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I am a 17-year-old secondary school student from India studying math, physics, and other subjects. I lag behind other classmates only because I work slowly when doing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Others are adept at working with numbers, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing in a matter of seconds in their heads. But I have to follow the traditional way as I lack the mental ability. How do I become faster?

  • I am a 17-year-old secondary school student from India studying math, physics, and other subjects. I am currently in grade 11. I am preparing for competitive exams for engineering colleges.
  • I am math dyslexic or dyscalculic. It is a big problem for me. I have to spend a huge amount of my time on the basic arithmetic operations involved in physics and mathematics courses. I lag behind other classmates only because I work slowly when doing addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.
  • Calculators are strictly prohibited here. Solving maths becomes tedious and consumes a huge amount of time. I lost all my energy doing the basic operations alone.
  • My other classmates can easily and quickly handle the numbers.
  • I get less scores in timed tests and examinations in school despite I know all topics in physics and mathematics. I don't find the time sufficient to solve the sums during the tests. I'm finding it tougher to complete my studies and am losing interest because of this. This is highly demotivating.

Examples:

  • I have to count the numbers like 6+5 with my fingers to add them up to 11.
  • I spend almost a minute solving something like 965×532. \begin{aligned}965\\ \dfrac{\times 532}{1930}\\ 28950\\ \dfrac{482500}{513380}\end{aligned}
  • I also have trouble remembering multiplication tables. I once again have to follow the traditional method of multiplication like a 7-year-old kid.
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    $\begingroup$ On the one hand, not being able to do $6+5$ without using your fingers probably is a problem. But not being allowed to use a calculator to calculate $965\times 532$ seems to a bit pointless to me. I don’t know why they (your teacher) would make you do this if it’s not the pedagogical goal of the exercise… $\endgroup$ Feb 22 at 15:31
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    $\begingroup$ Can you give us a rough notion of how many 3x3 multiplications (or calculations of similar complexity) are actually expected of you in a fixed exam period (and length of said period in minutes?)? For grins, I did the problem you mentioned the "old-fashioned" way and found that it took me about 30 s to complete it. That 30 s time requires complete immediate recall of multiplications and additions with arguments <= 12 to achieve. We need to understand the actual necessary level of performance to determine whether certain strategies will be enough to achieve it. $\endgroup$
    – Steve
    Feb 22 at 20:01

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Have you tried bringing this to your math teacher's superiors? It seems to me a perfectly good case for them to make an exception to the "no calculator" rule. Normally teachers/schools don't let you use a calculator because they want to make sure the student actually knows how to do the operations and not blindly/fully depend on a calculator, but that's not the case for you.

I would argue that you do understand the logic behind the math operations, you know how to solve them (and have already proved it) and it's only because your dyslexia that makes it more time consuming, time that is in the same amount given to you and to your non-dyslexic classmates when being tested. In summary, in your case the examination process it is not balanced compared to your classmates which translates into the low scores compared to your classmates. From there you could either argue that you need either more time allowed or the use of calculators to balance it out.

I don't know the education rules in India but I'd think that at least there are some basic exceptions/accommodations for all types of cases. I say bring this to your teacher or your teacher's supervisors and I'm sure you can get to a type of understanding.

My nephew has also dyslexia and is color blind, and in his school they did some exceptions for him. For example, for art classes they would allow him to participate in every activity just like his classmates but he was being tested only in activities that his condition affected him compared to his classmates. When it comes to math, calculators were not strictly prohibited so there wasn't much issue there although that doesn't mean it was a walk in the park, after all his dyslexia made it difficult to obtain the "know how" to solve problems in the first place. He normally would need math help so they recommended to him several different math websites like KhanAcademy or StudyPug, the advantage of these platforms is that the student can watch lessons and practice as many times as needed and he/she can create his/her own schedule. Most of them are free so no extra expenditure here, I'd strongly suggest that you try them out, it really made a difference in my nephew's dyslexia case.

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