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**Which Times Tables do Students Find Difficult? **

There’s an excellent article on today’s Guardian Datablog looking at a computer based study (with 232 primary school students) on which times tables students find easiest and difficult. Edited highlights (Guardian quotes in italics):

**Which multiplication did students get wrong most often?**

*The hardest multiplication was six times eight, which students got wrong 63% of the time (about two times out of three). This was closely followed by 8×6, then 11×12, 12×8 and 8×12.*

The graphic shows the questions that were answered correctly the greatest percentage of times as dark blue (eg 1×12 was answered 95% correctly). The colours then change through lighter shades of blue, then from lighter reds to darker reds. It’s interesting to see that the difficult multiplications cluster in the middle – perhaps due to how students anchor from either 5 or 10 – so numbers away from both these anchors are more difficult.

**Which times table multiplication did students take the longest time to answer?
**

*Maybe unsurprisingly, 1×1 got answered the quickest (but perhaps illustrating the hazards of speed, pupils got it wrong about 10% of the time), at 2.4 seconds on average – while it was 12×9 which made them think for longest, at an average of 7.9 seconds apiece.*

It’s quite interesting to see that this data is somewhat different to the previous graph. You might have expected the most difficult multiplications to also take the longest time – however it looks as though some questions, whilst not intuitive can be worked out through mental methods (eg doing 12×9 by doing 12×10 then subtracting 12.)

**How did boys and girls differ?**

*On average, boys got 32% of answers wrong, and took 4.2 seconds to answer each question. Girls, by contrast, got substantially fewer wrong, at 22%, but took 4.6 seconds on average to answer.*

Another interesting statistic – boys were more reckless and less considered with their answers! The element of competition (ie. having to answer against a clock) may well have encouraged this attitude. It would be interesting to see the gender breakdown to see whether boys and girls have any differences in which multiplication they find difficult.

**Which times table was the hardest?**

As you might expect, overall the 12 times table was found most difficult – closely followed by 8. The numbers furthest away from 5 and 10 (7,8,12) are also the most difficult. Is this down to how students are taught to calculate their tables – or because of the sequence patterns are less memorable?

This would be a really excellent investigation topic for IGCSE, IB Studies or IB SL. It is something that would be relatively easy to collect data on in a school setting and then can provide a wealth of data to analyse. The full data spreadsheet is also available to download on the Guardian page.

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