Math Test-Taking Tips

Math Test-Taking Tips
Although taking a test can be a stressful experience, it doesn’t have to be. The best
way to reduce stress is to be prepared. Here are some tips on how to do better on math
A lot of math anxiety is caused by thinking you will not be able to do the problems.
Although you won’t know the exact problems the professor will assign, you can get a
pretty good idea of what to expect by reviewing your old tests and quizzes (you did
keep them, didn’t you?). It may also help to review the “Chapter Test” or “Chapter
Review” sections found at the end of the chapter in nearly all math books.
You should not consider your studying complete until you can work all the types of
problems you will be tested on. When a problem surfaces that you simply cannot
figure out, see the professor during his office hours. This means that you have to
start studying several days before the test so you have time to ask questions and
then study the newly-learned material.
Reviewing your notes and reading the textbook are not the same as practicing.
Nonetheless, looking over your notes, studying the example problems, and looking
at the comments you originally wrote is of value. This is one of the reasons you took
the notes to begin with.
The night before the test, try to schedule an hour or two of study time. However, you
should go to bed at your usual bedtime since staying up late to study usually does
more harm than good.
 EAT!
The morning of the test, make sure you have breakfast, even if you usually don’t eat
it. Your brain needs glucose (sugar) to work, and practically any bread item can
supply it. Some people worry about caffeine, but the “jitters” only occur when you
drink more than your usual amount of coffee. In fact, a little coffee is actually
Stress from a traffic jam, a full parking lot, or running across campus can increase
your anxiety, so you do not want to be late for the test. Ideally, you should arrive a
half-hour or so before the test time and use that time to sit outside the building and
just relax. Make sure you have a couple of pencils and whatever supplies you will
Lots of things can cause distractions – having to leave to use the restroom, having to
get up to sharpen a pencil, a bird hopping around outside, just about anything. Try
to plan ahead so that you are not as likely to be distracted.
Read the instructions carefully – even if what you do seems obvious. Some
instructors will insist on a certain format or will require that work be shown even on
simple problems. Some problems may be stated in unusual ways. If you do not
read the instructions for each and every problem, you are likely to lose some points
THE FIRST TIME through a test, you should skim it, doing only the problems that
you find short and easy. This is to give you some idea of the length of the test and
to get you off to a good start. If you can answer some questions quickly, you are
less likely to be anxious.
THE SECOND TIME through a test, do only the problems you know how to do. If
you have any doubt about how to do them, skip them for now. Never take a test in
order (i.e., 1, 2, 3,…). The hardest problems are not always at the end!
THE THIRD TIME through a test, do the problems you don’t know how to do. This
might sound strange, but math is a very logical subject, and if you think about a test
question long enough, you can often figure out what the answer has to be. Even if
you don’t get the problem finished, write down what you are doing – most instructors
give partial credit.
THE FOURTH TIME through a test should be when there are only 5-10 minutes
remaining. Look over your remaining problems, looking for places where you think
you can get a few more points in a hurry. DON’T LEAVE EARLY and DON’T GIVE
UP! Math tests are no places for cowards!
Multiple choice tests are not easier than other types. Although you can get
a few extra points at the end by just bubbling “B” for all problems you do not know,
the writers of the test generally make the most common wrong answers two
or three of the choices. When doing a multiple choice test, do the problem
without looking at the choices! Then, remember that just because your
answer happens to be a choice is no proof that you are correct.
Do not throw away a returned test. Start by making certain the professor added up
your points correctly. Then, go over the problems you missed and try to understand
what types of errors you made. These include:
Careless Errors – when you know how to do the problem, but did not get it right.
Conceptual Errors – when you think you know how to do the problem, but don’t.
Study Errors – when you don’t know how to do the problem.
(For more information, see the handout, “You got you math test back? What now?”)
I do not know if you will succeed; I DO KNOW you can improve.