Level Up Your Tally Marks

I remember learning tally marks in elementary school. It never crossed my mind that there might be different ways to tally.

About a year ago this image showed up in one of my feeds and I saved it:

3 different ways to tally up to 5 from around the world.
I’m not sure of the origin of this image, if you know, please contact me.

Since saving this, I’ve tried the other two methods of tallying (mostly while puzzling) and I have some opinions and conclusions to share.

I love the “box” method

After trying all of these out, I’ve found what I’ll call the “box” method is considerably better for me.


Drawing the box feels better because I can do it without looking, and without picking up my pen.

With the other two methods, I have to at least be aware of what my pen is doing and where it’s placed.


At a quick glance, the box method has a visual distinctiveness that I find easier to process than the other two.

With the vertical tallies that I grew up with, sometimes I have a hard time visually processing whether there are 3 or 4 lines.


According to Dig Mandarin, “Chinese tally marks add up to make the shape of the Chinese character 正 (pronounced zhèng), which means “correct” or ‘true/right.'”

I think it’s really cool that there is a tally method that has meaning in addition to function, but I couldn’t comfortably make this work for me. However, I imagine it would feel a lot more natural if I grew up drawing Chinese characters.

There’s No Right Or Wrong Way

There’s no right or wrong way to tally. Speaking for myself, I’m glad that I found a new way to accomplish this task.

I would have been fine using the method that I grew up on for the rest of my life, but I am happier with this new one. I always find it cool when I learn a better or different way to do a thing that I had assumed was only done one way.


  1. I’m left slightly sad that there are only 3 of these systems on display and not 5, depriving of us of a meta-tally…

  2. Hi guys! I’m from Spain (sorry for my english) and after reading this post I have felt the need to write to tell you that never in my life I’ve used the box method. And, of course, nodody in Spain. It’s the first time I see that. We use the first one.

    But I agree with David’s opinion, the box method it is the most practical and fastest way to draw.

    By the way, the third is crazy!

  3. Coming from HK, I had been using the 正 method without thinking about it.
    I can understand the vertical tallies method as it shows up quite a lot in movies and things? For me, the box method is the hardest to grasp and it keeps reminding me of pigpan chiper 😛

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