Here's a confession: I don't know the multiplication table. I never learned. I am practiced enough that I can add very quickly in my head, but if you ask me "what's 7 times 4?" I have to add 7 four times to get 28. Or I have to break it down into smaller multiplication problems. Like, 5 times 9 - I know 5 times 4 is 20, so do that twice and you have 40, plus 5 is 45. No, taking 5x10 =50-5 =45 does not occur to me. It's complicated, it's time consuming, it's depressing. It never mattered before because somehow I always managed to fake it, but now I'm studying for the GRE where I have to do something like one math problem per minute, plus I have to be able to factor which is exceedingly difficult for me since I take this ridiculously roundabout way to multiply forward and it's impossible to apply it backward. So I'm panicking.
I'm going to blame the public school system. See, I excel at reading and writing. In grade school, teachers would see how well I did on spelling tests and just assume I was "smart". I am smart. Being smart in general doesn't take into account strong subjects and weak subjects, and neither did my teachers when they were giving me lessons. It's not their fault; they had 30 other 9-year-olds to contend with. I was good at faking what I knew. I am, still. So when it came time for testing, I would do my crazy multiplication pidgin and get away with it. What happened is that I slipped through the cracks. I didn't have the aptitude to actually learn this lesson the way it was taught, but I was never so obviously unable to grasp it that I got extra help. This is the story with a lot of children, the kids that are doing "just fine".
In a perfect world, there would be a way to implement a strategy like what the GRE calls a Computer-Adaptive Test into our everyday school system. Basically, the test starts out with easy questions and then adjusts the difficulty level based on how well one answered the last question. If you do well, you get harder questions and if you make a mistake, you get easier questions until the difficulty level is averaged out on an individual basis. I have no idea how we could use a system like this (maybe grouping students by skill level rather than by year?) but it would be awesome if we could.
So here I am taking the time when I should be drilling my multiplication tables to talk about the fact that I'm going to have to drill my multiplication tables. Because this is where my strong points are. And factoring is for chumps, anyway.