All Number Sense coaches should encourage their students to work on speed and accuracy. Since there is a 10-minute time limit and all work needs to be done mentally, students that participate in the Number Sense contest are always performing under stressful situations. Students need to be provided with ideas as to how they can acquire both speed and accuracy.
Initially, the focus is on teaching shortcuts for solving problems mentally. In general, I focus early on practices to mastering problems appearing on the first third of the test. Usually there may be a need to teach students certain mathematical concepts. During this time they need to learn how to work problems methodically. They need to make sure that all questions are written in the format required. If the memorization of certain facts or formulas is needed, each student needs to receive this information. Students should focus on getting correct answers. Speed is something that they work on later during their development. Everything that they do when mastering problems on the first third of the test is also done for the remainder of it. Since the mathematical concepts on a Number Sense test get progressively more complex, time has to be reserved for mastery of those concepts.
Every student should always take the time to study the 10 problems following the last one they attempt on a test. If they do not know a shortcut or concept, they need to ask for assistance. They can get help from a teammate or from the coach.
In each stage of the development of a student’s performance, students need to be taught how they can improve their speed. Once they have mastered a shortcut, they should be told not to rework a problem more than once. Many students are so focused on accuracy that they solve certain problems multiple times. They need to trust that if they are methodical in the way they solve problems, it is likely that they will solve it correctly. One way to reinforce speed and accuracy is to develop mini-tests in which students can practice new shortcuts or concepts that they have been recently taught. Another technique that I teach students to improve accuracy is for them to take what I call “head-to-head” tests. In this technique, students are encouraged to take a test while they sit directly across from another student. During this “head-to-head” practice they need to focus on their test. “Head-to-head” practices recreate the type of pressure that they’re likely encounter when they compete at a tournament.
Another technique that I encourage to improve accuracy has to do with how students take tests. Students should be told to skip the first 10 problems of a test. These problems are not taken into consideration when scoring. Each student is told to take 5 tests using this technique. The reason this is done is that it forces a student to get further on the test then they usually do. One benefit is that they will encounter problems that they will need to seek help from teammates or the coach. Also, a student gets accustomed to solving more problems.
Implementing the ideas that I have proposed will improve a student’s performances in Number Sense. There is no shortcut to attain speed and accuracy. Practice and asking questions is very important. Memorization and studying concepts all have a positive impact in the performances of Number Sense students.