common math errors

It’s said that the best way to learn is by making mistakes. Kids in elementary school are beginning their exciting journey into learning many different things. So, mistakes are bound to take place. This article provides you with some of the most common math errors that elementary students make. So, the next time you teach your kids math, you will know which areas need the most attention and what sort of mistakes you need to look out for.

List of 10 Common Math Errors

#1 Using the wrong symbols


A common math error that kids make is confusing between the mathematical symbols or operators. As elementary students, kids are shown different symbols that signify different mathematical functions. Certain symbols can look like one another for first-time users. For example, a child can confuse the symbol of subtraction with that of the division and the same goes for the symbols of addition and multiplication. These are the most common reasons why elementary students make mathematical mistakes.

For example: When adding two number, say 3 and 5, the child may write 3 X 5 = 8, instead of 3 + 5 = 8.

Tip: Take time out to make sure that a child has understood the use and function of a symbol before moving on to another one. Frequent revisions and repetitions work wonders. Saying while solving also helps – just like “4 divided by 2 is equal to 2”.  Involve math activities in your curriculum for better understanding in a fun way.

#2 Adding multiple numbers


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One of the toughest task for kids is to apply mathematical functions to multiple numbers. Most common math errors are caused due to this. Elementary students generally make a mistake while adding the more than two numbers, for example, 26, 30 and 4.

While adding the numbers 26, 30 and 4, the child may get confused and put 4 in the tens place. In this case, the child confuses with the place value of the numbers and thus, get an incorrect result.

Tip: Ease the child into the process. Start with two numbers, make sure that they understand the concepts involved. Then, move on to bigger numbers. Make sure they understand the place value first and then move to addition. Use coins, buttons, counters, etc to explain tens and units. Also, try story based FREE addition worksheets to give math practice a colorful twist.

#3 Multiplication errors involving two digit numbers


Lesley R. Booth, in her article points to many common math errors that elementary students commit. From a survey of five primary schools in Singapore, Booth discovered that students hardly had any trouble with single-digit multiplications. However, when it came to multiple digits, they began making mistakes such as value placing errors, mistakes while multiplying with zero, confusing units and tens places, etc.

For example, A student multiplied the numbers 12 and 16 and got 84 as the answer. This mistake took place due to a confusion of the units and tens places.

Tip: Closely monitor your kids while they solve these problems. This will help you to detect these errors early on and will give you a chance to work with them on it. Repeated practice will be great! Also, there are many multiplication tricks and techniques that can come in handy. Lastly, interactive multiplication worksheets are a great way to practice and negate these errors. Download FREE multiplication worksheets now.

#4 Dividing with zero


Zero seems to be a tricky number for elementary students. Whenever this number comes up in a mathematical problem, children seem to be taken completely off guard. One of the most common math errors for most students is to think that when a number is divided by zero, the answer is zero. It seems that students confuse a division with zero with a multiplication with zero.

For example: A student wrote 4 ÷ 0 = 0. Here, the student confused a division by 0, with a multiplication with 0.

Tip: Simply explain to the child that there is no answer to a number divided by zero. Having this fact written down on a flash card for constant reminder can work wonders. Give division practice through division worksheets that allow your child to master division with/without remainder.

#5 Common math errors with a decimal point


The decimal point is yet another mathematical entity that stumps young students. Elementary students often mistake decimal point placements when adding or subtracting numbers with the decimal point.

For example: Some examples include adding 0.1 and 1 and coming up with answers such as 0.2 and 10.1.

Tip: Make your child create a poster or flashcard of the list of rules regarding the placement of decimals. This can be a reference point for them whenever they get confused. Make practicing decimals fun by including decimals worksheets in your curriculum.

#6 Common math errors committed while counting


Counting is crucial for young learners as it forms the foundation of future mathematical studies. In one of her blog, Debbie Diller tells us how young children struggle with counting as it steadily becomes more complex.

For example, A child just learned to count till 10 will struggle if immediately introduced to double-digit numbers.

Tip: Use techniques such as counting in a rhythm. Also, let children count real objects for practice to enhance their counting abilities. Encourage counting when solving logic puzzles for kids. These brain games for kids help them in solving problems by reasoning. Also, try math worksheets on numbers to give better practice.

#7 Writing fractions


Young students often make mistakes when it comes to writing down fractions.  The most common math error among these is writing the fraction as part/part, instead of part/whole. This not only leads to calculation errors but also makes a child’s mathematical foundation weak.

For example: If in a circle with 10 equal portions, 4 are to be selected, then the fraction should be 4/10 (part/whole). However, children make the mistake of writing it as 4/6 (part/part).

Tip: Use colored diagrams and charts. This will help in providing the child with a visual feedback. Also be watchful while the child practices. Playing math games that give repeated practice in fractions help. Fraction games clear the concept and make Fraction fun. Go through our collection of fractions worksheets to master this skill.

#8 Starting from 1 Instead of zero when taking measurements with a ruler


Learning how to use a ruler is one of the basic things that a child learns when beginning her mathematical education. One of the most common math errors which take place here is the tendency to measure from 1 instead of the 0 marks on a ruler. This leads to calculation errors and inconsistencies.

For example: When measuring a line segment, a child might begin from the 1 mark on the ruler, thereby getting a completely wrong reading.

Tip: Keep a close watch when your child first learns to use mathematical tools. With a little practice, this error can be easily remedied. Practice more by solving math worksheets.

#9 The common math error of confusing area and perimeters


This is a very common math error that plagues many people, not just young students. A confusion between the area and perimeter of a shape can lead to the usage of the wrong formula. This can lead to incorrect results and confusion.

For example: If you need to find the area of a rectangle with a length of 12 cm and a breadth of 4 cm, you multiply the two numbers. Therefore, the area is 48 square cm (12 X 4 = 48). However, a child might begin adding the dimensions and get 32 cm (12 + 4 + 12 + 4 = 32).

Tip: Prepare a chart with the formulas properly written on them, so that the child can memorize them. Also, remind the child that we multiply to find the area and add to find the perimeter. Show them the difference between the two. We highly recommend our math blog how to learn area and perimeters for avoiding the confusion.

#10 Dividing the smaller number with the larger number


This is a placement error that might not lead to an incorrect answer, but it is a mistake nonetheless. If left unchecked, this common math error can cause problems when the child goes on to learn about fractions and the decimal system.

For example: A child may write 2 ÷ 8 = 4, instead of 8 ÷ 2 = 4.

Tip: Remind the child that the larger number should be divided by the smaller number to get the result. The reason will become clear to them once they learn about the decimal system. Also, apply techniques for divisibility rules to solve the division quickly.


Although children face several challenges when it comes to studying math, they can be easily overcome with the use of imagination and creativity.

Master Tip

Make math fun. Use math games and math activities, math worksheets and printable to spike your kid’s imagination and creativity. Download FREE math worksheets that have math stories for kids to connect with. Write, draw, color, cut, paste and do much more with these colorful worksheets.

Math games help make the kids’ understanding of mathematical concepts clear and concise. This, in turn, reduces the common math errors committed by them.  Math games and activities help make mathematics fun and enjoyable for children and also provides ample amounts of practice.

If you liked what you read above, do not forget to share and help your fellow parents and teachers. If you have discovered any other common math errors that kids make or have a solution to deal with them, please do share it with us in the comment box below.

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