I Should Have Learned My Times Tables

by Subomi Plumptre

I never learned my mathematical times tables. Till today, if you ask me what 9×6 is, I don’t know. I have to start from 9×5 which is the last thing I remember, then manually add another 9 in my head to arrive at 54.

I barely passed Math in secondary school. In fact, I failed it during my General Certificate Examinations (GCEs) then aced it at the West African Examination Council (WAEC) exam. I did so because I have a unique gift of pattern recognition. If I study the same thing over and over, I eventually see a recurring pattern and can reproduce it. It’s like an advanced form of cramming. But scoring an A in WAEC still didn’t help me.

By the time I got to University, I was confronted with Further Math in MAT 101 class. I tried to read the recommended text book but nothing clicked. I was resigned to failure, until two things happened. First, I stumbled on Engineering Mathematics by K.A Stroud. It was like someone finally shined a light. That textbook simplified Further Math and I was able to understand about 30% of the required reading. Second, in my despair, I decided to block out my impending failure by listening to music. I stumbled on a Fred Hammond song that reminded me of a scripture I’d earlier learned about God’s help and so, I had the courage to show up at the exam hall. I passed by a whisker because the 30% I understood fortuitously made up about 50% of the questions.

Today, I’m in the financial space and I bless God for my calculator and Excel Spreadsheet. Daily, I apply a principle expounded on by David Epstein in his book, Range. While I still don’t know my Times Tables, I outsource tactics to software, so I can focus on what I do best – strategy.

Lessons From my Times Tables

Looking back now, here’s what I learnt from not cramming my times tables:

𝗙𝘂𝗻𝗱𝗮𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁𝗮𝗹𝘀 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗶𝗺𝗽𝗼𝗿𝘁𝗮𝗻𝘁: I wish someone had explained the reasoning behind Math when I was much younger, instead of asking me to cram numbers.

𝗙𝗶𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝘁𝗲𝗮𝗰𝗵𝗲𝗿𝘀: No matter how difficult a concept is, a good teacher will discover a way to explain it to you.

𝗖𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗺𝗶𝘀𝗲 𝗵𝗼𝘄 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗿𝗻: If you learn best by reading, look for written information first. If by video, opt for that format instead.

𝗛𝗮𝘃𝗲 𝗳𝗮𝗶𝘁𝗵: If you believe you’re going to fail, you probably will. Find that thing that inspires you and gives you courage. For me, it was music.

It’s never too late to hone your skills: I may have struggled with Math in my childhood, but every day, I confront it in the investment space. I’ve been compelled to try to understand it. To go back to the “why”; to allow it to tell me a story.

So yeah, while I should have probably learnt my times tables, I now have the fundamental math skills that I need to succeed.

Want another interesting read? Check out Business Lessons from Scrabble.

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