Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find a way to improve your math skills – without doing math? Strange as it may sound, you can become better at math in a most unlikely way: Playing games. Before I get into the games themselves, let’s look at mathematics and the mental skills involved. To be good at math, you need to be a problem-solver, because math is ultimately about solving problems. And to solve problems, you need to use logic and reasoning. You need to be a clear thinker. At the same time, you need the ability to think laterally and go beyond the obvious. Math often requires you to use your imagination, whether it’s adding a few numbers in your head, or picturing a geometric object from an exam question. And you need a strong sense of pattern. Simple patterns include multiplication tables, number sequences, geometrical arrays. Being able to spot patterns is a big key to cracking many math problems. So the five key mental skills are: solving problems, logical thinking, lateral thinking, visualization, and recognizing patterns. While you’ll develop these skills naturally as you progress through your math course, you can give them a boost by playing a few games.Which games? Here are my top five:#1 Sudoku
Invented in Japan and now popular worldwide, this game involves organizing digits into groups. Logic features significantly in Sudoku, and the challenge of combining logic on the 9×9 grid develops reasoning powers and spatial awareness. Sudoku helps you develop an organized mind, while at the same time forcing you to think about the “bigger picture”. It’s a game where the whole is the sum of the parts. And that’s important in mathematics.#2 Rubik’s Cube
The famous multicolored cube does more than teach you what a cube looks like! Rubik’s Cube develops understanding of rotational symmetry and also the important ability to visualize in 3 dimensions. What’s more, learning to solve the cube improves your step-by- step thinking approach to problem solving. Essentially you learn the core skill of solving a big problem by breaking it down into tiny steps, then following each step in the right sequence. And this is how you solve any math problem.
#3 Draughts & Chess
I’ve lumped these together because, although the former is easier to play than the latter, they both develop similar skills. Draughts and chess develop your spatial thinking skills, where you have to be aware of imaginary lines running in several directions. In fact the mind of a chess player would look like a series of laser beams firing in many directions. Such thinking is particularly useful in geometry, although improving your imagination is always a plus in math. These games also make you more analytical. You acquire the ability to think in terms of possibilities, examining different outcomes, before deciding on a specific next step. As in any game of strategy, you need to think laterally too, to outfox your opponent.#4 Card Games
Almost any card game is based on patterns. For example, in one game, each player has seven cards in the first round, then six cards in the next round, and so on. In another game, the objective is to collect as many cards as possible in the same suit, whether it’s hearts, clubs, diamonds, or spades. It sounds simple. But playing a few rounds of Gin Rummy really can help sharpen your math instincts.#5 Geometric Puzzles
With these, you are given several small pieces of wood or plastic. And the idea is to arrange them into a given shape. These problems develop your spatial thinking. And they also challenge your creative problem-solving skills. They can be solved logically. However more often they require lateral thinking skills, where you have to arrange the pieces in a way that’s not obvious. So the next time you see one of these puzzles fall out of a Xmas cracker, give it a go.All five games also enhance memory. And another nice feature about all these games is that you can play them at a level that is suitable for you. Okay. So you won’t get far in math just by playing games and never opening a math book again. But try any (or all) of these five games from time to time, and you may notice that math becomes a whole lot easier.