“Took me until my early twenties to learn how to read an analogue clock, and it is still very difficult,” says Lifehacker reader Albert Peters, commenting on our post about basic life skills. Others agreed.
As digital clocks take over, people get less practice telling time on an analogue clock. We’ll help. Here are two ways to read a clock: the precise way, and the quick way.
Know your hands
All the hands on a clock move “clockwise” — to the right on top, to the left on bottom, counting up from 1 to 12.
The shortest hand is the hour hand. The last number it passed is the hour (like 5-something, or 12-something).
The longer hand is the minute hand. To tell the current minute, multiply the last number the hand passed by 5, and add the number of notches the hand has passed since passing that number. So if the minute hand is three notches past the 8, then the minute is (8*5)+3, or 43.
Sometimes there’s a skinny second hand. It works the same as the minute hand, but for seconds. Ignore it.
Know the stations of the clock
If you only need to know the approximate time, then memorise the four main points of the clock: When the minute hand is pointing straight up, it’s something o’clock. When it points straight to the right, it’s 15 minutes past the hour. Straight down to the bottom is 30 minutes past, and straight left is 45 past.
Those four points are the 12, 3, 6 and 9. But pay more attention to the spots, so you can still read a clock if it has Roman numerals or no numbers at all — as many elegant clocks do.
And more and more, the only clocks you’ll see are elegant decorative ones, as more workaday analogue clocks are replaced with digital ones that can be efficiently controlled, or programmed to update for daylight saving time.
Luckily, that means that when you have just an analogue clock, you probably need to know about what time it is, not exactly what time. And for that, you only need the hour hand: What number is it close to, and how close is it? For a little more precision, what general part of the hour is the minute hand pointing to?
For anything more precise, find a phone. Phones know the real time, after all. While analogue clocks — and a lot of digital clocks — need to be manually set and are often a minute or two off the real time, most phones are precisely correct.