Established – The link between speed, confidence, fluency and attainment

The link between speed, confidence, fluency and attainment

What does a confident student look like? Motivated – an enthusiastic learner who is ready to respond in class. Enjoys school and brings the right equipment to class, along with a great can-do attitude. Is engaged and has the perseverance to keep working on more challenging problems. Has a love of learning that spreads across subject areas, and will stay with them for life. Helpfully, they return from summer holidays without having “lost” learning from last year. Would you like more of these students in your class? And fewer who are either discouraged into tragically concluding that they are “just not good at maths”, or anxious and uncomfortable to demonstrate even the maths they do know? 

The research literature has gone some way to unscrambling the complex relationships among confidence, fluency and achievement in mathematics. In brief:

  1. It appears important that learning new concepts is not rushed, and allows for individuals’ learning styles and rates.
  2. Revision is critical to fortify learned concepts – without reinforcement, the hold on knowledge will not become stronger and will not be a suitable foundation for higher level concepts.
  3. Fluency is important for basic arithmetic. Rapid recall (speed) and automaticity (speed again) are strong indicators that concepts have been well learned and adequately practised – processing then no longer requires working memory, which is progressively freed for next-level concepts.
  4. Understanding, fluency and confidence are all correlated. The exact nature of the correlations is contextual with subtle shifts as students move through their school years.
  5. Longitudinal studies have also shown that confidence at a young age is correlated to attainment several years later.
  6. Meanwhile deficits in fact mastery are a blockage to fluency and are highly persistent if no remedy is applied.
  7. Fluency and confidence in related number facts (eg 8 x 7, 56/8) is correlated to an extent.
Established - The link between speed, confidence, fluency and attainment » Maths Invaders Celebrates 5 Years of Making Math Fun!

A recent Australian study estimated that 35% of the impact of a teaching strategy on NAPLAN results was due to its influence on confidence and self-belief. Sydney Morning Herald 1st March 2024 


Geary, D. C., Hoard, M. K., Byrd-Craven, J., & DeSoto, M. C. (2004). Strategy choices in simple and complex addition: Contributions of working memory and counting knowledge for children with mathematical disability. Journal of experimental child psychology, 88(2), 121-151.

Ma, X., & Xu, J. (2004). Determining the causal ordering between attitude toward mathematics and achievement in mathematics. American Journal of Education, 110(3), 256–280. 

Supekar, K., Swigart, A. G., Tenison, C., Jolles, D. D., Rosenberg-Lee, M., Fuchs, L., & Menon, V. (2013). Neural predictors of individual differences in response to math tutoring in primary-grade school children. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences110(20), 8230-8235.