The Art of Math Test Taking

Taking a test in high schoolYou understood everything your teacher taught, you faithfully completed your homework assignments getting nearly every answer correct and you studied a ton. Then, Test Day arrives. You go into the test feeling pretty confident and…wham! Your test comes back – you got a C. What happened? Turns out, this situation is not uncommon. To help you become a master math test taker, read on!

For the sake of this post, let’s assume you studied for the exam and are well-prepared. To attain the maximum possible score, check out these hints:

1. As soon as you get your test, write out all the important formulas. Now you won’t have to worry about retrieving those formulas and you’ll have the security of knowing the formulas are on hand. This will help ease your mind and give you a security blanket so to speak. Even if you know a formula really well, if it is lengthy, write it out! This is especially true when using the Quadratic Formula which comes up a lot in high school math. You should write out the Quadratic Formula so you can visually plug in the values for a, b, and c.

2. Read through the entire test before beginning. Get the problems cooking in your brain. That way, when you start working on the problems, you’ve already seen them and your brain has been working behind the scenes to give you ideas of how to solve them.

3.  Do the easier problems first. There’s a tendency for students to do the problems in order. There’s no need! It’s possible some problems you’re better at solving are at the end of the test. If you run out of time, you may not get to these problems. So, after you’ve read through the test (hint #2) start working on the problems on which you’re confident and collect as many points as possible. This also has the effect of building up your confidence for doing well on the test.

4. Write out all steps! Don’t do too much math in your head. This is where too many students lose critical points. You don’t want to lose points because you incorrectly added negative numbers in your head. Writing out the steps decreases the chances of making these mistakes. Added bonus: the teacher is better able to follow your work if you write out more steps, thereby increasing your chances of partial credit. It’s tough to earn partial credit when you don’t show any work!

5. Feeling nervous during the test? Pause and take a couple of deep breaths during the test. This will have the effect of calming your mind so you can focus more clearly. It may also help to look out a window to get your mind off of the test for a minute or so.

6. Check your work but don’t overthink. Too often I hear stories of students who erased the correct answer at the last minute and wrote in a wrong answer. Trust your first instinct. That said, you should check things like: lengthy computations involving the order of operations, distributing negative signs through parentheses, and multiplying binomials. I’ve been doing math for decades and after all these years, every time I distribute a negative sign through parentheses, I double check my work. Every time I subtract or multiply with negatives, I double check my work. Every. Single. Time. Develop these good habits now and it will save you time and points throughout your math life. Also, before turning in your exam, make sure you are actually answering the question. If the test asks you to solve for y and you solved for x, you won’t get full credit.

Hopefully, these tips will help you ace your next math test!






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