Math Skills: Definitions, Examples, and How to Improve Them

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 18, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

From calculating financial transactions to measuring spaces and objects, math skills are an important part of everyday life and can be useful in any profession. Careers in the food industry, engineering, accounting, and many other fields require math skills. You can develop your mathematic knowledge independently or by pursuing courses. Improving your basic skills can help you get a job, perform better in your current position, and make you more efficient in both your personal and professional lives. In this article, we discuss these skills, explain how you can improve them, and provide examples of ways to use these skills in the workplace and during your job search.

What are basic math skills?

You can use basic math skills to perform simple calculations in different aspects of your life. Proficiency in these skills helps you complete everyday tasks, such as balancing your chequebook, calculating tips, and measuring ingredients for a recipe. These skills include knowledge of:

Addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division

To do anything involving math, it's important to know how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide basic numbers. Knowing these basics is extremely helpful, especially when dealing with money. For example:

  • Addition: You and two co-workers pay $5 each for a $15 pizza: $5 + $5 + $5 = $15.

  • Subtraction: You and two coworkers share a $15 pizza. You and one coworker pay and want to determine how much the third coworker owes: $15 - $5 - $5 = $5.

  • Multiplication: You and two coworkers have $5 to spend each for a pizza and want to know what price pizza you can afford: $5 x 3 = $15.

  • Division: You and two coworkers share a $15 pizza for lunch, and each person wants to pay their share. You can use division to determine the cost: $15/3 = $5 each.

Related: What Is Quantitative Analysis?

Percentages

A percentage is a way to express a number as a portion of 100. To calculate a percentage, you divide the numerator, the number on the top by the denominator, the number on the bottom, and then multiply the result by 100. You can often use percentages to express discounts, commission rates, and tax rates. For example:

3% of 100 = 3

To find 3% of another number, you can either move the decimal point two places to the left or divide the number by 100 and then multiply by 3. For example:

3% of 1000 = 30 OR 1000/100 x 3 = 30

Fractions and decimals

A fraction is a number that represents a part of a whole. For example, if you have a piece of pizza and the piece is half-eaten, the fraction 1/2 represents the amount of pizza that is left. To work with fractions, it's essential to understand and use basic operations, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

A decimal is a number that represents a fractional part of a whole number. You always write a decimal using a point (.), separating the whole number part from the fractional part. For example, you can express the fraction “1/2” as a decimal, 0.5.

Solving for an unknown

Algebra is a type of math that uses letters and other symbols to represent numbers and quantities in a formula or equation. A variable is an alphabetic character representing a number in an equation. Solving for the unknown might be as simple as B = 20 + 20. The unknown variable (B) is 40, the sum of the two numbers.

Example: Juan wants to earn $600 this month and earns $20 every time he walks a dog for one of his neighbours. The unknown variable Juan wants to solve for is how many dog walks to complete to earn $600. With basic algebra skills, Juan may use the simple formula for this equation, 20 x Y = 600, and solve for the unknown variable of Y.

How to improve your mathematical skills

There are many ways that you can improve your mathematic skills. A few options include:

1. Find a tutor or take a class

A tutor can help you identify which topics to improve and can work with you directly. They can also answer any questions you have about specific concepts. For example, to improve your understanding of fractions, a tutor can help you understand the basics and provide additional practice problems. You can also take a class to improve your skills. This can be an online class or a more traditional in-person class.

Related: Types of Variables in Statistics and Research (With FAQs)

2. Use practise problems

You can find practice problems online or in math workbooks. Start with easier questions and move to more difficult ones. As you get better, time yourself to see how quickly you can complete the problems. You can also try to work on math problems in your head without writing them down. For example, if you're working on addition, try to determine the answer in your head before looking at the options. This may help you develop your mental skills.

3. Play math-based games

There are various online and offline games that can help improve your skills. For example, many online puzzle games require you to use basic arithmetic to solve problems. You can also find games that focus on math. These games can help make learning more enjoyable.

Basic mathematical skills in the workplace

Here are a few examples of how you may use basic skills in the workplace:

Calculating taxes

Knowing how to calculate taxes is important for both individuals and businesses. You may file property taxes, income taxes, or provincial taxes. Depending on the jurisdiction, tax rates can be a simple percentage of the overall price or can be more complex. While you can use tools like tax software to help with the calculations, it's essential to understand the underlying concepts to ensure the accuracy of your return.

Making sales projections

You may require basic math abilities to forecast future sales if you work in sales. This involves estimating the number of products or services you sell and the average price. You may also require basic math knowledge to create realistic projections. This information is important for both short-term and long-term planning.

Related: How to Get Into Sales in 5 Steps (With Tips and FAQs)

Developing budgets

Creating a budget requires you to understand how to work with numbers. For example, you may track your income and expenses and forecast future costs. This information helps you decide how to allocate your resources best. For example, you may choose to invest in new equipment or hire additional staff.

Calculating salary and raising amounts

When you receive a raise or promotion, it's essential to calculate the new salary amount. This ensures your employer pays you the correct amount and that your withholdings are accurate. For example, if you receive a raise, you may update your paystub and ensure you're paying the correct amount of income taxes. You may also use basic mathematical skills to determine how much to save for retirement or other long-term goals.

Determining time estimates

You can use your basic mathematical skills to keep tasks to schedule. For example, if you have a project due that has 10 equal parts and you have already completed three parts in nine days, you can use your skills to provide an estimate of three days per task or 18 workdays total. This can be helpful when management asks about project timelines.

Highlighting basic math knowledge

Here's how to highlight your math knowledge when applying for jobs:

On your resume

To highlight your basic skills on a resume, give real-world examples. The goal is to highlight your use of basic math abilities rather than outright stating them. You can do this in any section, such as your work experience, special skills, or even in the cover letter.
For example, if you're a cashier, rather than saying you're good at adding and subtracting, you might say:

  • Able to quickly figure out the change I owe a customer in my head.

You can also reference your basic skills when describing your job duties. For example, a marketing analyst may write:

  • Produced clear data visualizations to show the effectiveness of various marketing campaigns.

In a job interview

During a job interview, it's essential to be ready to answer questions about your math knowledge. For example, the interviewer may ask you to describe a time when you used your skills or may give you a quick test on basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It's also a good idea to be prepared to talk about how you might use your skills relevant to the position. For example, if you're interviewing for a job as a bookkeeper, you might say:

I use math every day to track income and expenses and to produce reports for the business owner. I also help with budgeting and forecasting.

By giving specific examples of how you might use your skills in the job, you can show that you have the skills for the position. If the employer doesn't test your skills, look for a way to mention them. As with your resume, give real-world examples of how you have used basic math previously. If this is your first job, you can also mention some of the math courses you have taken and what you learned.

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