Multiplication Tables Check 2021: What School Leaders Should Know

The Multiplication Tables Check for Year 4 was due to roll out in 2020 after a 2019 pilot. However due to the school closures during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic, the first year of the official roll out was cancelled.

The Multiplication Tables Check 2021 will take place but it was announced on 3rd December 2020 that it would be an optional test for schools to participate in or not. It is likely that 2022 will be the first actual compulsory Multiplication Tables Check for schools.

To know more about how you should prepare for the multiplication tables check and and what the format of the test will be we have drilled down into the detail of the multiplication tables check (MTC) framework document provided by the government and drawn out the 20 key facts.

What is the multiplication tables check assessment framework framework

The aim of the framework document is to provide guidance to the test developers to help them develop fair and robust tests, but it also provides an excellent guide to what schools and teachers will will be expected to have taught their pupils by the time they sit their Year 4 Multiplication Tables Test.

Here is everything you need to know about the Year 4 Multiplication Tables Check (MTC); and to make life easier for school leaders, we’ve also provide a parents guide to what is commonly referred to as the Year 4 Times Tables Test.

What is the purpose of the multiplication tables check?

From the framework: The purpose of the MTC is to determine whether year 4 pupils can fluently recall their multiplication tables. Although the check will help schools to identify pupils who require additional support, it is not intended as a diagnostic tool.

Who will take the multiplication tables check?

All eligible Year 4 pupils who are registered at maintained schools, special schools or academies (including free schools) in England will be required to take the MTC test.

When does the multiplication tables check start?

The Multiplication Tables Check is optional in 2021 and will be compulsory for year 4 pupils at primary school in 2022.
It was available as a voluntary check in the 2018/19 academic year and actually became statutory from from the 2019/20 academic year but schools were not required to take it because of school closures in the summer term of 2020.

What is the multiplication tables check pass mark?

There is no pass mark and children will not be required to resit the test if they don’t get a high enough score.

20 key facts about the MTC – Multiplication Tables Check

1. The times tables check is online and on-screen

It’s been confirmed that test will be fully digital and take place on screen. It will be available to use on laptops, desktops and tablets.

The STA published full guidance for your IT administrators in April 2019, but it is expected that most equipment that has access to a web-browser should work with the check.

2. Schools will have access to a simulated version to practise on

The Department For Education is opening up a ‘try it out area’ to familiarise schools and pupils with the system. This is likely to be open for from the start of the summer term, or earlier. In 2020 it was due to be available from 23rd March to 6 June.

During this time schools can apply any necessary accessibility features for pupils that may need them. Pupils should try these features out ahead of the check window to ensure they work for them.

3: The MTC will only present children with multiplication statements not division

It’s been confirmed that Year 4 children will only face multiplication statements in the check. This means that related division facts, whilst a key part of children’s mathematical learning, will not be tested as part of the check.

Some maths experts are already saying that this removes much of the potential benefits of the check.

4: The check will take place in June each year

The framework clarifies that there will be 3-week window in June for the administration of the check. There is no set test day, nor an expectation that all children will take the check at the same time.

5: Children can practise before taking the check

Before the test window opens each year, there will be the opportunity for children to access a practice area to become familiar with the style of the KS2 times tables test.

It’ll be important for schools to ensure they build in time for this familiarisation, so the check style is not ‘new’ when children take the actual check. 

This practice area may not be a suite of full tests, and that the results from the practice area will not be reported on or available to schools, so this cannot be used as an ongoing tool for assessment before the actual check.

6: It’ll take less than 5 minutes per pupil

Under standard administration (i.e. without any access arrangements) the multiplication check will take less than 5 minutes per pupil. There is no requirement for all children in a class to take the check all at once.

7: Children will have 6 seconds to answer each question

Children will get 6 seconds from the time the question appears to input their answer. This means that children must be able to read, recall and enter their response within 6 seconds.

Children will enter their answer using a keyboard or by pressing digits using a mouse or touchscreen on an on-screen number pad.

This means that it is vital that schools are ensuring children are able to rapidly recall multiplication facts, and can do so ‘out of sequence’ (i.e. answer 6 x 7 without having to count in 6’s from 0).

Whilst it may be tempting for schools to resort to ‘rote learning’ for the multiplication tables, it is important that this is avoided, as it leads to children simply being able to chant facts without any meaning, and reduces their ability to recall facts out of sequence.

When teaching times tables, if children are conceptually taught multiplication and are supported to make, understand and use the relationships and links within multiplication, they will gain the ability to rapidly recall their multiplication facts, and will be able to use them to help them calculate in other areas of maths as well.

As the facts have to be read by the child (rather than being read to them), it is also important that children are used to giving the correct answer to multiplication questions in a written format, rather than only answering questions out loud when they are read out to them.

KS1 & KS2 Times Tables Termly Planner

8: Whatever is in the answer box at the end of the 6 seconds will be counted as the answer

This means that if a child is mid-way into entering a two digit answer (e.g. they only enter the 7 out of 72 when answering 8 x 9) they will be recorded as having answered 8 x 9 as 7.

9: Children will face 25 questions

The number of questions has been confirmed at 25. Children will be presented with 25 questions with a 3 second pause in-between each question, before the next one appears on screen.

It is therefore important that children have been used to answering (at least) 25 questions in quick succession before they face the test.

Each child will be randomly assigned a set of questions, which the STA refer to as a ‘form’. This is the spread of questions.

There will be repeated questions across different sets of questions each year, but no more than 30% of the questions will be the same in any two sets of questions. This means if the test gets interrupted and children need to re-start it, they will only have a minimal advantage.

