think of yourself more like the assistant manager.  Parenting a teen with the mindset of employee/boss makes a big difference.

But that doesn’t mean you get to be that crappy boss.  You know the one that was radical and carried a gun around with him (oh–maybe that was just mine).  You have to channel your own inner Doug.

The assistant manager should strive to:

  • Listen and respond appropriately
  • Delegate tasks
  • Avoid micromanaging
  • Admit when he is wrong
  • Allow each team member to do his job
  • Show appreciation
  • Set clear expectations
  • Give helpful feedback without emotion
  • Have fun and make adulting look good

It’s easy to be a great boss when your employees are happy, rested, and have a generally good disposition.  As you know, tweens and teens are not operating in a general state of happiness.  Keeping your cool when they mess up or tell you something concerning is hard to say the least.

After studying research on teen emotions, Michelle discovered that teens inaccurately identify emotions in others half the time!  It doesn’t matter how you are feeling, most likely your kid is not reading it correctly.

Since information is being ran through the emotional side of the brain first, Michelle came up with a simple solution.

Enter Botox Brow

Keeping a neutral face when communicating helps you to be the best assistant manager as your “employee” can hear what you are saying instead of going into defense mode because she thinks you are mad at her.

What to Do When You Lose Your Cool

There are times when your teen will make really weird decisions and you struggle to maintain a calm attitude.  Don’t despair, when you mess up this is a great time to show your teen that you make mistakes.  Return back and apologize for losing your cool.  Work together to come up with a solution to the problem at hand.

Work Towards Closeness

Michelle wants us to reframe the way we think of the teen years.  Great work is being done here.  Drawing your teen nearer to you is one of the best things you can do.  This doesn’t mean you resort to smothering them or hovering over their every move.  Strive to be the assistant manager you always wanted.  Give them space to make mistakes and someone safe to talk about their concerns.

Fostering these relationships can happen a myriad of ways, but Michelle recommends the following tips:

  • Read Middle School Makeover
  • Join a parenting group
  • Pick a few key characteristics to work on from the manager list above
  • Talk frankly with your kids about the issues that follow them each day (suicide, sex, pornography, drugs, social media, etc)

My tip?  Don’t lose your cool when your teen steals your truck.  One step closer to moving out, am I right?!

You can learn from Michelle Icard by visiting her website, MichelleIcard.com, following her on Facebook, and reading Middle School Makeover.

Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.

15 Fun Ways to Master Math Facts in the Middle School Years

15 Fun Ways to Master Math Facts in the Middle School Years

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Many middle school teachers will tell you that more than half of their students do not know their math facts. While in the classroom, there isn’t enough time to practice for mastery.

The task falls to families. You know that flash cards just don’t cut it. Some apps even just overwhelm and agitate your teen.

After many years of studies, we now understand that the brain needs to work from concrete thinking (quantities you can see), to representational (quantities we can represent with pictures), to the abstract (quantities written in number).

Concrete Math Instruction is for Every Grade

Concrete to abstract is the mantra of every special education teacher. It encapsulates the ark of learning to take any student from beginner to master at all levels of learning. But, why?

Concrete learning is the touching, feeling, smelling, tasting, and hearing you see babies and toddlers doing. It is the sounding out of letters and finger counting in elementary school.

When your child enters middle school, concrete learning looks like representing big thoughts in new ways. Think of the analogy to letter recognition in elementary. It’s the foundation to reading.

Math facts are the building blocks of big picture math thinking in middle school. When teens don’t have their math facts memorized, they are using so much working memory (brain power) to bring up a multiplication fact.

Too much information coming in.

It is like watching three TVs with three different shows. It is hard to focus on one of the shows let alone retain the information from all three shows. The brain is in overdrive and can’t sustain that kind of thinking for long.

Memorization of Math Facts is a Must

This is why so many teacher push the memorization of math facts. Like the dreaded Mad Minute, timed tests are supported to encourage the memorization of math facts.

Memorizing information does not work until after you have learned the information. For example, using flash cards only works after students have retained the information.

If students have not retained the information, they need experience working with concrete and sensory experiences before working solely in the abstract.

Related: The Problem with Flash Cards (and what to do instead)

Multisensory Math Fact Activities:

Providing adequate support while learning math facts is important. I suggest going doing the “I do, we do, you do” on math fact families your teen has not mastered. No need to revisit all of them, only the facts that cannot be brought to memory quickly.

