The Secret to Success in Math

By Richard W. Fisher

There are three clusters of math skills that every student needs to master.  Students who learn and fully understand these essential topics can be considered algebra-ready. These skills are referred to as the Critical Foundations of Algebra.

Algebra-readiness is of huge importance. Algebra is the gateway subject to more advanced math, science, and technical classes.   In turn, success in these classes will open a vast number of educational as well as career opportunities. In essence, success in math, and more specifically, Algebra, is a vital part of all students’ education. Algebra-readiness will have a profound impact on success in school, college, career, and everyday life. Success in Algebra will open many doors for students. Unfortunately, those students who do not experience this success will find these same doors slammed shut.

Here are the Critical Foundations of Algebra:

  • Whole Numbers – Students need to fully understand place value, and this must include a grasp of the meaning of the basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. They will also need the knowledge of how to apply the operations to problem solving. Instant recall of number facts is important.  Whole number operations rest on the automatic recall of addition and related subtraction facts, and of multiplication and related division facts. These number facts are to math as the letters of the alphabet are to reading.
  • Fractions - Students need to fully understand fractions, including decimals, and percents. This includes positive and negative fractions. They will need to be able to use all of these in problem solving. Fractions represent a major obstacle to a high percentage of students. Fractions, decimals, and percents need to be thoroughly understood.
  • Some Aspects of Geometry and Measurement – Experience with similar triangles is directly relevant for the study of Algebra. Also, knowledge of slope of a line and linear functions is very important. Students should understand the properties of two and three–dimensional shapes and be able to determine perimeter area, volume and surface areas. They should also be able to find unknown lengths, angles, and areas. As with whole numbers and fractions, applying geometric skills to problem solving is essential.

For all these skills, conceptual understanding, computational fluency, and problem-solving skills are each essential.

The Critical Foundations of Algebra identified here are not meant to comprise a complete preschool-to-algebra curriculum. However, when these skills are mastered, success in Algebra will be assured.


Richard W. Fisher spent over 30 years as a math educator and is the author of eleven books. He continues his writing and is also available as a tutor for grades four through Algebra I.

Feel free to contact him
[email protected]

Tell us what you think!