How do you know when you’ve mastered something?  What does mastery actually mean?

One of the most important things I teach to my students and their families is about the journey that happens in your brain, from the time a skill is Introduced to the time it’s Mastered, and about how we never want to abandon a skill when it’s only partway through its journey.

To really learn a skill, you have to see it through to Mastery. Only then is it okay to stop practicing it, because True Mastery is when you know something even when you haven’t been seeing it on a regular basis.

So how do we know when it’s safe to stop practicing a skill, without the risk of forgetting it? How do we know when a skill is Truly Mastered?

Here are the criteria I use when assessing a student for True Mastery on a particular skill:

  1. You know it. Self-explanatory.
  2. You know you know it. This means you didn’t guess or get lucky, or answer with a question mark in your voice.
  3. You know it quickly, independently and efficiently.
    • Quickly means you have this skill at the ready, with no playing around in order to figure it out. While it is an invaluable skill to be able to figure out a math problem, what we’re going for with our basic skill list is FLUENCY, meaning you’re past the figuring it out phase and your ability is more automatic. A very simple example of this would be: for the basic subtraction problem 11-9, figuring it out would mean counting up from 9 to 11 (either on your fingers or in your head) to get 2.  Automaticity on the other hand would mean looking at 11-9 and knowing 2, as if it were a sight word.  The processing speed is so fast that there may as well be no processing. It’s that automatic.  At every new level of math, there is a whole new layer of skills that we want at this automatic level, freeing the brain up to do it’s figuring out with the next level.
    •  Independently means with ZERO help – no reminders, no hints.
    •  Efficiently. An example of doing a skill the most efficient way is simplifying fractions before multiplying them, rather than multiplying first, then simplifying.
  4. You know it cold. Three months can go by without you actively practicing it, and you STILL know it. This is perhaps the most important criteria, and the most often overlooked.  When a student knows something that they’ve been doing every day at school, they may only know it in a snapshot in time, without guaranteed lasting Mastery of the skill.  Often, once the student passes their test on them, those skills get forgotten in a way that requires re-teaching rather than just reviewing. This is inefficient, and makes the student feel like they don’t have a natural aptitude for math, or else they would have remembered how to do it.

Curious about your math skills Mastery? Attend a Math Number Night and find out!