Singapore Math


“an emphasis on mathematics education will ensure that we have an increasingly competitive workforce to meet the challenges of the 21st century”

–  Ministry of Education, Singapore

In 1983, Singapore students ranked 17 out of 28 countries. Yet by 1995, a mere 12 years later, Singapore students took first place in Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS), an international study of mathematics and science education, and continue to do so.

The secret to her success? The Singapore Primary Mathematics series, better known throughout the world as “Singapore Math”.

Mathematicians around the world have concluded the key to Singapore Math being such a runaway success is the use of the Bar Model Approach and these other factors:

  • Student Friendly
    • Mathematical content and concept is clear.
  • Active Thinking
    • Emphasis on active mathematical thinking and communication.
  • Absence of Clutter and Distraction
    • Presentation is clean, unambiguous with simple, concise explanations.
  • Simpler Language
    • Difficult concepts are presented in simple language.
  • Emphasis on understanding
    • In addition to focus of the how, Singapore Math’s inclusion of the why of problem-solving leads to understanding of concepts and sense-making.
  • Mental Math
    • Use of techniques which promote numerical fluency and cultivate understanding of mathematical properties.
  • Coherent Development and Progression
    • Students advance through topics by being introduced to simple examples, and then logically and incrementally challenged with more complex problems.
  • Visual CluesModel drawing provides students with visual cues to promote understanding of word problems and provide a bridge to algebraic thinking.
  • Complex Problems
    • Problems are worded to provide clues and hints which help scaffold learning and mastery of more difficult word problems which often require the use of several concepts and lead to new ones.
  • In-depth Mastery vs Breadth
    • More time is spent on each topic, with emphasis on the mastery of each topic.

What is Bar Model Approach?

“a picture is worth a thousand words”

–  Ancient Chinese Proverb

The Bar Model Approach is simply speaking a way to help students visualize and simplify a math problem in a pictorial way.

With Singapore Math, students are taught to draw boxes in a logical manner to represent math values (known or unknown values). This ‘Model Drawing Method’ or ‘Bar Model Approach’ is a good entry level tool which provides students with the crucial visual with which they can manipulate to understand and break a mathematical problem into small manageable parts to examine and deal with complexities and communicate their thoughts.

This method is based on the three basic principles of teaching:

  1. progress from the simple to the complex
  2. bridge from the concrete to the abstract
  3. work from the known to the unknown

and the understanding that the ability to solve any mathematical problem hinges on five components:


–  Singapore Mathematics Syllabus PRIMARY, 2007

Bar Model Approach

The Bar Model Approach enables students to ‘see’ the known and the unknown (?) in a problem, and figure out the relationship between the two. Using this simple model drawing method, children are led from simple arithmetic to complex mathematical concepts such as decimals, fractions, ratio and algebra.

Four Operations