As the parent, you model the steps or the process. Then, have your child work with you enough times that you can see that they understand the concept. Lastly, let them independently solve the problems or try. This helps give a steady progression to mastery but the support to not incorrectly learn the information.

Think touch, sight, sound.

Unifix Blocks

Use Unifix cubes to build towers of math facts.

LEGO Bricks

Create a couple of arrays (area models) to practice math facts then tie to the real world! Ask how many blocks would you need to make a certain sized patio, house, or road.

Beads and String

Work on groups of quantities with beads and a string.  Focus on math facts not mastered.  Touch the groups of beads as you name the quantity of 3 x 7.

Flip It!

Get physical movement in with recall of math facts.  Use the water bottle flip challenge to land on the game board and solve problems.  Flip a coin.  Use a sticky hand to slap the board.

Playing Cards

Play the game of war with known math facts.  The first one to name the product wins.  If they can’t remember, turn cards over and make an array (area model).  Have teen fill in the grid with you, then count the quantity.

Guess Who?

Use an old set of Guess Who? and slide number papers inside.  The numbers are the products of two factors your teen knows.  Then ask questions like, “Is your number even?  Does your number have a factor of 5? A factor of 3?”


Flip all the dominoes over (dots down).  Take turns flipping over and multiplying the two ends of the domino together.


Roll two dice, multiply, and cover answer with a marker or mini eraser.  Try to BUMP your opponent!

Craft Sticks

Craft sticks to show groups of numbers.  Touch with hands as you skip count to the total product.


Use rhythmic activities while chanting math facts out loud.  Jumping rope, passing a ball, tossing a bean bag back and forth in your hands are all great ways to get into the rhythm of math facts.

Island Conquer

Practice math facts making array models (area).  Printable has coordinates, but using simple playing cards would work too.

Shake it up!

Roll two dice and multiply.  Try more than six-sided dice and even the mini kind.  Teens love the various styles of dice.

Base-ten blocks

Great for grouping and doing area models.  Wonderful for teaching math facts above 10.


Use peel-n-stick dry erase paper and add to blocks. Skip the work and buy the plastic Jenga.  Write math fact problems on blocks with a wet erase marker.  Player draws block and names the math fact out loud.

Think mini.

Mini erasers make great counters for grouping quantities together.  Touch the groups as you skip count to the product.
We can’t wait for you to get your hands on these ideas.  We’d love to hear how you are working on math facts.  Leave them in the comments below.
Kara Scanlon

Kara Scanlon

Preferred Online Math Tutor

Kara Scanlon is a trained educational therapist and specialist in multisensory math.  As the owner of Scanlon Educational Therapy, she gets results when traditional tutoring hasn’t worked.  You can get to know Kara a little by reading her posts here on Math for Middles and schedule a time to tutor with Kara here.

The Problem with Flash Cards and What to Do Instead [003]

The Problem with Flash Cards and What to Do Instead [003]

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In the seventh grade classroom, parents filled every seat and stood along the walls too as I listened to my son’s teacher explain classroom policies. As I scanned the room, I could see looks of concern on parent’s faces as they squirmed in their seat waiting for her to pause for questions.

Hands shot up into the air with rapid fire questions about their struggling child.

“My son is failing math class. What can we do at home?”

“Where are the textbooks? Why doesn’t anyone use textbooks anymore?”

Next, she mentioned a common problem most middle school teachers face, math fact memorization.

More than half of her students have NOT mastered their math facts. (These are 7th graders folks!)

This teacher knows that getting math facts solidified in your head is like learning your alphabet letters. They are the very foundation for all mathematical learning. Without the ability to recall math facts quickly, your child will have a tough time making room for new information.

Someone blurted out the obvious question, “What can we do to help them with memorizing their math facts?”

I shifted from leaning against the bookcase and cringed a little as I listened to her suggestions:

Daily practice and flash cards

My eyes darted over to the parent that asked the question, her face said it all.

Been there. Done that. Doesn’t work.

Rote memorization has been the go-to method for many years along with tricks with fingers, songs, timed tests, and the like. It works for a select few kids, but for a large population of students, flash cards are failing them because it doesn’t draw upon the way the brain learns, which is through the senses.

The problem with flash cards… they are abstract.

