What Are Basic Math Skills and How Can You Improve Them?

Dear Student,

I’m not a terrible subject. I can be fun and easy.



If math could speak to every student across the globe, what do you reckon it would say? Chances are its speech would be something like the epigraph above. Many kids fear or outrightly hate math, and we can’t blame them. Math classes move pretty fast, and if your kid blinks for too long, they just might get left behind.

Unfortunately, unless you’re a math teacher with deep insight, it can be hard to decipher the critical milestones for math progress. This is where this article comes in.

This guide will explore the basic math skills every young learner needs and some hard-hitting tips for improving them. Let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

What Are Considered Basic Math Skills?

The term “basic math skills” is pretty vague. What does it entail? Counting? Advanced algebra? Depending on the context, basic mathematical skills could encompass both or just one of these concepts. However, in an academic context with young learners, here’s a rundown of the concepts that are considered basic mathematics skills:

  • Counting
  • Addition
  • Subtraction
  • Multiplication
  • Division
  • Percentages
  • Telling time
  • Basic algebra
  • Fractions and decimals
  • Basic geometry (shapes and sequences)
  • Solving for an unknown
  • Word problems

These math study skills may differ depending on the math topic or your child’s grade level. However, we’ll explore this distinction in a bit.

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Math Skills by Subjects

Math Skills by Subjects

As we mentioned earlier, study skills for math can be distinguished by the topic and grade level. Put simply, different types of math require different math skills. Thus, a child might be exceptional at word problems but have difficulty with geometry.

For further clarification, here’s a breakdown of the types of skills used in different areas of math:

Type of Math

Basic skills involved

Who might struggle?


  • Doing basic operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • Understanding and comparing numbers and place values.
  • Understanding the concept of numerical values as well as basic math symbols.

Although arithmetic is typically a young learner’s first introduction to math, kids who have trouble following step-by-step procedures or remembering math principles may struggle with this topic.


  • Recognizing shapes and understanding core geometric properties.
  • Measuring shapes.

Geometry is an illustrative topic at its core. Thus, kids with visual-spatial difficulties may struggle with it.


  • A core understanding of the order of operations and inverse relationships between them.
  • Recognizing and identifying patterns.
  • Factorization and simplification.

Kids who have difficulties understanding symbols, expressions, and variables may find it hard to study algebra.


  • Reading and graphing data.
  • Using percentages and solving for them.
  • Collecting, organizing, and analyzing data.

Kids who struggle with fractions, comparing values, and percentages find statistics difficult.


  • Solving proportions and properties.
  • Graphing functions.

Kids who struggle to understand diagrams and illustrations will need extra help to get through trigonometry.

Precalculus/ Calculus

  • Factorizing and simplifying expressions.
  • Graphing functions.
  • Understanding and analyzing symbolic/visual representations.

Kids who struggle with algebra or abstract thinking find calculus complicated.

Math Skills by Grade Level

Math Skills by Grade Level

As young learners climb up the academic ladder, they begin to attain certain milestones. These milestones are basically a collection of numerical or life skills math equips them with. Let’s take a look at these math skills by grade level, shall we?

Kindergarten math skills

In Kindergarten, every young learner should master the following skills:

  • Basic addition and subtraction: Your child should be able to add two or more numbers together. In the same vein, kindergarten teaches kids how to subtract a number from another.
  • Number differentiation: Kindergarteners should also be able to differentiate between numbers. They’ll be able to arrange numbers in ascending order and tell which one is bigger or smaller.
  • Basic geometry: They should also have basic geometry skills such as recognizing different shapes.
  • Roman numbers: Kids in kindergarten should have learned the roman numeral equivalents of each number.

1st Grade math skills

In 1st Grade, math becomes slightly more advanced for a young learner. They’ll have skills like:

  • Learning about parts of a whole: Here, they’ll begin to learn about the various parts that make up a whole number.
  • Telling time with analog clocks: They’ll also begin to learn how to tell time in the old-fashioned way – using analog clocks, rather than digital ones.
  • Basic equations: In 1st Grade, kids also begin to learn how equations work. They may be taught how to solve simple equations.

