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This content is taken from the Loughborough University's online course, Numeracy Skills for Employability and the Workplace. Join the course to learn more.

Introduction to Week 1: Numeracy

A number is defined as an arithmetical value expressed by a word, symbol or figure representing a particular quantity and used in counting and making calculations. (Oxford Dictionary)

Numbers all around us

Numbers are all around us, embedded in our daily and working lives.

When you buy something, it will have a price. You will purchase a certain weight or quantity or size. There will be some sort of financial transaction either in cash, where you will receive change if you pay more than what is owed or you will use a credit or debit card or a cheque. All of these will involve the banking system at some point. If you work, you will be paid a salary or wage. Governments deduct taxes to fund expenditure. Countries have different currencies and businesses manufacture and trade in global markets. Statistics are used to compare one time period against another or one set of data to another. Numbers and performing calculations are intrinsic to all of this.

National Numeracy define being numerate as

being able to use knowledge and understanding about numbers, calculation strategies and data-handling techniques to solve problems and make decisions in many different contexts.

Their website contains very useful information about areas of numeracy and what you may do to improve your skills. For example, you can take the National Numeracy Challenge to determine which skill areas you need to focus on.

To be numerate, you will need to develop skills to enable you

  • to be able to process numerical data through performing calculations
  • to interpret numerical information in context
  • to have the ability to make informed choices based on numerical data

Who is this course for?

This course is aimed at two groups of people - those who wish to improve their numeracy skills and those who are preparing for numeracy tests as part of the application process for further education or employment. It may be some time since you formally looked at aspects of numeracy. You may, for example, have learned some of the calculations at school but not applied them much since. As a result of this or prior experiences, you may be anxious about your numeracy skills and/or taking tests. This course aims to address both. Through a slow pace, building step by step, you will cover various aspects of numeracy, at each stage increasing your confidence. Those of you who are not taking numeracy tests at this time, may skip steps focusing on tests but should work your way through the skills steps and practice what you have learned in the quizzes.

You are probably not aware of how much you use and rely on numbers to communicate and understand concepts and to what extent they are part of everything that you do. So in this first week, we will start by looking at where numbers occur in our daily lives.

It is very likely that you already understand and routinely work with numbers. You may not be aware though to what extent. You may find you already have all the skills you need to be numerate and to be successful with employers’ numeracy tests. Possibly all that you require is an understanding of what the tests are designed for and some preparation in how questions are asked. It may be helpful to use this course to assess which areas of your numeracy skills need revision and practice and to concentrate your efforts there.

We start this week with an activity which will enable you to examine what numbers you use and when, and what calculations you regularly perform. This should demonstrate that you already have a level of numeracy that you can build on to become more confident. We would like you to share your observations with other learners.

Psychometric testing

We move then on to look at psychometric testing - what it is, why employers use it and where and how you may come across psychometric tests. We are interested in this course in specific types of psychometric tests - tests that are concerned with numeracy. We will start to examine in more detail some numeracy questions and discuss what steps you can take to prepare yourself and develop your skills for being successful in these types of tests. We hope that you will share with other learners your experiences of psychometric testing to-date, in particular numeracy tests.

Halfway through the week you will meet Tony Croft, Professor of Mathematics Education from the Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University. Tony has specialised for many years in students’ learning of mathematics and will share with you his views on the role mathematical confidence plays in learning.

In the second half of this week, we will look at some mathematical concepts such as how numbers are represented by digits, rounding and approximating. Data is presented in different ways and you will need to be confident that you are able to work accurately and to develop skills in checking whether the answer you have calculated makes sense in context. These skills will enable you to do this.

When did you last use a calculator?

If you have not used a calculator for some time you may find the activity later this week on using a calculator of value. It is important that you are able to use a calculator accurately and quickly. It is also important that you develop the skills to work without a calculator as you will not always be able to use one.

By the end of this week, you should have a good understanding of what numeracy skills are. You should have an appreciation of the rationale behind numeracy testing and the format of these tests. You will have started your preparation for improving your numeracy and building your mathematical confidence.

We hope that you will enjoy this first week. Please let us know how you are finding the course materials in the end of week discussion.

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This article is from the free online course:

Numeracy Skills for Employability and the Workplace

Loughborough University