Back to Basics – How Adults Can Improve Their Maths Skills

Back to Basics – How Adults Can Improve Their Maths Skills

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Are you one of those people who regularly says, “I’m rubbish at maths” or mutters, “that’s too complex for me”? If so, you’re not alone – plenty of people struggle with simple and complex equations and therefore think of themselves as ‘bad at maths.’ The good news is that it is possible to improve your maths skills as an adult – you just need to dedicate a few minutes each day.[i]

Why are Maths Skills Important?

Maths skills are important for many reasons.[ii] They can truly change your outlook on life, increase your cognition, and help you achieve new goals.

  • Maths helps to increase your brain power – Research has shown that people who study maths have higher grey matter volume that those who don’t. Maths knowledge also allows you to connect different regions of the brain more easily, thus improving all aspects of your cognition.
  • They’ll boost your self-confidence – One of the most important things about maths skills is that they can help you to boost your self-confidence and believe in your own brain power. If you can tackle challenges with a renewed sense of excitement and empowerment, your entire outlook will change. You can handle any challenge that life throws your way!
  • They can help you get a better job – Improving your brain power and self-confidence will increase your hireability. So too will the practical benefits of stronger maths skills, helping you in all areas of work, including computer skills, accounting, and scheduling. By gaining formal qualifications in maths, you will qualify for higher paying jobs – and have the confidence to go after them.

How Do You Use Maths in Everyday Life?

You might remember complaining to your school maths teacher, “when am I ever going to use this stuff?!” The answer is – quite often, actually! Maths is important in everyday life, helping you to tally bills, improve your cognition, and even bake better cakes! Here are some of the ways that maths skills will help you in your everyday life.[iii]

  1. Maths help you tell the time – You may think that you just ‘know’ the time when you glance at the clock, but you’re actually using maths to tell the time.
  1. Maths help you to balance your budget – When you’re writing and balancing your budget, you’ll need to use subtraction, addition, and even percentages to calculate interest rates.
  1. Maths help you bake a better cake or cook a better pasta – Maths allow you to adjust ingredients and multiply portions to ensure that your next batch of cookies or your pan of lasagne will come out perfectly.
  1. Maths help you to boost your analytical thinking skills – By flexing your mental muscle with maths, you actually improve your ability to conduct analytical thinking tasks and reasoning more easily.
  1. Maths help you when you travel – When you’re out gallivanting throughout the world, you will need to use your maths skills in a number of ways. For instance, you’ll need to calculate long driving or train journey distances, budget your spending, and most importantly, convert currencies. If your maths skills are on point, you’ll have an even better time as you travel the globe.

How to Get Better at Maths

There are plenty of different ways that you can get better at maths. Here are a few of our favourites.

Online courses

Some people prefer to learn in a more structured way, and so online courses are a brilliant option. You can find plenty of great online courses that can help you get better at maths.  A good way to gain the basic maths skills you need for daily life is to take an online maths GCSE course. Without the pressure of the actual test looming over your head, you can relax and gain the skills that you need.

Studying on your own or with friends

Studying on your own can be challenging, as it is easy to hit the wall of your capability and then get frustrated. However, if you gather (online or in person) with friends, you can help each other through your challenges. Using games, quizzes, and fun challenges, you might even find yourself having a good time.

YouTube videos

A quick search on YouTube reveals entire channels dedicated to helping adults improve their maths skills.[iv] YouTube content creators have designed all kinds of entertaining and helpful ways to help adults get a handle on maths. Some of our favourites are Numberphile, Mathantics, and ProfRobBob.

Maths Apps

Apps and games have a sneaky ability to make learning fun and easy, building on concepts slowly over time. That’s why so many people choose to learn languages and build their geography knowledge with apps.[v]

Here are some of the best apps for brushing up on your maths skills. You’ll also have a lot of fun!

  1. Star Dash Studios – Star Dash Studios was designed by National Numeracy, and helps you learn maths in the midst of a movie plot. It was originally designed to help 16 to 25-year-old gamers understand how maths can impact their lives, but people of all ages will enjoy playing.
  2. Sumaze! – Sumaze! is best if you have an A level in maths but will help you hone and advance your maths skills at any level. Check out puzzles, logarithms, and all kinds of games.
  3. BBC Skillswise – The BBC has designed this app to help adults grasp all kinds of skills, including maths, geography, and grammar. Play fun games and watch videos that will improve your practical maths skills.
  4. Khan Academy – Khan Academy is one of the best-known maths apps for adults, providing free exercises, tutorials, and games for all levels. Check out their partner content on YouTube, created with the Museum of Modern Art, Brookings Institute, and NASA!
  5. Math Brain Booster Games – Math Brain Booster Games allows you to set up your app in different training modes, improving your cognitive function and boosting your overall maths performance.

Improving Your Mental Maths

One of the best ways to improve your overall maths performance is to focus on boosting your mental maths. Try some of these simple tricks and tips to get you started.

  • Use the “9 trick” – If you need to add 9 to any number, first add 10 and then simply subtract 1. This makes figuring prices out a lot easier!
  • The “5 times” trick – To multiply any number by 5, you can first multiply the number by 10 and then divide it in half. For 5 x 24, simply multiply it by 10 to get 240, and then divide that in half to get 120. Easy!
  • Do your multiplication in parts – This is a simple strategy that can help you multiply large numbers in your head. Find 3 x 89 by multiplying 3 x 80 (240) and 3 x 9 (27). Then simply add those two numbers together to get 267.
  • Calculate square numbers easily – Calculate square numbers quickly and easily. For instance, to find the square of 24, drop down 4 to the closest easy number, which is 20. Now, you need to balance it by going up 4 to 28. The first calculation needs to be 20 x 28. Start with 2 x 28 = 56, and then multiple by 10 to get 560. You’re almost there! Now you just need to add the square of the number you went up or down to get to the easy number, which in this case is 4. 4 x 4 = 16, and then 560 + 16 = 576. In summary – 24 x 24 can be done as such: (20 x 28) + (4 x 4) = 576.

Practice Makes Perfect – Why You Should Practice Maths Daily

As with anything, the more often you practice your maths skills, the better you will get and the more natural it will feel. If you only practice maths in fits and starts, you will likely lose your progress. You’ll have to spend loads of time reviewing the next time you resume your efforts, which will cut into your advancement.

For at least a few minutes each day, play with the apps and games above and watch the YouTube videos. You’ll be amazed how quickly your maths skills can go from zero to hero!

Reference list

Educational App Store (2019). 10 Best Apps to Improve Math Skills for Adults 2020 | Educational App Store. [online] Blog – Educational App Store. Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

Emma, L. (2013). The Use of Mathematics in Everyday Life. [online] Sciencing. Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

Lefkowitz, M. (2018). Why is Math So Important? [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

McFadden, C. (2019). 7+ Great Math-Related YouTube Channels for Math Maniacs. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

Pi Day (2018). 10 Reasons Why Math Is Important In Life [Guide + Examples] – Pi Day. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].

WikiHow (2018). How to Improve Math Skills. [online] wikiHow. Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2020].







Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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