Friday, 8 February 2019

Times Tables Fluency and the KS2 SATs

How important is times tables fluency for the KS2 SATs? I'd say quite important.

When we are fluent in speaking a language, we can speak it without thinking much about it. That kind of fluency will be useful for year 6 children to have when it comes to the tests in May.

I looked through the 2018 SATs papers to see just how many questions required some times tables knowledge.

Here's what I discovered:

  • In Paper 1 (Arithmetic) there are 19 out of 36 questions which definitely require children to have fluent times tables knowledge.
  • In Papers 2 and 3 (Reasoning) there are 18 out of 44 questions which also require children to have fluent times tables knowledge.
But why might fluency be important? Can't children just work out the times tables without knowing them by heart?

Well, yes, they could, but it would cost them time.

For Paper 1 children are given 30 minutes, meaning that they have less than a minute per question. For Papers 2 and 3 there are 40 minutes per question - this means children have about 2 minutes per question.


In a question where 8 different times tables facts must be recalled (see above), it is obvious that this needs to be done quickly so that children can focus on the procedure of answering the question. In the same questions accuracy is essential too: if children are fluent with the times tables facts they are less likely to make mistakes.

If children are spending too much time working out times tables facts they risk going over that l or 2 minute per question; in turn they risk not having time to finish the test.

But, looking at the 2018 tests revealed something else: most of the times tables facts that children needed to use to answer the questions were fairly easy: the sort of times tables that are learned in years 1, 2 and 3. The times tables grid here shows exactly which times tables facts are required. The hardest times tables facts (such as 7 x 8, 9 x 8, 11 x 11) weren't required. The most common facts needed were below 6 x 6 with majority of the additional facts coming from the 2, 3 and 4 times tables.

But children need to be able to do more than recall them quickly; they need to be fluent enough to use and apply them. It's not just about remembering the facts but being able to recognise relationships between numbers. For example, the questions below require children to spot related facts:



I've put together a PowerPoint presentation which contains all the questions that require some times tables knowledge. I've animated the working out and answers for each question too so that these can be used flexibly. The PowerPoint (which the images used above are taken from) can be downloaded here: https://www.tes.com/teaching-resource/powerpoint-to-demonstrate-the-need-for-times-tables-fluency-in-sats-12065667. I used it with year 5 parents who found it useful to know how important times tables were going to be for SATs.

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