Updated: Jan 15
Over their school years students have to regularly go through exams.
Just like any exam, a math exam can cause anxiety and stress, but since math is often considered a hard yet important subject, math exams are perceived as more difficult to prepare for and to achieve desirable results.
Success on a math exam depends a lot on how confident the student is in their knowledge, how much time they spend studying for the exam, as well as what strategies they use while studying (doing a lot of everything, organizing review questions by topics, taking notes while reviewing, etc).
Students often go through their semesters and into exams with an expectation from their teacher and parents that they know how to effectively organize their time, space and learning. Unfortunately, this is not always the case and could be one of the main reasons students’ anxiety grows come exam time, especially before their math exam.
In this blog post we will discuss some of the proven strategies that will help every student perform better on their math exam.
Strategy 1 - Do not start studying right before the exam
It is not a good idea to leave it until the last minute. This is simply because that would be relying on a short-term memory. Short-term memory has a rather limited capacity; it can hold up to seven items for no more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time. Thus, longer study time allows for the information to be repeated and reviewed enough times to get transferred from a short-term to a long-term memory.
Unlike short-term memory, long-term memory can store unlimited amounts of information indefinitely.
It does not mean studying for a math exam should continue for a week, 24/7 with no breaks.
Strategy 2 - Organize daily study schedule
Even though studying for an exam should be happening over a longer period of time (a few days, a week, two weeks), taking a reasonable amount of breaks on any given day is important.
What number of breaks is reasonable?
Depends on one's study patterns and how quickly their brain “shuts down”, as well as their productive times throughout the day.
Some people benefit from doing 3 hours of studying in the morning before taking their first 30 minute break, because they know that in the morning they are most productive. Others need to take a 10 minute break every hour. So, establishing the most effective study schedule and routine will help maximize the retention of the information and sending it to the long-term memory for good.
Strategy 3 - Go over old math tests, homework and unit reviews
People tend to better recall information that they are already familiar with. Thus, using examples of problems that were previously taken up and solved helps reaffirm the knowledge and quickly dig up the necessary concepts in ones memory. Moreover, there is a very high likelihood of getting similar types of problems on the exam.
Strategy 4 - Organize practice problems by topics and difficulty
It is not helpful to jump from topic to topic or get stuck on a complex problem for hours. Math exams usually only contain knowledge and application types of questions, with no extra difficult twists. Therefore, it makes sense to study each topic separately and focus on the main concepts of each topic. For example, if it is about a linear function, then knowing how to create an equation of a function, how to graph a function, how to create a table of values and how to explain the linear pattern in words would be the core concepts a student would be required to know. In addition, all accompanying basic concepts that are commonly used should also be reviewed.
Strategy 5 - Review the fundamentals
Whether it is operations with fractions or integers, BEDMAS or taking a root of a number, using brackets appropriately, knowing the most common terminology (sum, product, quotient, reciprocal, inverse etc) - all of this needs to be reviewed prior to going into a math exam.
So many marks are being lost simply when a student forgets to put the brackets around -4 while squaring it, which then affects the rest of the calculations within the problem, as well as the final result. No matter how well one knows the current course material, it is that prior knowledge that sometimes makes it or breaks it for so many. One of the resources that offers quick lessons and practice on fundamentals is IntoMath.
Strategy 6 - Mock exam
It is always helpful to put together a mock exam (pick out a questions or two on each topic) and do it without referring to any study materials. It helps a student identify what areas still need more attention and consequently focus on them more. It makes sense to try a mock exam half way through study days, to still have enough time to improve on the not so perfect knowledge.
Strategy 7 - Plan for exam day
The culmination of the previous strategies is the day of the exam. It is very important to plan for it in advance and know what to wear, what to bring, how and when to get to school. If all of the pieces are in place - less stress is guaranteed. It means a student can focus solely on what is important and what will help achieve the desired result. Student’s mind will not be occupied with not having a calculator or a pencil or being late.
Every student is unique and different things work for different people. However, the above set of strategies have proven to help the majority of those who wish to see a significant improvement in their math exam performance. Time management, organization, planning and practice help build a strong foundation going into a math exam.