Guess What? Acing Those "Mad Minute" Tests Could Make You A Math Whiz


CCSS NAS-6 714 Words 5-Minute Listen

The next time you are asked to test your math computational skills with the dreaded "Mad Minute" test, do not groan and moan! According to Stanford scientists, it is the mastery of these basic facts that will help transform you into math whizzes, as you grow older! And given that they have peeked inside the brains of elementary school-age kids, adolescents and adults, they should know.

Previous research has shown that most kids move away from counting with their fingers and use their memories to answer simple math problems, by the time they are 8-9 years old. However, some are just much better and faster at recalling the solutions to simple multiplication, division, addition or subtraction problems, than others. Those kids are also the ones that do better in this often-dreaded subject, as they get older.

Curious to find out why some kids are better at memory retrieval than others, a team of researchers led by Dr. Vinod Menon, a psychiatry professor at Stanford University, put together a test group of 28 kids, aged 7- 9 years old. Each student was placed inside a simple brain-scanning MRI machine fitted with a screen that projected simple math equations like "3 + 4 = 7" or "2 x 2 = 4". All the kids had to do, was press a button to indicate if the answer was right or wrong. The scientists recorded the response time and also, the region of the brain that showed activity, right before they pressed the button.

The test was then repeated with the kids standing in front of the scientists, who observed them to see if they moved their lips or counted with their fingers, before pressing the right or wrong button. Both the tests were performed again on the same kids a year later, using the same parameters.

The scientists found that as the kids grew older, their response time to the same basic questions became faster and more accurate, since they were able to recall the answers from memory. What was even more interesting is that the difference was reflected in the brains. The scientists noticed that there was less activity in the prefrontal and parietal sections that researchers have long associated with counting and more, in the hippocampus. This area of the brain is like a relay station, one where short-term memories reside, before being shipped to long-term storage, for later retrieval.

According to Dr. Menon, who published the results in Nature neuroscience on August 17th, the kids with the fastest response times were those whose hippocampal connections showed the most robust activity. That means that while their facts were not yet committed to long-term memory, they had been practiced enough times to enable them to be easily retrieved from the transitional or short-term memory.

However, that was not where the study ended. The researchers than selected 20 adolescents and 20 adults and put them through the same tests. This time around, there was no activity in either the hippocampal, prefrontal or parietal sections. Instead, the brain automatically reached out to the long-term memory bank and retrieved the answers almost instantly, with very little effort.

Dr. Kathy Mann Koepe of the National Institutes of Health that sponsored the study, says that this is because the brain becomes more efficient with time - She likens memorizing basic math skills to starting with a bumpy green field. As you walk over it repeatedly, it becomes a smooth, grass-free path, making it easy to traverse from start to finish. According to her, if the brain doesn't have to work hard at calculating simple math, it has more working memory to process harder concepts. The expert's advice? Drilling kids on simple addition and multiplication may pay off in the long run. Also, while this study focused on math, Dr. Koepe believes the same principles are applicable when learning any subject.

While these findings may be new to scientists, they probably aren't to the millions of educators that have been handing out "50 in a minute" tests for years!

Dr. Menon now plans to take his study further, by investigating brain activity in kids that have math learning disabilities, so that scientists can find new strategies to help them excel in the subject.


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  • nightcolony442
    nightcolony442Thursday, April 15, 2021 at 12:35 pm
    I am in 10th grade and I still can't divide without a calculator, so horse123456, you are fine, and belathefighter, you too. you can do this!!
    • horse123456
      horse123456Monday, February 22, 2021 at 10:20 am
      I hate math my mom says I'm good but she's my mom so I don't believe her
      • bellathefighter
        bellathefighterTuesday, December 8, 2020 at 6:30 pm
        You all are probably good at math but I...Im really bad AND IM IN 4TH GRADE!
        • jazz11575
          jazz11575Thursday, December 10, 2020 at 10:16 am
          I'm in 4th grade too im really bad to
          • tatiprincess
            tatiprincessThursday, January 28, 2021 at 4:50 am
            yeah same
        • cobrakid
          cobrakidTuesday, April 28, 2020 at 12:09 pm
          i don't give a care
          • abeer
            abeerSaturday, November 9, 2019 at 11:20 am
            • heyheygirl
              heyheygirlThursday, December 3, 2020 at 4:23 pm
              I don't know about you guys but I'm kinda a math nerd 🤓
              • nightcolony442
                nightcolony442Thursday, April 15, 2021 at 12:36 pm
                Same, I love math, but I know when I need help.
            • wolfdog
              wolfdogFriday, October 25, 2019 at 7:47 am
              I hate these kinds of tests, because every time I try one I just can't seem to finish it all on time. Good for the others, but for people like me this is a never-ending paradox.
              • EmojiunicornFriday, November 2, 2018 at 10:29 am
                Actually, I was just joking. Prodigy game is not good:(
                • EmojiunicornFriday, November 2, 2018 at 10:28 am
                  • EmojiunicornFriday, November 2, 2018 at 10:28 am
                    Hey, another fun way to learn math is by going on Prodigy game!
                    • heyheygirl
                      heyheygirlThursday, December 3, 2020 at 4:22 pm
                      I know that game
                      • jazz11575
                        jazz11575Tuesday, December 8, 2020 at 11:43 am
                        i used to play but i forgot my passcode
                        • bellathefighter
                          bellathefighterThursday, December 10, 2020 at 5:42 pm
                          same problem here
                    • PandoraMonday, November 13, 2017 at 4:26 am
                      Wow! That is cool! But, do you know which Year to which Year the scientists had the experiment?