Maths Challenge (radio)

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started12th Jan 1999
ended23rd Mar 2007
last rpt25th Jan 2018
20 school years
duration15 mins & 20 mins
age rangeAge 9-11
languageenIn English

Maths Challenge is a BBC schools radio series from the 2000s and 2010s, covering Mathematics for primary school pupils.

A mental maths radio quiz for 9-11 year olds, with the questions set by a talking computer called Matrix, which interacts with the programme presenter. The radio programmes are designed to stimulate pupils ('to massage their maths muscle and turn them into mental maths masterminds') with a mix of quick-fire questions, engaging puzzles, music and sound effects.

There was also a separate Maths Challenge TV series.


Mental Maths

There have been two types of radio programmes. The Mental Maths programmes are wide-ranging quizzes with three rounds. The first round is always "beat the clock", quick-fire maths questions for general practice. In the first few Mental Maths units these questions cover a wide range of topics such as fractions and decimals, money and measurements as well as calculations, but in the 2007 unit they are specifically on the topic of each episode.

Round two involves more elaborate scenarios such as shopping, a visit to the fair, or an athletics competition, leading to multi-stage problem solving - which get longer and more involved towards the end of each term's worth of programmes. And round three is normally "juggling numbers", in which pupils are given several numbers and have to use different mathematical operations to reach a target number.

Early programmes also included a "hot tips" teaching section after the end of the quiz, in which the presenter gives advice on the topic of the episode. This included rap music to remember times tables and other direct teaching suggestions

Mental Booster

The other type of Maths Challenge programmes are called Mental Booster. These again have a quiz with three rounds, but the questions are all set to provide extra practice on one particular topic.

All of the programmes were designed to encourage mental calculation. Pupils are allowed to write down the numbers that they hear in rounds 2 and 3, but the maths has to be done in their heads and only the final answer written down. The quick-fire questions in the first round only allow 2 seconds of thinking time so that mental calculation is essential.

The programmes were designed to be tape recorded and played back with the teacher in control. There are points in each episode where the programme should be paused, for example to add up the score at the end of a round, and teachers could also pause the recording to give their pupils more time to complete each question if necessary.

Maths Challenge Quiz Videos

The original 2 units from 1999 were revived in 2012 in newly edited, 15 minute versions of the original 20 minute programmes.

In the era of digital broadasts and online streaming, messages invisting listeners to "stop the tape now and work out your final score" were snippd out. The "hot tips" sections following the quiz at the end of each episode was removed completely, which actually renders the episode titles moot - the quizzes in each episode cover general maths calculations each week but it was the "hot tips" sections that covered a particular topic. Nevertheless the cut-down episodes were still broadcast under their original titles.

Animated versions of Matrix and Ralph

The first 9 episodes, out of 10 from the very first unit, were also fully animated and made into classroom videos for the BBC website to further engage modern listeners. Matrix appears as a robot with arms and hands, and a screen for a mouth.

The videos use the edited, 15-minute versions of the episodes, with the 9th episode further edited to include the end-of-series announcements originally from episode 10. The episodes are re-titled with the subject of the scenario from round 2.

Full transcripts of these edited episodes are also available online.

All 9 videos are available on the BBC Teach website, or on YouTube.

TV Series

Maths Challenge TV Workout Year 5 title.jpg

Maths Challenge was the first in a range of mental maths programmes introduced on BBC school radio in the late 1990s and early 2000s, soon followed by Numbertime for 5-7 year-olds and Megamaths for 7-9 year-olds.

A Maths Challenge TV series was also made, retaining the quiz format but following the adventures of secret agent Matt Mattics instead of Matrix and a presenter.

The BBC used the same names for both the TV and radio series for each age group, but while Numbertime and Megamaths began as TV series, Maths Challenge was first heard on the radio and only appeared on television three years later. This site has a separate page about Maths Challenge TV Workout.


Termly broadcasts

Episode List

The title of each episode is the mathematical topic that it covers, in either the "hot tips" section or the overall quiz subject. Inevitably some titles were used more than once during the series.

