Math Test-Taking Skills

Cynthia Arem, Ph.D.
Pima Community College

Be successful in math.  Here are 
some excellent strategies for
succeeding on math tests.  
                                                                                     

1. Always review daily, weekly and then do a major review one week before your exam. Use study checklists and flash cards.

2. Once an exam is announced:

3. To guarantee success of your math test, you must master all the topics on your list BEFORE you work on any practice tests.

4. Do not expect to be able to work out very difficult problems on a test if you have not practiced working out these kinds of problems ahead of time. So work out lots and lots of difficult problems dealing with each topic. Do one topic at a time.

5. The best way to ensure success on a test is to take and master "practice tests" that have the same form as the actual tests you are preparing to take. Create sample tests for yourself from study guides and course outline review texts that have the correct answers listed so you can check your solutions. Test yourself often. When you can get 100% on your own difficult tests, you are bound to do well on your exam.

6. If you will have a time limit on your exam, then give yourself timed practice tests similar to the one you expect in class. Time yourself with a kitchen timer or an alarm. Practice various types of problems and see how fast you are working. Often speed counts on a test. You may have to practice some types of problems over and over again until you can work them in less time.

7. Learn to recognize your math concepts, formulas or procedures in random order, that is, in a different order than they were presented in your textbook or in class.

8. Remember, it is not possible to study too much for a math test. It is not possible that over studying can lower your grade. Doing more work can only help you to gain greater mastery of your material. But do not study until the last minute and be sure to get a good nights sleep the two previous nights before your exam. Learn to do calming techniques to relax. The last half hour before an exam should be devoted to calm breathing techniques and relaxation.

9. Do an error analysis of your homework problems, practice tests and past exams. Note the typical careless or "dumb" errors you usually make and the types of problems that cause you difficulty. Give yourself more practice in these areas of difficulty. Make a check list of the careless errors, such as simple addition errors, copying numbers incorrectly, leaving the decimal point out, reversing signs, etc.

After completing your next exam, be sure to proofread as you would do an essay, to correct these typical errors. This will often give you many more points on an exam.

10. When taking your math exam, know how much time you have and the point value for each question. Set up a schedule for progressing through the exam, not spending too much time on any one problem. Work at a regular pace. Begin the exam wherever it feels comfortable. Often it is best to start with the easiest question and then go to the next easiest and so on. You do not have to begin at the beginning, and often the first question is not the easiest. Omit and mark questions that resist a ready response. After finishing the exam, use all the remaining time to re-check and proofread your exam and to work out omitted items.

11. When you get your exam, write out all of your formulas on the top corner of the sheet. This becomes your "cheat sheet' and you can refer to it any time during the exam. Be sure to put down even the easiest formulas so you will not blank on them later, as some students have.

12. Get into the habit of always checking every problem you work out. Estimate the correct answer first and then see if your worked out answer is close to your estimate. Do the problem a different way and see if you get the same answer. Ask yourself, is this answer reasonable.  Did I make any of my usual careless errors?

13. Throughout the exam focus on remaining calm, relaxed and positive. Make sure you are breathing regular and slowing from your lower lungs. Relax any tight neck or shoulder muscles and push away any negative or disturbing thoughts. Keep saying positive things to yourself.   Say things like:

14. Give yourself the entire test period to finish and do not get spooked because others leave early. Teachers have frequently reported that students who leave early often do poorly on exams.

15. After finishing your exam, check your answers, proofread for your typical errors and then leave and reward yourself for a job well done.

The math test taking tips on this page were taken from "Conquering Math Anxiety, a Self Help Workbook" (Brooks/Cole 2010) by Cynthia Arem
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For great tips on how to study math go to my Web Site: Math Study Skills
For great tips on how to read a math textbook go to my Web Site: Reading a Math Textbook
For tips on how to overcome math anxiety go to my Web Site: Conquering Math Anxiety
To return to Frequently Asked Questions go to my Web site: Effective Math and Sciences Study Skills
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Pima Community College

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