How to Develop Numerical Skills

Before you run away, this is about the numerical or functional skills you use every day (yes, you), from deciding if a two-for-one bargain is actually a good deal to making sure you’ve been given the right change. Unless you’re a farmer, no one cares if you can’t remember how to work out the area of a circle.

Salespeople need numerical skills to work out commissions, tradesmen need to work out estimates and budgets and, even if your job has nothing to do with numbers, there might still be data you need to understand or a contract salary offer you need to accept or decline.

So, how can you develop your numerical skills and see that math doesn’t have to be quite so scary?

See also: How to Improve Your Math Skills Quick and for Free


1. Identify the skills you need

If it’s just for personal reasons, then simply being confident with addition, subtraction, multiplication and percentages should be enough. If you enjoy DIY, you’ll want to have an understanding of measurements, volume and sizes.

Professionally, it can depend on what you do. A salesperson wants to be able to calculate their commission and avoid lowering a price so much they lose out, or know whether or not to accept a salary offer. Someone who works with data needs to be good at understanding figures, while someone who is self-employed or working in a trade needs to be able to give accurate estimates so the customer can be sure they can afford it, and so the tradesman can be sure they won’t lose money – or loyalty – by making a wrong estimate.

2. Work out how good you already are

If you’re going to take it as seriously as signing up for a course, especially a paid one, then you don’t want to find you already know everything on day two. So, before you make any commitments, figure out what you already know: you might be pleasantly surprised by how much you remember from those math classes you slept through at school. The National Numeracy Challenge is an in-depth test that will help you do just that.

3. Find the right website for you

If you’re looking for a course with actual qualifications, then skip to the next step for some suggestions. If it’s simply for personal reasons, try these websites:

  • The National Numeracy Challenge mentioned above starts by testing you and then gives you feedback to suggest what you need to work on. Rather than just telling you what questions you got right and wrong, it tells you which areas you weren’t so good and need to work on. It doesn’t result in a qualification, but it is free and simple.
  • BBC has Skillswise with "practical, common-sense maths for adults", and Bitesize which is aimed at a younger audience but you might find that you prefer it. As long as you’re learning, who cares which one you use?
  • The University of Kent offers two numerical reasoning tests, along with an explanation of your score, the answers, and why those are the answers.

4. Find the right course for you

Perhaps you prefer the idea of a structured course to motivate you. Here are two courses that might interest you:

  • Loughborough University offers a free three-week, three-hours-per-week course starting on the 15th of June and ends with a certificate and a Statement of Participation. None of the requirements say you need anything more than a basic understanding and a willingness to learn.
  • If you prefer a longer and more individualised approach, Runway Training’s Maths Level 1 or 2 courses might just be for you. Courses last eight to 14 weeks, you get a personal tutor and a qualification, and it’s free of charge.

5. Practice makes perfect

As you will know if you’ve ever learned a foreign language and then forgotten it due to not using it, there’s no point learning something and then not practicing it. Math is something you use every time you get paid, pay a bill or go shopping, but everything’s always easier when it’s made fun – why not try some of these puzzles?

See also: What are the Highest Paid Engineering Jobs in 2018?

When was the last time you used math in your day-to-day life? What was it? Your teachers might have stretched the truth about needing to know square roots, but I bet you appreciated knowing the basics when you nearly wasted money on a "bargain." Tell us your stories!

University of Kent




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