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Improving Your Mental Arithmetic

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 2 3
Mental Arithmetic
Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joao_trindade/4363157652/sizes/l/in/photostream/

We are living in an age of technology where complex calculations are made using high tech mathematical devices such as scientific calculators, precision instruments and super computers. As convenient “calculators” are obtainable for free in most gadgets (such as your phone), our reliance on them steadily grows and with it the ancient skill of mental arithmetic steadily diminishes. There are several reasons we should strive to hone this skill. Firstly, many standardized tests prohibit the use of calculators and thus require us to do mental or manual calculations. Secondly, once the craft of mental arithmetic is regularly employed and thus perfected, it can save us a lot of time in everyday situations. And thirdly, it is a great way to keep mentally active and thus enables us solve seemingly unrelated problems easier. This article discusses several convenient ways of advancing your ability to do mental math in everyday life.

Making sums when shopping

Most of us go grocery shopping at least once a week and usually keep track of what we purchase so we have a rough idea of what to expect at the cashier.  This “every day situation” is a great opportunity to increase your mental mathematical capabilities by calculating the exact sum of the prices of all items in your shopping cart.  For example, you might want to prepare a raclette meal for your family and thus start of in the cheese section. You grab two packs at $2.99 each, move on and buy a bag of potatoes for $ 3.49, get some pickles that are 30% off from $3. Lastly you move on and grab three special raclette seasonings for 1.99 each, but wait … they’re 3 for the price of 2. As you undoubtedly realize, it’s not as easy as it initially looks. Doing multiple calculations while keeping track of the current sum can be challenging and thus presents a great opportunity for you to advance your skills.  In addition it can be a lot of fun checking your accuracy when getting the bill and might even save you some money, as you will be more aware of prices and sales and thus might be able to detect a mistake in your bill.

Calculating unit costs and taxes

It might be fun to mix things up a bit after a while and try determining the unit cost of a given product. For example, if a 14 ounce pack of a given product costs you $1.80, how much does this make per ounce? Similarly you could calculate the taxes you are paying on your entire purchase. For example, if a product costs $5.95 with 8% VAT, then you can estimate 8% of $6 at $0.48 and add it to $5.95, which comes out to be $6.43.

Calculating speed, time and distance

Let us suppose it takes you 45 minutes to get to work, which is approximately 50 miles away, what’s your average speed? Or it took you 45 minutes to get to work at an average speed of 30 mph, your car shows a total of 8056 miles travelled, what did it show when you left your garage? You get the idea. There are countless variations you might employ to increase your mental arithmetic capabilities.


Mar 1, 2013 2:45pm
I agree. With the advent of wonderful technology we have (well many of us) lost a lot of our own valuable skills. I am much worse at doing arithmetic in my head than I was before.

Even today, though, when I am at the grocery store, I keep a mental tally of what all I have purchased (not exact) but close enough so I know if the bill is about right or not. In several cases I have caught pricing mistakes, etc. because I do that.
Mar 2, 2013 3:27am
Yes, this is a very convenient method to keep your mental arithmetic skills in tact. It will also encourage people to keep an eye on the prices of all individual items they purchase. Oftentimes when you're keeping track of these things, you'll be more aware of similar products that you can purchase at a significant discount to the items you originally intended to buy.
Mar 2, 2013 7:54am
Fantastic! I'm going to implement some of your mental arithmetic tips on today's grocery run.
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