# Tips and Thoughts on How to Develop Your Mental Math and Mental Calculation Skills?

To develop strong mental calculation skills, i.e. mental math, we first need to learn the required bead movements on the abacus. The entire concept of mental calculation is based on the knowledge of the soroban bead movements needed to solve the problem. But knowing how to move the beads to solve a problem is not enough for fast and accurate mental calculation. Mental calculation relies on strong visual images formed in the right side of the brain. Consistent practice with the physical soroban produces strong visual images due to the repeated sensory touch input provided to the brain by the fingers moving the physical beads. As the student builds speed and accuracy on the physical soroban they will focus more and more on the required mechanical bead movements. Over time, students develop finger muscle memory so they no longer need to think about the details of each movement. Learning the small set of possible abacus bead movements, students quickly produce strong mental images of these same movements that enable them to perform the calculations in their head without the physical abacus.

This approach is similar to how we learn keyboarding skills on a computer. At first we are learning the individual letters and keys which require us to logically think about each finger movement on the key board. However after a period of consistent practice the student begins to “see” words and is no longer just thinking about letters on the keyboard. The student has built up enough muscle memory so they think the word “abacus” and their fingers know exactly what keys to press to type the word without thinking about the individual letters. The same is true with the abacus and mental math. Once we develop the muscle memory for each type of bead movement on the abacus, we no longer need to think about the movements and only see what numbers need to be added or subtracted.

Effective, efficient mental calculation focuses on the mechanical movements of the beads and not on the logical understanding of why those particular beads need to be involved. To develop speed in mental math, the idea of mechanization and visualization are probably the most important concepts. The mechanical bead movements are much less work load on the mind allowing visual processing. The moment we begin to think about why we are doing it the entire process will significantly slow down. All of us have had some experience with the idea of “letting go” or “detachment” from something you are doing. You hear athletes talk about “the game slowing down” when they are performing at their highest level and feel as if they can react much faster anticipating their opponent. The mechanization of the bead movements is exactly the same idea. By reducing the amount of mental work load on the brain, students can perform mental calculations with ease. Without mechanization and visualization, mental calculation is usually a challenging experience for most students and can be frustrating limiting what students can achieve.

When you are working through a problem, do not think about the interim sums. Thinking about interim sums will slow you down and distract your attention and focus. Simply notice the interim sums as the single image maintained throughout the process. Only at the end of the calculation do we think about the sum and answer.