# # Title Broadcast Online
Mental Maths 1
1. (1) Multiplication #1999-01-12-00-00-0012 Jan 1999
Listen Online BBC
2. (2) Division and Factors #1999-01-19-00-00-0019 Jan 1999
Listen Online BBC
3. (3) Addition and subtraction of the number 9 #1999-01-26-00-00-0026 Jan 1999
Listen Online BBC
4. (4) Adding and subtracting two-digit numbers #1999-02-02-00-00-002 Feb 1999
Listen Online BBC
5. (5) Complementary addition #1999-02-09-00-00-009 Feb 1999
Listen Online BBC
6. (6) Rounding numbers up & down #1999-02-23-00-00-0023 Feb 1999
Listen Online BBC
7. (7) Calculating with large numbers #1999-03-02-00-00-002 Mar 1999
Listen Online BBC
8. (8) Multiplying with zeros #1999-03-09-00-00-009 Mar 1999
Listen Online BBC
9. (9) Dividing tenths and hundredths #1999-03-16-00-00-0016 Mar 1999
Listen Online BBC
10. (10) Equivalent fractions #1999-03-23-00-00-0023 Mar 1999
Listen Online BBC
Mental Maths 2
11. (1) Multiplication #1999-09-21-00-00-0021 Sep 1999
Listen Online BBC
12. (2) Division #1999-09-28-00-00-0028 Sep 1999
Listen Online BBC
13. (3) Addition and subtraction #1999-10-05-00-00-005 Oct 1999
Listen Online BBC
14. (4) Calculating with two-digit numbers #1999-10-12-00-00-0012 Oct 1999
Listen Online BBC
15. (5) Complementary addition #1999-10-19-00-00-0019 Oct 1999
Listen Online BBC
16. (6) Rounding and approximation #1999-11-02-00-00-002 Nov 1999
Listen Online BBC
17. (7) Calculating with large numbers #1999-11-09-00-00-009 Nov 1999
Listen Online BBC
18. (8) Calculating with zeros #1999-11-16-00-00-0016 Nov 1999
Listen Online BBC
19. (9) Tenths and Hunderdths #1999-11-23-00-00-0023 Nov 1999
Listen Online BBC
20. (10) Fractions #1999-11-30-00-00-0030 Nov 1999
Listen Online BBC
Year 5 Mental Booster
21. (1) Halving and doubling #2001-04-27-00-00-0027 Apr 2001
22. (2) Multiples and Multiplying #2001-05-04-00-00-004 May 2001
23. (3) Tens and Hundreds #2001-05-11-00-00-0011 May 2001
24. (4) Adding near multiples of 10 and 100 #2001-05-18-00-00-0018 May 2001
25. (5) Subtracting near multiples of 10 and 100 #2001-05-25-00-00-0025 May 2001
Mental Maths 3
26. (1) Multiplication and division bonds to 10 #2001-09-21-00-00-0021 Sep 2001
27. (2) Fractions and dividing #2001-09-28-00-00-0028 Sep 2001
28. (3) Zeroing in - large numbers #2001-10-05-00-00-005 Oct 2001
29. (4) Decimals #2001-10-12-00-00-0012 Oct 2001
30. (5) Doubles and halves #2001-10-19-00-00-0019 Oct 2001
31. (6) Complements #2001-11-02-00-00-002 Nov 2001
32. (7) Rounding up and down #2001-11-09-00-00-009 Nov 2001
33. (8) Percentages #2001-11-16-00-00-0016 Nov 2001
34. (9) Working with large numbers #2001-11-23-00-00-0023 Nov 2001
35. (10) Ordering numbers and number patterns #2001-11-30-00-00-0030 Nov 2001
Year 6 Mental Booster
36. (1) Number quickies #2003-01-17-00-00-0017 Jan 2003
37. (2) Multiples and factors #2003-01-24-00-00-0024 Jan 2003
38. (3) Special numbers #2003-01-31-00-00-0031 Jan 2003
39. (4) Knowing fractions #2003-02-07-00-00-007 Feb 2003
40. (5) Divisions and fractions #2003-02-14-00-00-0014 Feb 2003
41. (6) Percentages #2003-02-28-00-00-0028 Feb 2003
42. (7) Negative numbers #2003-03-07-00-00-007 Mar 2003
43. (8) Decimals #2003-03-14-00-00-0014 Mar 2003
44. (9) Equations #2003-03-21-00-00-0021 Mar 2003
45. (10) Number knowledge #2003-03-28-00-00-0028 Mar 2003
Mental Maths 4
46. (1) Addition and subtraction #2007-01-12-00-00-0012 Jan 2007
47. (2) Multiplication #2007-01-19-00-00-0019 Jan 2007
48. (3) Division #2007-01-26-00-00-0026 Jan 2007
49. (4) Fractions #2007-02-02-00-00-002 Feb 2007
50. (5) Decimals #2007-02-09-00-00-009 Feb 2007
51. (6) Percentages #2007-02-23-00-00-0023 Feb 2007
52. (7) Rounding up and down #2007-03-02-00-00-002 Mar 2007
53. (8) Big numbers #2007-03-09-00-00-009 Mar 2007
54. (9) Measurement #2007-03-16-00-00-0016 Mar 2007
55. (10) All the problems #2007-03-23-00-00-0023 Mar 2007


The programmes were broadcast as part of BBC school radio's overnight transmissions on BBC Radio 3 FM and, later, BBC Radio 4 digital.

The first two series were broadcast on Tuesday mornings at 4:15am, but from Autumn 2000 onwards the series has been scheduled on Friday mornings and all subsequent series have been broadcast at various times in the early hours of Fridays.

Year Term Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Channel Details
1998-99 Spring 1999 Tuesday, 4:15am Radio 3
1999-2000 Autumn 1999 Tuesday, 4:15am Radio 3
Spring 2000 Wednesday, 4:10am Radio 3
2000-01 Autumn 2000 Friday, 4:20am+ Radio 3
Summer 2001 Friday, 4:05am Radio 3
2001-02 Autumn 2001 Friday, 3:30am Radio 3
Spring 2002 Friday, 3:30am+ Radio 3
Summer 2002 Friday, 3:15am Radio 3
2002-03 Autumn 2002 Friday, 3:15am Radio 3
Spring 2003 Friday, 3:30am Radio 3
Summer 2003 Tuesday, 3:30am+ Friday, 3:00am+ Radio 3
2003-04 Autumn 2003 Friday, 3:15am Radio 4*
Summer 2004 Tuesday, 3:30am+ Friday, 3:00am+ Radio 4*
2004-05 Spring 2005 Friday, 3:35am+ Radio 4*
Summer 2005 Friday, 3:00am+ Radio 4*
2005-06 Autumn 2005 Friday, 3:20am Radio 4*
Spring 2006 Friday, 3:50am Radio 4*
Summer 2006 Friday, 3:15am Radio 4*
2006-07 Autumn 2006 Friday, 3:20am Radio 4*
Spring 2007 Friday, 3:20am Radio 4*
2007-08 Spring 2008 Friday, 3:20am Radio 4*
Summer 2008 Friday, 3:50am Radio 4*
2008-09 Autumn 2008 Friday, 3:45am Radio 4*
2009-10 Spring 2010 Friday, 3:45am Radio 4*
2010-11 -
2011-12 Summer 2012 Thursday, 3:15am Radio 4*
2012-13 Spring 2013 Friday, 3:30am Radio 4*
2013-14 -
2014-15 Autumn 2014 Friday, 3:30am Radio 4*
2015-16 -
2016-17 Autumn 2016 Thursday, 3:35am Radio 4*
Spring 2017 Thursday, 3:30am Radio 4*
2017-18 Autumn 2017 Thursday, 3:35am Radio 4*
Spring 2018 Thursday, 3:35am Radio 4*

* - School Radio programmes were broadcast on Radio 4 Digital services only (not FM or LW analogue radio broadcasts).


Since 2005 the programmes have also been available to stream online from the BBC School Radio website for 7 days following the transmission of each episode.

A Maths Challenge podcast was launched in January 2010, allowing each episode of the series to be downloaded as an MP3 file in the week after its broadcast.


Produced by Katriona MacEwan

Jeff Capel
John Tuckey

Mental Maths 1 written by Derek Farmer
Consultant / questions set by Peter Patilla
Special effects & music composed by Robin Lever
Sound engineerined by Andy Hewitt
Mental Maths 4 editor Andrew Barnes

The voice of Matrix was provided by the presenter, with a computer-y filter to their voice.


Activity Packs

A range of activity packs have been published to accompany the series, containing activities targetting "the trickiest areas of the maths curriculum". The packs can be used with or without the radio programmes. There are two packs in each series, one for 9-10 year-olds and the other for 10-11 year-olds.

Various activity pack and activity book covers

Maths Challenge Activity Packs

  • Maths Challenge Activity Pack 1, released spring 1999, ISBN 0-563-46272-8
  • Maths Challenge Activity Pack 2, released autumn 1999, ISBN 0-563-46537-9

These initial packs contained a wire-bound activity book with photocopiable worksheets and an audio-cassette with ten 5-minute sections, complementing the teaching sections in the original radio series. The book and cassette were also sold separately.

Calculations Activity Packs

  • Calculations Activity Pack 1, released 2000, ISBN 0-563-54147-4
  • Calculations Activity Pack 2, released 2000, ISBN 0-563-54146-6

Activity books with worksheets & teacher's activities were released in 2000. In 2001 these were collected into Activity Packs (with the same ISBN numbers) containing the books and a large poster to support "The Challenge Game". This game involves groups of children answering multiple-choice maths questions and trying to complete a line across the game board (the poster), which is like the board from the TV quiz show Blockbusters'.

Problem Solving Activity Packs

  • Problem Solving Activity Pack 1, released 2002, ISBN 0-563-54489-9
  • Problem Solving Activity Pack 2, released 2002, ISBN 0-563-54490-2

A set of activity books and teaching cards.

Mental Booster Activity Packs

  • Year 5 Mental Booster Activity Book, released 2000, ISBN 0-563-54152-3
  • Year 6 Mental Booster Activity Book, released 2002, ISBN 0-563-54488-0

Activity books with photocopiable activity sheets and teacher's notes, supporting the topics covered by the Mental Booster radio programmes.

Separate activity books were published to accompany the Maths Challenge TV programmes.

School Radio Tapes

School radio tape cover

From 1999 to 2005 each term's radio programmes were available to purchase on cassette.

These were later supplanted by CDs, and then MP3 CDs, as well as online distribution.


Related programmes

Sources & References

  • BBC Primary Catalogues and Primary Timetables, 1998-2006
  • BBC School Radio website
  • and recordings of Mental Maths 1, Mental Maths 4 and Year 5 Mental Booster programmes


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