Multiplication tables check (MTC) assessment framework

The specification for the MultiplicationTables Check (MTC) (which will be statutory from 2020 – i.e. for the current year 3) was released yesterday and can be found here.

Key headlines:

What’s in the test?

  • Multiplication will be tested, division will not.
  • 0 x and 1 x tables will not be tested – so 121 multiplications from 2×2 to 12×12 will be tested (or 66 multiplications if you assume children use the commutative law).
  • There will be a bias towards harder (KS2) tables questions.

How will it be administrated?

  • The test will be delivered and marked online.
  • Tests must be taken during a 3-week window in June by all year 4 students (some pupils may be withdrawn – further details will be provided in the ARA which will be published in autumn 2019).
  • A maxim of 6 seconds will be allowed per question.
  • Once the question has been answered the pupil can press enter to proceed or wait for the time to expire.
  • There will then be a 3 second pause before the next question appears.
  • There will be 25 questions in the test so it will take a maximum of 3 minutes 45 seconds.

How will results be reported?

  • Results will be made available to schools at the end of the assessment window.
  • Results will also be shared with the DFE and Ofsted.
  • Results/league tables will not be published.
  • There is no pass or fail mark; however the ‘standard of interest’ is the number and percentage of pupils who achieve full marks.


This publication is deeply worrying because it fails to meet most of its own requirements:

1. The MTC should test for fluency (but it has been carefully designed to test for rote learning instead).

The stated intention (which was hard fought for) was always to test fluency.  Children who have mastery of their tables have an instinctive feel for what the result of a question is but they also check it (for example from a near result), with some results being more known and less checked and others being less confidently known and more checked.  This enables automaticity and understanding to complement each other.

This natural state of fluency is explicitly stripped out of this test format which is designed, instead, to measure only recall from long term memory.  This aim is enforced by the time guillotine on every question which has been deliberately designed to prevent children rapidly calculating answers.  Therefore schools are being pushed very hard to teach tables as rote learned fact instead for mastery (fluency with deep, structural understanding).  Removing the division facts for tables (which were widely expected to be included) from the check is a further push in this direction.

So the MTC has not been designed to test fluency.  It has been designed specifically to test rote learning and has used research to set question times that research shows will ensure only rote learning is tested.  It therefore fails in its own purpose.

2. The MTC should not be detrimental to pupils’ self-esteem or confidence (but it has been designed in a way which will ensure it is deeply damaging to the self-esteem and confidence of many pupils).

By having a time guillotine on every question this test will ensure than many pupils experience failure many times in a short space of time.  Children naturally want to get things right.  A much better way to administrate the test would be to have it time de-limited (but timed) and to give children credit for achieving full marks and then bronze, silver and gold certificates for achieving full marks in shorter times, allowing them several attempts.

If children are not achieving the target standard it is far better that they are getting the answers correct slightly more slowly than is desired than that they get a proportion of the answers wrong.  This insight also complements the learning journey they should be taking.  Children should, at first, be able to work out their tables and they should gradually become more fluent in them and approach, but never completely rely on, automaticity.  The tables check should assess their progress on this journey.  It should not assume that schools should force children to rote learn tables from a very young age and that children gradually make fewer mistakes, as it currently does.

3. The MTC should allow all pupils to demonstrate their knowledge of multiplications tables (but it will not achieve this aim because children who can answer all questions correctly slowly will get no credit at all).

Children who can answer multiplications tables correctly but take seven seconds to answer each question have a good knowledge of their tables which this test will not allow them to demonstrate.

4. The MTC should provide opportunities for all pupils to achieve, irrespective of gender

It is well known that, in general, girls like to check their answers before declaring them while boys are happier guessing and are more resilient if they make mistakes.  This test will therefore be biased against girls.

The specification claims to have overcome other aspects of bias through consultation and the development of access arrangements.  No evidence is provided to support this claim.

Why is this specification so bad?

This is an atrocious specification which catastrophically fails to meet its own requirements because it has not been trialled and has clearly not been influenced by people who understand how children learn mathematics effectively.

Formal action should therefore be taken against the DFE to prevent this test being implemented without modification.  In particular the six second time limit per question must go.






4 Replies to “Multiplication tables check (MTC) assessment framework”

  1. Hi Rebecca,
    This is a really well-argued point. The specification seems to go against everything that we have been trying to do with maths over the last five or more years. Dare I say it, right out of the Michael Gove text book on education!

  2. I just want to cry on behalf of the eight year olds.

    An immediate thought. What’s to stop a teacher taking the test on behalf of some of the kids? I probably would if still in the classroom

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