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Preparing for Math Exams

Prepare to study

  • While completing homework problems, make a list of formulas or techniques that will be helpful for tests or quizzes. Revisit these lists when studying to remember what techniques you found useful.
  • Gather material throughout the term to form a study package: old exams (ask your professor, look online, or ask students who have already taken the course), quizzes, examples of problems from class, old homework assignments, and your notes.
  • Consider the types of problems you’ve seen, the techniques you’ve learned to solve these problems, and how to tell which technique is appropriate to use. Your textbook is neatly organized so that the problems correspond with the lesson. On your exam, however, different kinds of problems will be mixed together.

Study Effectively

  • In order to study math, you must do math. Most tests will require you to solve math problems; the only way to prepare for this is to practice solving math problems.
  • Go over each section of your textbook or notes and ensure that you can still solve the problems. Cover up the solutions that you’ve already worked out, and solve the problems again. Using your eyes is not enough; you must actually write out the solutions to these problems again.
  • The best way to practice taking a test is to take a practice test. After you complete your practice test, go back and assess where you went wrong. The only way to correct your mistakes is to figure out which problems you have trouble with, and then learn how to properly approach them.
  • Create flash cards to help you remember. Write a concept or term on the front, and the answer on the back. Use these to quiz yourself. They are especially handy because you can use them to study in any spare moment, such as waiting in line or riding the bus.

During the exam

  • Do a “Brain Dump”

The first thing you should do, as soon as the exam starts, is turn to a piece of scrap paper and write down any formulas or information that you think you might forget. This will allow you to relax and worry about completing the problems rather than remembering formulas in your head.

  • Review the exam

Next, look over the entire exam to find out what’s in store. Note how many questions it contains, so that you know how to best divide your time. Also, make note of which problems look easiest.

  • Start with the easiest problems

This will build your confidence and ensure that you won’t miss any easy points by running out of time. Next, move on to the problems that seem slightly harder. Finally, try the problems that you think you’ll have the most trouble with.

  • Organize your time wisely

All exams have a time limit, so don’t spend all your time trying to figure out one difficult problem, especially if it is worth few points. Do as much as you can, and then move on to another problem. Come back to the difficult question at the end.

  • Always show all your work

Even if you get the answer wrong, you will likely get partial credit. Showing your work lets your professor know that you at least have some knowledge of the solution.

  • Attempt solving parts of questions

Don’t give up on a multi-part question because you can’t solve one part. Give the other parts a try, or explain how you would do them if the answer is dependent on the solution to the first part. Partial credit is much better than no credit at all.

  • Don’t erase!

You may find out later that you erased something you could have used. Instead, draw a line through the work. This also saves time when you only have a few minutes to spend on each question.