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Problem-solving and math questions

Student studying math equationstake a look at the study skills page for lots of great ideas on how to study to best retain information. Using active learning strategies is best to retain and understand the material you are trying to learn. 

Here are a few ways to prepare and study for problem-solving and math exams:

Preparing to study for math

  • While completing homework problems, make a list of formulas or techniques that will be helpful for tests or quizzes. Revisit the list when studying to remember what techniques you found useful.
  • Gather material throughout the term to form a study package. This can include:
    • Old exams (ask your professor if there is a way to access them, look online, or ask students who have already taken the course); of course, be mindful of academic integrity.
    • Past quizzes or tests.
    • Examples of problems from class and the textbook.
    • Old homework assignments.
    • Your notes from class.
  • 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.
  • When studying, shuffle up your materials and study things in different orders to help prepare.

Studying Effectively

  • 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. Revisit past content to ensure that you can still solve the problems. Cover up the solutions that you’ve already worked out, and solve the problems again. 
  • Take a practice test. Mark your practice exam in order to find the areas where you are struggling. Spend some time studying these concepts until you are comfortable with them. 
  • Create flashcards to help you remember. Write a concept or term on the front, and the answer on the back. 
  • Test yourself using a time limit that reflects the actual exam.

During the Exam

  • Do a brain dump.
    • As soon as the exam starts, the first thing to do 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 is 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 only worth a 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 anything!
    • 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.


Frederiks, Anita, Kate Derrington, and Cristy Bartlett. (20 January 2021). Types of Exams. In N. Anderson and W. Hargreaves (Eds.), Academic Success. University of Southern Queensland. Accessed at: