How to Learn Basic Ratio Math

By Stephanie T. Scott; Updated April 24, 2017
Ratios and proportions are basic algebra problems.

Ratios are number comparisons used in different areas of math, including probability, fractions, and geometry. Concepts you need to learn basic ratio math are the definition of ratio, how to write a ratio, and how to simplify a ratio. You can practice these skills by doing interactive quizzes and games, completing worksheets, making ratios from real world comparisons, and playing games like basketball.

Write down and memorize the definition of a ratio. Use resources such as A Maths Dictionary for Kids, the Math League, or Ask Dr. Math to learn a complete definition, as well as explanations of what ratios are and how to work them. A ratio is a comparison of two or more numbers. For example, if a basketball player made 3 out of 10 shots in a game, you could compare shots made to shots missed. This ratio would be 3 shots to 7 shots, or 3 to 7.

Learn the different ways to write a ratio. You can also write the ratio in the previous example as 3:7 or as a fraction, 3/7. You can't switch the order and still be correct. For example, 7 shots to 3 shots is not the same because the ratio now tells you that 7 shots were made and 3 shots were missed. Make sure you write the ratio in the correct order. You can also write a ratio comparing three numbers, such as shots made to shots missed to total shots. This ratio would be written as 3 to 7 to 10 or 3:7:10 or 3/7/10.

Practice writing ratios by finding and comparing things in everyday life like the number of boys to the total number of students in a class, cats to dogs in a pet shop, cars to bicycles in a parking lot, cans to bottles in the recycling bin, or red popsicles to all the popsicles in a box. Go to the BBC site (see the link below) to play an interactive game about writing ratios.

Put a ratio in simplest form by treating it like a fraction and simplifying, or "reducing," the fraction. If in the original example, the player made 6 out of 20 shots, the comparison of shots made to total shots is 6/20. This is simplified to 3/10 because 6 can be divided by 2 to get 3 and 20 can be divided by 2 to get 10. Simplifying a ratio makes it easier to see the comparison of the two parts. Download a worksheet on Shelly Bjerk's site to practice simplifying ratios.

Challenge a friend to a game of Wastepaper Basketball. Make a scorecard to keep track of how many points each player gets. After you each take ten turns, add up the points. Compare your points to your friend's points. If you made 6 baskets and he made 3, then the ratio of your points to his points is 6:3. This ratio is written in simplest form as 2:1. You can come up with other ratios to write, such as your points to your total shots or his points to your points.

About the Author

Stephanie T. Scott is a middle school English teacher in Phoenix. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Grand Valley State University and an M.Ed. in educational media and technology from Eastern Michigan University. Scott is also working on her Ed.D. in organizational leadership at Grand Canyon University.