2nd Grade math skills

Some of the basic 2nd Grade math skills include:

  • Breaking down larger numbers: Here, kids get to explore double-digit numbers and how to break down larger numbers. They’ll gain an in-depth understanding of the differences between ones and tens.
  • Advanced time telling: Your kid probably learned how to tell time in the previous grade. In Grade 2, they’ll explore the full concept of time, including details like a.m. vs. p.m.
  • Odd and even numbers: In 2nd Grade, kids should learn the concept of even and odd numbers and how they’re divisible.
  • Basic currency: Another core 2nd-grade math skill is being able to understand the idea of currency and link it to real life.

3rd Grade math skills

Some of the core 3rd grade math skills include:

  • Geometry: In 3rd grade, kids get to learn more geometry concepts. For instance, they’ll learn about parallel lines and perimeters.
  • Division and multiplication: Kids will also learn all about division and multiplication, including the commutative properties of multiplication.
  • Rounding: In 3rd grade, kids learn how to round numbers to the nearest ten or hundred.

4th Grade math skills

Typically, in 4th grade, kids begin to acquire the following math skills:

  • Understanding decimal points: Decimal points are often heavily emphasized in 4th grade math classes. Students learn how to think in decimals and work with decimal numbers.
  • Adding mixed numbers: 4th graders should also be able to add mixed numbers as well as subtract them.

5th Grade math skills

Math begins to get more exciting and advanced in 5th grade. Kids will acquire the following math skills:

  • Understanding basic algebra: 5th graders will gain a strong grasp of basic algebra. By the end of this stage, they should be able to plot points and read and make line graphs.
  • Word problems: Kids in 5th grade also explore word problems with different math operations such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

6th Grade math skills

These skills typically include:

  • Fraction word problems: By 6th grade, your child should be comfortable with word problems. They’ll then get introduced to fractional word problems and the ways to solve them.
  • Understanding key terms like mean, median, and mode: Kids in 6th grade learn key math terms like mean, median, and mode. They’ll also learn how to calculate the average of a group of numbers.
  • Proportions and ratios: In 6th grade, kids get introduced to the concept of proportions and ratios. They’ll learn what these concepts mean and how to add or subtract measurements.

7th Grade math skills

  • Working with algebra word problems: In 7th grade, kids encounter numerous word problems. More specifically, they’ll learn how to solve algebra word problems.
  • Circumferences of irregular shapes: 7th graders also acquire more advanced geometry skills. They learn how to find the circumferences and areas of irregular shapes.

8th Grade math skills

  • Word problems for probabilities: In 8th grade, kids get to explore probabilities and work with word problems on probabilities.
  • The Pythagoras Theorem: They will also learn about the famous Pythagoras Theorem and how to apply it to geometric problems.

Highschool math skills

Math skills in highschool aren’t separated by grade level. Instead, they can be categorized by topics. Here’s a rundown of a few of the math skills learners should attain by the end of highschool.

  • Understanding and using vectors and matrices
  • Solving polynomials
  • Proving theorems with coordinates
  • Summarizing and interpreting data and linear models
  • Understanding conditional probability
  • Solving and graphing equations and inequalities

Although this is in no way an exhaustive list, it paints a clearer picture of what highschool math is about and the milestones to watch out for.

10 Tips to Improve Math Skills for You or Your Child

Tips to Improve Math Skills

So, here’s the big question: how do you improve math skills without breaking the bank? If you’re wondering how to improve math skills for you or your child, here are a few hard-hitting tips worth considering:

Play math games

You’re probably wondering: “what on earth do games have to do with learning?” The answer to this question is simple: a lot. In its simplest form, math is all about repetition. You apply the same formula to different problems in different ways to arrive at a correct answer. The problem with this form of repetition is that it can get boring, especially when you have to do it every day.

This is where educational games come in. With game-based learning, you or your kid can practice new math concepts and solidify your knowledge of concepts. You get to build your math skills while having fun at the same time.

According to experts, game-based learning also makes it easier to assimilate new concepts and retain the knowledge for a longer period of time. What’s not to love about this highly effective learning strategy?

