Is 80 problems in 2 minutes appropriate for 2nd graders?

Our Writing Speed Test sets very realistic goals for students.

Principal Linda writes:
We are using Rocket Math in 2nd grade. I am in a high achieving school district. My second grade teachers feel that there is no way a second grader can complete 80 math problems in 2 minutes. We had our highest achieving student (doing 4th grade math) she could only answer 76 problems.
How was the 80 problems in 2 minutes derived? Is this appropriate for 2nd graders?
I am having a hard time convincing some teachers about even doing TIMED math facts tests. They feel it creates too much anxiety for kids. Thoughts??

Dr. Don answers:

Absolutely your teachers are right! Very rare to find a 2nd grader who could write the answers to 80 problems in two minutes–even after completing Rocket Math! The number of items on the page is NOT the expectation. The purpose of the two-minute timing is to monitor progress, to be graphed and and to see if over time–over weeks–the students are improving in the number of problems they can answer in 2 minutes. Only give that test once a week or once every two weeks while they are doing Rocket Math daily. If they are learning facts by practicing with each other on a daily basis, after a week or two most students should be able to answer one or two more facts during the 2 minute timing than they did the last time they were tested. That’s all we are looking for in progress monitoring–an upward trend on the individual student graph.

Please look carefully at my site for information about expectations which should always be based on how fast students can write rather than being the same for all second graders. Nowhere does it ever say 80 problems in two minutes as an expectation! In fact, we leave the vertical axis on the Individual Student graph open, so that the teacher sets the bottom number of the vertical axis just below what the student does on their first timing. We don’t specify what students should be able to do. All we are looking for is individual improvement. If most of the students are improving, and their graphs shown an upward trend, then the program is working!

On the daily One-Minute timing, there are only facts the student has mastered, and there, students are expected to answer as many facts in a minute as they can write, based on the Writing Speed Test. For most second graders that is something less than 40, but it varies by student. Hopefully your teachers are setting expectations based on the Writing Speed Test. Teachers who do not use the Writing Speed Test to establish individualized goals and instead demand the same thing of all students in the grade without regard for writing skill would be harming the children and violating the directions on how to use the program.

Some schools require benchmarks which I did post on the home page. “Click here to see my basic math fact recommended benchmarks to use with Rocket Math to implement the Common Core.” However, those should be lowered for students who cannot write that quickly according to their Writing Speed Test.

Please share my recent blog about the value of orally practicing in pairs vs taking timed tests. “Does research show student achievement increases from taking timed drills?” The short answer is no. It is the orally practicing in pairs that helps students learn. The timed tests are there only to confirm that they are learning. Some teachers even allow students to choose when they want to take the timed test, e.g., to wait until they have practiced enough days to feel that they have a shot at passing. That is a great way to give students control over their experience with Rocket Math. I hope this helps!

What if students become stuck?


Something is wrong if any student cannot pass a sheet within the six tries shown on the Rocket Chart. Do not allow this condition to persist. Intervene with one of the ideas below.

  1. If the student has never passed a timing, perhaps the child can’t really write that fast. Try testing the student orally, with the student telling you the answers. In oral testing the student says only the answers—not the whole problem. If the student can orally answer at least 40 facts in one minute, then the student is satisfactorily fluent with those facts. The handwriting goals must be too high. Reset his/her goals at the previous best and let the student move on to the next set.
  2. The most frequent reason a student does not progress is because the student does not practice the right way. In other words he/she avoids saying the problems out loud or skips the correction procedure when they are hesitant. Or they will simply go on after a hesitation or error rather than going back three problems and trying again to see if they are faster now. The remedy is for the teacher to practice with these students as recommended and see if that makes a difference. It often does. Let us tell you: This is typically the “magic bullet.” It is fascinating really. Carrying out the practice procedure as I have written it, is VERY powerful. I wouldn’t lie to you. If the teacher practicing with these students does help, arrange to see that they practice the right way consistently during peer practice. You may have to change partners or watch over them daily until they start practicing the right way. Consider increasing motivation through more rewards and recognition to keep students practicing the right way.
  3. The student may not be trying because he/she is unmotivated. Watch to see if the student is doing practice correctly or giving the test their best effort. Most often this is a result of failing to succeed rather than a cause. [That’s really a very important understanding for you to have, so I’m going to say it again!] Lack of student motivation is most often a result of failing to progress rather than a cause. Consider practicing with the student. Think about ways to increase student motivation, including use of student achievement awards and social recognition for success.
  4. Watch to see that the student is “on-task” throughout the timing. Some students fail to realize that looking up around the room during a timing will slow them down so much they won’t pass. [Really, I kid you not. I’ve seen kids, who stopped to check the clock several times during a one minute timing, be surprised that they didn’t pass!] If a student really cannot stay on task for 60 seconds you might try cutting the goal and the time in half—give a 30 second timing with a goal cut in half as well. That may do the trick. It is often necessary to point out to younger students that erasing takes too long. Have you ever watched a second grader erase something? One could grow old waiting. Point out to students that perhaps putting a line through a mistake and writing the correct answer would save time.
  5. If practicing with a student the right way doesn’t make a big difference, then the student may be stuck because he/she is “in over his/her head.” The student has officially passed several sets without completely mastering them. This should not happen if students always have to meet or beat their previous best—but sometimes it happens anyway. A sign that this has happened is that they have several facts in the set with which they are hesitant. You can tell just by watching over their shoulder as they complete a timing—there will be hesitation on several of the facts.
  6. The basic remedy for kids who are stuck is to back up in the alphabet until you find a letter they can pass. You can either test back all at once or have the student move back one letter a day until they do pass after one day’s practice. Get them a new Rocket Chart to start over. Once you find out where the student is successful, make sure their goals are as fast as they can write—that you’re not letting them pass even though they are hesitant on some facts. If you announce a policy of “six tries and then you have to move back” and you announce this policy ahead of time, fewer students will get to six tries without passing! Being proactive is the key here. It is important to cover all of your bases prior to bad things happening. It is much better to pre-correct for something than to have to go back and re-teach a procedure or try to introduce one when a student is upset and losing motivation.

Warning (Yep, another warning. I am being proactive too!): Do not reduce the criterion to pass each sheet, as that will make working through the sets in Rocket Math increasingly difficult for the students! They will not be learning each small set as well as they need to and you’ll be adding more facts faster than they can handle. The cumulative task will get more and more difficult. Only reduce the criterion if the student simply cannot write that fast—otherwise (with enough practice) they can learn all the facts to the same speed as they learned the first set.