How to Make Friends with the Times Tables


I’m Lawrence Ball, I’m a veteran maths tutor in London, and I’d like to show you a really effective way to learn times tables, that I’ve used for over 30 years with my students. It’s a way to make them easy to remember, but also to help you learn to relax whilst concentrating, and for that to develop further in all situations.

Here we go. Lets use the 2 times table as an example.
There are 2 phases to this: “Sequences” and “Jumbles”.

Numbers...Getting friendly with times tables sequences

  • Write down all the numbers from 1 to 12 in a column
  • Next to each of these write down the result of multiplying that number by 2
  • If you get stuck you can always add 2 to the previous number, but as you practice this repeatedly, you’ll find that the need to count disappears, memory works like the magic bubbles it works best as.
  • Practice this often, until it becomes really easy.

In my book, ease is most important, followed by pace and accuracy next, although they are all important.
I find that students can get the time down (yes, do time yourself) from often as high as 90 seconds to 15 or even 10 seconds.

When the sequences have become easy, fast and accurate, move on to jumbles.

Getting friendly with times tables jumbles

  • Write down the numbers from 1 to 12 in a column, but this time write them mixed up, so as to ensure no number comes below its predecessor. (eg in this order 2 7 4 9 10 1 6 5 12 8 3 11).
  • You can make your pen dance up and down as you write 1,2,3,4, &c (“boing, boing, boing”).
  • Beside each number write the result of multiplying by 2.
  • This is more difficult, as it forces you to rely purely on memory, so its tougher at first, but if you got to finding the sequence easy, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

By the way, do cover up the previous tables as you go along (I call the paper that covers the previous tables a “tablecloth” ? ) to avoid “cheating”.

Making the times tables friendship firm

Timing the times tables is also a good idea. You can see how much quicker you’re getting, you can measure your brain muscle, so as to speak. The jumbles also will start slower (probably!) but my students can get times down to 15 and often 10 seconds as with sequences.

Master each times table before you move on, starting with the lower tables (or wherever you aren’t absolutely sharp), and the 5s could be learned before, say 3 and 4… its not critical, but it can be encouraging to learn the easiest first. Some folk find that 5, because it divides into the base for our number system (10), is good to do after the 2’s.

This is a flavour, a feeling for what you need to do. It may help to write templates for sequences and for jumbles, and print them out, saving you a lot of time. Maybe get your parents or computer to make them, or you could hand write one sheet and have many photocopies?

That’s it. It can be very relaxing and effective, the idea is to create and promote ease within yourself. One thing schools don’t emphasise enough is that learning should be easy. (Maybe they’re worried that you might slacken off if you pursue ease?) But its much better for you to enjoy the process (and why not I say) and to learn to be happy and joyful while using your mind in a focussed way.

For more clarity watch my vimeo video “Making Friends With Times Tables”

Times Tables learning made super-friendly from Lawrence Ball on Vimeo.

Lawrence Ball is a long-term maths and dyscalculia tutor in London ( (but also composer and musician), with a history of helping with motivation and difficulty, as well as with maths material. He has tutored privately including extended royal family, and all 4 children of Lady Helene Hayman, and has had big success in helping pupils with Dyscalculia
He has developed ways to teach basic arithmetic which are innovative, and that promote relaxed concentration. He lives in North London.

Caroline Mukisa
About The Author: Caroline Mukisa is the founder of Maths Insider. A Cambridge University educated math teacher, she's been involved in math education for over 20 years as a teacher, tutor, Kumon instructor, Thinkster Math instructor and math ed blogger. She is the author of the insanely helpful ebook "The Ultimate Kumon Review" and insanely useful website "31 Days to Faster Times Tables" You can follow her math tips on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @mathsinsider