Reverse engineering success in maths

Reverse engineering success in maths

You can't peer into a crystal ball to predict success in maths, but there's much to learn from the past. In this article, I'm going to draw on academic research and Ofsted publications to "reverse engineer" the key factors that underpin success in maths. Academic research projects have tracked many learners over their entire school life looking for vital connections between early learning and later success.

The conclusions are pretty clear and very valuable to parents:

  • Early numeracy skills are critical. Lack of attainment at 16 tracks back to age 11 and even 7
  • Calculation Fluency - being able to work out arithmetic accurately and rapidly - is the strongest indicator of later success

The research highlights how important it is to ensure the maths learning foundations are in place early.  Fluent calculation - mental maths -  is identified as particularly important as a platform for future achievement.

Here's the research:

The Institute of Education, London:  "The development and importance of proficiency in basic calculation" ( July 2013 )

What we found

Basic calculation fluency (accurate and rapid solution of single digit addition problems and complementary subtractions) is the strongest correlate of success in mathematics in primary school and the most frequent symptom of difficulties in mathematics

Full paper

Ofsted: "Mathematics: made to measure" (2012 )

Key findings

Children’s varying pre-school experiences of mathematics mean they start school with different levels of knowledge of number and shape. For too many pupils, this gap is never overcome: their attainment at 16 years can largely be predicted by their attainment at age 11, and this can be tracked back to the knowledge and skills they have acquired by age 7

The disparity in children’s knowledge of mathematics grows so that by the time they leave compulsory education at 16 years, the gap between the mathematical outcomes of the highest and lowest attainers is vast. The 10% not reaching the expected level at age 7 becomes 20% by age 11 and, in 2011, 36% did not gain grade C at GCSE

 Full Paper

The Institute of Education, London & University of California "Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement"

The present findings demonstrate

That elementary school students’ knowledge of fractions and division predicts their mathematics achievement in high school, above and beyond the contributions of whole number arithmetic knowledge, verbal and non-verbal IQ, working memory, and family education and income. The relations of fractions and division to mathematics achievement were stronger than for addition, subtraction, multiplication, verbal IQ, and parental education and income. These results were consistent across data sets from the U.K. and the U.S.

Full Paper

The good news for parents of young children is that success, or lack of it, isn't a fait accompli - a little extra practice at home has a huge impact on learning outcomes. Komodo is designed to have the maximum benefit in the areas that really underpin future success - such as calculation fluency and mental maths. Furthermore, Komodo doesn't require heaps of time sitting in front of the screen.


I'm Ged, Co-founder of Komodo, ex-maths teacher and dad. If you have any questions please get in touch.

About KomodoKomodo is a fun and effective way to boost primary maths skills. Designed for 5 to 11 year olds to use in the home, Komodo uses a little and often approach to learning maths (15 minutes, three to five times per week) that fits into the busy routine. Komodo users develop fluency and confidence in maths - without keeping them at the screen for long.

Find out more about Komodo and how it helps thousands of children each year do better at maths - you can even try Komodo for free.

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