Practice math in your daily life scenarios

Math exists in every sphere of life. Whether we know it or not, we use basic math everyday. Thus, a great way to improve you or your kid’s math skills is by making a conscious decision to integrate it into your daily life.

For instance, when you go shopping, don’t just rely on your handy calculator or the items’ price tags to do the math for you. If a dress worth $27 has a 25% discount attached to it, what is the sale price? Do the math in your head before walking to the counter and you’d be amazed at what your brain can pull off in a few seconds.

Similarly, if you’re trying to improve your child’s math skills, encourage them to apply this tip as well. Ask them to calculate the gross total of the items in your shopping cart and see how they’ll get better over time.

Practice everyday

Here’s the thing: practice makes perfect. This isn’t merely a cliche phrase that we’ve heard repeatedly. It actually holds water, especially when it comes to math. The more you practice math, the better you’d become at it.

A great way to maintain consistency is by creating a study schedule for you or your kid. This might be hard to pull off at first but you can ease into it. Set aside ten to fifteen minutes each day for practicing math problems and you’ll begin to see results in no time.

Pro Tip: To boost the effectiveness of your study sessions, study in a quiet place and use flashcards.

Sketch out word problems for a clearer picture

Here’s the thing: some people happen to be absolute whizzes at word problems. The rest of the world’s population? Not so much. If you or your child are struggling with word problems, there’s a simple hack to build this math skill.

Grab a pen and summon your inner Picasso. Visuals can be quite helpful for understanding and solving word problems. So, make a few circles or lines to represent the data in each word problem and you’ll get through it with so much ease!

Start with one concept at a time

We truly get it: you want to become a math whiz overnight. While this is a valid goal, it doesn’t always work that way. You can’t blitz through numerous topics in a bid to master a few. In math, each topic builds upon the last. For instance, before you understand how to multiply fractions, you must have mastered multiplication and the concept of fractions.

So, if you genuinely want to become a math whiz, you’d have to start with one topic at a time. In math, no topic is truly skippable. If you’re struggling with a topic, don’t abandon it for a new one. Instead, seek help from someone else until you’ve gotten the hang of it.

Teach math to someone else

Sometimes, studying isn’t the only route to improving math skills. You can actually solidify your knowledge by teaching what you’ve learned to someone else. For instance, if you’re trying to improve your math skills, give your kid a flash lesson on a basic math topic.

In the same vein, you can help your child build confidence and math skills by letting them teach you how they solve certain problems. Not only will they enjoy “showing you the ropes,” but it will also help them solidify their knowledge. More importantly, you’ll be able to spot any mistakes and set them on the right track.

Always show workings

Here’s the thing: a lot of learners love to do mental math. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this learning strategy, it can be problematic if you only present the answer to a math problem without showing your working process. Wondering why? It’s quite simple.

Writing out your work will help you easily spot mistakes and arrive at the correct answer. More importantly, it proves that you really understand the topic and know what you’re doing.

Set realistic goals

If your child is struggling with math, it’s completely normal to want them to study extra hard. However, even in the midst of your valid desires, it’s important to set realistic goals. Math skills don’t develop overnight and thus, cramming several hours of study into a kid’s schedule won’t work.

Take it step by step, set milestones, and accompany each achieved milestone with a reward. You’ll get better results that way.

Hire a math tutor

Sometimes, we just can’t do it on our own, and that’s okay. If you or your child are struggling with learning math, it might be time to hire a math tutor. Go online and check out the reviews of some math learning websites. On the other hand, if you prefer an in-person tutor, you can ask within your local community.

Stay positive

We’d admit it: math learning isn’t the easiest journey out there. Sometimes, it can get discouraging or frustrating. However, with a positive and enthusiastic mindset, you’ll be more motivated to learn. What’s more, your enthusiasm could rub off on your kid and give them a much-needed push to learn math.

Final Thoughts

Looking to build math skills for yourself or your child? Simply follow the handy tips outlined above. Remember: with baby steps and consistency, you’ll achieve your goals in no time. You’ll be amazed at the problem solving skills math practice would equip you with!

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