The numeral 9 is a symbol for the quantity of nine. That is an abstract idea and takes time to develop. When the brain is making sense of quantity, it needs to move from concrete, to representational, to abstract. Even teenagers need time with making math concrete, but yet we spend a lot of time working in the abstract.

Phase 1: Concrete

Phase 2: Representational

Phase 3: Abstract

This is why flashcards fail. They start with the abstract instead of building up to it.


Learning With Flashcards Is Like Baking Without Any Experience

My son recently wanted to make a double batch of cookies to share with our neighbors. He’s had some experience helping me with baking, but hasn’t ever done it on his own.

I handed him the recipe and went about my business.

A half hour later, he came to me and said he had done something wrong but couldn’t figure out what it was. I came into the kitchen to find a large bowl full of butter colored powder.

I realized he didn’t understand the directions.

He didn’t know what creaming the butter and sugars meant.

Baking was abstract for him.

Had I started with working in the kitchen beside him and explicitly walking him through the concrete experience of what creaming sugar and butter was like, we would have had better results.

How to Help Kids Master Math Facts Once and For All

Start With Concrete Math Facts

When you think of concrete math, think items that you can feel in your hands, like playdough, stickers, and blocks. They have weight and shape to them. These are the very methods that are going to help your child master her math facts.

You don’t need to go back to the very beginning. Start with the math fact family your child doesn’t know. Work on sets of numbers until they have it mastered.

Then Move to Representational and Abstract Math Facts

Once your teen has a concrete understanding and then working towards rapid recall, you’ll want to start focusing on using representational and abstract methods.

Mnemonics are also another method to support rapid recall of math facts that are understood at a concrete level. Many of my students that are great verbal communicators have thrived on a program designed to help recall of the upper times tables called Times Tales.

I’m also a big supporter of using software to pull teens into daily practice.  All of the below links are tween and teen approved.  


Best Math Fact Apps for Kids


  • Quick Math (Shiny Things): This is a great app for iPhone and iPad. Various levels of difficulty and students write answers on the screen vs typing in the answer. My kids like racing against their own time.
  • Number Pieces (Clarity Innovations): Inside of this app, students build numbers using pieces that represent their value. Students will recognize these as they are Common Core Math friendly. Use this app to practice working with place value and to warm up the brain to work with visual representations of math equations.
  • Math Vs Zombies 2 (TaptoLearn): Kids love gross stuff, why not put zombies and math together. This app is Common Core Math friendly and works towards helping students understand concepts as well as memorize facts.  Great for tweens.


Best Computer Games for Learning Math Facts

  • Education.com: Lots of great games to practice basic math facts quickly. Although it does have a younger child feel to it, it can be beneficial to practice.
  • Math X-Lines: My students have always loved this game and my kids do too! It’s simple to play: shoot the ball at the other that matches up to the sum you are trying to make. Like if you were working on sums of 10, you would shoot a 3 at a 7 ball. Serious fun.
  • Crazy Taxi: Another fun game for math fact practice in a non-threatening environment. Only annoying thing about this site is the ads. You have to listen to 5 minutes of them before the game turns on. Consider purchasing a subscription.

The Hardest Part for Parents


Practicing 10 minutes a day will lead to mastery. This is the most painful part for parents. I get it! I can barely remember to take care of my own needs, let alone make sure my child gets his 10 minutes of practice each day.

Find ways to wiggle it into your daily routine. Reward your child for doing it. Then reward yourself for making sure practice gets done.

Math facts done? Reward yourself.

A Note for All the “Been There, Done That” Parents

Keep in mind that having total mastery of all math facts may not happen. Many adults cannot quickly tell you that 8 x 7 is 56. But you can gain sufficient skills to be proficient in math.

Rapid recall might not be obtainable for your child. If given additional time, your child will be able to grab those math facts from her memory.

If you find yourself feeling like you’ve been there and done that with many of these suggestions, it’s time to reach out to a professional for help. Connect with one of our recommended tutors, Kara Scanlon. Let’s get this back on track.

Not sure if tutoring is the right fit?  Download my checklist to find out.




Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.

My Academic Wound

My Academic Wound

The room was brightly lit and worry washed over me as I stared at the math test. I could hear two things: pencils writing and popcorn popping.

My teacher announced that he needed to step out of the room grab an item for our movie.