10: There will not be an equal spread of each multiplication table within the check

The check has been designed to focus on times tables that fit within the KS2 national curriculum.

It is therefore important to ensure that your Year 4s and Year 3s develop fluency in their multiplication facts. Remember, the curriculum suggests that by the end of Year 3, children should be fluent in the 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10 times tables, and then by the end of Year 4 it’s those tables plus the 6, 7, 9, 11, 12.

  • The 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12 times tables are more likely to be asked than the 2, 3, 4, 5, 10 or 11 multiplication tables. The STA state that there is a focus on these as these are the ‘most difficult’ multiplication tables.
  • There will always be questions from the 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 12 multiplication tables in each test.
  • There will be no questions from the 1 times table (i.e 1 x 8 or 8 x 1)
  • There will only be a maximum of 7 questions from the 2, 5 and 10 times tables.

Reversal of questions using the commutative law will not feature in the same check. This means that, for example, 8 x 3 and 3 x 8 won’t be asked to the same pupil.

The full breakdown of questions can be found in the table below:

2018 Times Tables and Multiplciation Check Table

11: 6 x 3 is ‘6, three times’

The STA state that they are classifying the multiplication tables by the first number in the question. For example, 8 x 3 would fall within the 8 times table.

This reflects what is now considered to be best practice – for example, that 8 x 3 should be thought of as 8, three times rather than 8 lots of 3.

12: Remember, commutativity is really important

Of course, it is important that children understand the commutative property of multiplication, and that 8 x 3 (8, three times) is the same as 3 x 8 (3, eight times.)

Therefore, if children have made this conceptual connection, it effectively reduces the number of unique facts children need to remember, and helps children answer questions such as 8 x 4, which if taken as an 8 times table question may cause more panic than 4 x 8.

13: Eleven facts are more likely to appear than others

The framework sets out that the second number in the multiplication will be monitored to ensure that the instances of each number is +/- 1 of the parameters discussed above.

This means that the following 11 multiplication questions (and their commutative equivalents) are more likely to be asked: –

  • 6 x 6, 6 x 7, 6 x 8, 6 x 9, 6 x 12
  • 7 x 8, 7 x 9, 7 x 12
  • 8 x 9, 8 x 12
  • 12 x 12

Of course, not each set of questions will feature all of these facts, and other questions will be asked, but it is likely that a good proportion of the above will be present in each set of questions.

Questions involving 2, 5 and 10 are least likely to be asked, with there only being a maximum of 8 (including the +/-1 parameter mentioned above) of these questions in each test.

Remember the key to teaching times tables and multiplication is to teach it conceptually right from Key Stage 1. Third Space has lots of advice on how to do this, following a whole class maths mastery approach. Here’s where you can start:

14: Some children can be withdrawn from the assessment

It will be possible to withdraw certain children from the assessment.

Full details about the grounds for withdrawing pupils are available in the 2019/20 Assessment and Reporting Arrangements (ARA), published in October 2019.

However, expect the grounds for withdrawal to be stricter than grounds for withdrawing from the SATs tests.

15: Strictly speaking, the check should not be used as a diagnostic tool

The STA are clear that the check has not been developed for schools to use a diagnostic tool. However, of course, schools can use the check to help identify KS2 pupils who require additional support.

As it has not been designed as a diagnostic tool, it means that there may be gaps in children’s understanding and knowledge of multiplication that is not picked up by the check.

16: Results will only be available at the end of the 3-week window

You will only access the result for each pupil at the end of the 3-week window. The child (or teacher) will not be shown the total score on screen. This means there will be a bit of a waiting game to find out how your children have done.

17: There is no ‘Pass’ rate or threshold

The guidance is clear that there is no expected pass rate or threshold. This means that, unlike the KS1 Phonics Screening check, children will not be expected to re-sit the check if they do not meet a set threshold in this KS2 Times Tables Test.

BUT…

18: National and Local Authority results will also be published

From 2020, the DfE will report on the performance of pupils in the check nationally and in each local authority. There is no guidance at this point as to what form these reports will take, but we can infer from the test framework that is likely to include the percentage of children who achieve full marks.

Through Analyse School Performance (ASP) schools are also likely to be able to see the percentage of children in their cohort who achieved each score compared to the percentage of children nationally.

The STA state that this national and local authority data will enable schools to benchmark the performance of their pupils, but it will not form a formal pass mark.

19: Results of the multiplication tables check will not be published in performance tables

The document clarified that results of the check will not be published in the publicly accessible school performance tables. We also know from previous information released about the test that there are no current plans to use the results from the multiplication check in judging if schools meet the ‘floor standard’.

BUT…

20: Results of the MTC will be reported and analysed – including by Ofsted

From 2020, school and individual pupil-level reports will be made available to schools – in a similar way to the results from the KS1 Phonics Check are reported. This will mean that schools can target support and intervention where needed.

It is also important to note that the results will also be available to OfSTED and local authorities through ASP (analyse school performance), so it is likely that schools will face questions about the Multiplication check during an OfSTED inspection.

Source: Multiplication Tables Check (gov.uk)

So, there you have it. Those are the 20 key facts that all school leaders and maths coordinators should know about the new Multiplication Tables Check 2021 and beyond.

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Tim Handley
Tim Handley
Third Space Maths Consultant
Author
Tim Handley is a maths consultant and author, working as part of the Third Space Learning team to create resources and blog posts.
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KS1 & KS2 Times Tables Termly Planner

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KS1 & KS2 Times Tables Termly Planner

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