After the door closed, a boy in my class stood up and started reading the answers to his math test out loud. Quickly I wrote down the answers as I hadn’t studied that week. I just wanted popcorn!

My teacher propped the door open and talked loudly to another adult in the hallway as he crept into the class.

Heat rose into my cheeks. I was a cheater.

Never did try that eye patch trick.

My self inflicted wound

Many times during my elementary and early middle school years, cheating was a normal occurrence. It was easier than remembering to do my own school work. The first time I cheated was in third grade with a friend of mine. Our belief was that collectively, we were smarter together than separately. There’s strength in numbers, right?

I cheated off and on until seventh grade when I entered junior high school. No longer could I steal a look at a friend’s test answers. We were using computers to test into our next level of math and I had nowhere to hide.

The placement test came and went. As summer ended, we received my schedule in the mail. I was being placed in Math 7 (remedial math).

As I called my friends, I heard many of them being placed in pre-algebra or algebra 1 classes. My heart pounded in my ears as I fiddled with the phone cord in my hands, It was hard to admit my math placement.

Well meaning friends told me to challenge the placement. But I couldn’t, because I knew…

I was bad at math.

The feeling that held me back

Shame set in, but I avoided the topic with my friends. It hurt too much. I said nothing to my mother about the placement but accepted it as a punishment. I didn’t deserve to be anywhere else. Questions about myself echoed in my head:

  • What will my peers think?
  • How could I have let things go this far?
  • Why am I so stupid?

I was hurt and no one could see it.

Before I even put more effort into myself, I believed there was little I could do about it. I was math challenged and that’s all there was to it. Math was for smart people like my friends, but not me.

Walking into Mr. King’s room was dreadful. I played cool as I slunk into the very last row of seats in his room. I zoned out and chatted with boys that were known math cheaters just like me.

Mr. King wore a plain button up shirt most days and slicked his thinning hair back. His eyes were kind and I could tell he genuinely loved math. One day, he stopped suddenly and walked closer towards me.

“Would you please come sit up here?”

He was gesturing to the desk in the very front of the room. My cheeks flushed and I gathered my things to walk up front. I was sure he was tired of me sitting with those boys and chatting.

At the end of class he asked me to sit up front for the rest of the year. His request stung a little.

“Great, he thinks I am stupid.”

Sitting up in the front was hard. There was no escaping Mr. King and his kindness. He was a good teacher. I could tell he cared about us understanding math. My attitude towards class softened. I started taking notes and my grades slowly improved without cheating.

Mr. King’s confidence in me wasn’t filled with hollow praises, but by his actions. He saw me. After years of feeling invisible to my teachers he noticed I needed something different. He didn’t belittle or embarrass me, but rather asked for a simple request to come closer.

His smile encouraged me. He bent down to be eye level when helping me work on a problem.

I like to think of Mr. King as my first responder to my self-inflicted academic wound.

My math wound first responder

During his class, I was able to have success in math because of his diligence with me.

I went from wounded to healed. It took a lot of self-compassion for mistakes I had made coupled with talented teachers who cared enough to see me and take action.

My story is an example of academic wounding, a preconceived myth of failure. My wound lied in my own mind.

Related: What is Academic Wounding and How to Heal

This wound healed over time, but the shame bubbled up from time to time when I was feeling vulnerable again in a higher level math class. But each time those feelings came, I felt inspired by the other teachers in my life and I asked for help.

The feeling that moved me forward

What I needed in those formative years was validation. I needed to know that I had a brain built for math. I’m thankful for the support I did have through my math and science teachers. We had rapport and they helped me to have successful math experiences. Two key ingredients to healing.

My hope in sharing this experience is that more wounded students will know they are not alone. They are not broken or need to have something repaired inside of them. When given the right support, they’ll thrive.

If you’d like help building a support group around your child, email me. I’m happy to chat and help you find a path to healing. And I promise, it doesn’t involve cheating–but I can bring the popcorn.

Not sure if your child would benefit from tutoring?  Download my 10 Sign Your Child Needs a Tutor Checklist.


Adrianne Meldrum

Adrianne Meldrum

Owner of Math for Middles

I’m the owner and creator of the math videos here at Math for Middles.  I’ve tutored students for over ten years.  When I am not creating here, you’ll find me down by the river with my family.  You can read more about me here and how I once was a middle schooler too.

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