The following strategies will help you effectively prepare for quantitative and math tests. Although it often seems impossible to score high on math tests, the tips and strategies we’ll introduce you to below will help you achieve a high score on your next exam.
The best way to learn and master math concepts is through practice and repetition. Repetition is key. First master the fundamental math concepts and formulas then complete as many practice problems as possible.
Make sure not to repeat the same type of practice problem again and again. Select practice problems that challenge your understanding of the fundamental math concepts being tested and that will prepare you to tackle any type of math question that may be presented on the exam.
It’s quite common for teachers and professors to introduce new, or slightly unfamiliar, problem formats on math exams in order to really test a students’ understanding and mastery of fundamental concepts being taught.
Again, your instructor’s goal by administering a difficult math test isn’t to make your life miserable, it’s to make sure you’re understanding and mastering the math concept being taught. In preparation for math tests, practice problems which relate to each concept you might be tested on and take time to practice difficult problems.
If possible, review problems from past tests administered by your instructor. Select a variety of practice problems to complete and make sure you cover all concepts that may appear on the test.
Work through problems on your own first
Working through math problems on your own, before seeking assistance, is key to developing good math skills and developing a strong understanding of fundamental math concepts.
Too often when students struggle with difficult math concepts their first instinct is to seek assistance before going back to their textbook, class notes, or other reference material to figure out the problem, or concept, on their own – but struggle is good.
As the human brain struggles to understand, it gains greater ability to understand. Spend five to ten minutes trying on your own to understand challenging math concepts before seeking assistance. However, if you’re still unable to set a problem up, then consult another student, tutor, or your teacher.
Focus on understanding principles
It’s possible to pass a history class by memorizing dates, events and names. Not so in math. While math does require memorization of sets of formulas and processes, understanding how to use and apply mathematical formulas and processes, and the logic involved, is far more important. It’s imperative to gain understanding of the key concepts and principles that underpin each mathematical topic in order to progress through math since mathematics is cumulative.
For example, memorization of some mathematical formulas, such as the calculus formula for integration by parts for integrals, is useless, if you don’t understand how to use the formula and identify the relevant parts of the integral.
Other formulas have special restrictions. The quadratic formula, for instance, requires you first to put the quadratic in standard form. To use many mathematical formulas, you must first understand how the parts of the formula correspond to the problem.
Always focus on understanding of mathematical principles. Understanding mathematical principles will not only improve your ability to learn math, it will improve your performance on math tests.
Mathematics is cumulative. So keep up!
Cramming for a math test isn’t effective. This is especially true for more advanced math courses such as college algebra and calculus. Mathematics, as a discipline, is cumulative. Almost every new mathematics concept is based on an understanding of a more basic mathematics concept.
For example, you can’t learn calculus until you have first mastered algebra and trigonometry. By the end of a specific mathematics course, you may be required to learn four or five new math topics that together allow you to understand and apply just one mathematics concept. If you arrive at the end of the semester not having studied and acquired the necessary building blocks, it will be near impossible for you to learn everything overnight.
A key to learning math, and performing well on math tests, is staying current on your homework and making sure you understand all concepts as you progress through the course.
We would even go as far as to suggest coming to each math class having read ahead to the chapters and concepts that will be covered in class. Having a basic understanding or even familiarity with concepts that your instructor will be covering will enhance your ability to understand concepts and prepare you with questions you likely wouldn’t anticipate until after a lecture has been completed.
Make a list of important formulas/concepts
Write down all the formulas you must know for your math test on a single sheet of paper and memorize these formulas. Many students write down the formulas they will have to utilize on a test in the margins or opposite side of the test immediately after getting it.
It is not uncommon for people to forget important math concepts and formulas during a test. It is useful to have them written down somewhere easily accessible when the test becomes difficult and stress kicks in.
Use study groups
If you read our article on study groups you can explore all the benefits of using study groups and how to develop an effective study group. Study groups can be particularly useful for studying math and improving performance on math exams for the following reasons.
First, studying for math tests in groups can help ensure that you’ve covered all the material that is likely to appear on the test. If you’ve missed something, chances are that someone in your group will cover it.
Second, you’ll benefit from the knowledge and comprehension of your other group members. If you’re struggling with a particular math concept you can lean on the other group members to gain clarity and understanding.
Finally, the combined effort of the group may allow each group member to more quickly and thoroughly prepare for the math exam.
Rework homework problems
Put together a selection of homework problems you’ve completed throughout the course and rework them. Don’t just review homework problems, actually rework them. Write down the steps required to complete each problem and then rework the problem without looking at the solution. Use your previously completed homework assignments to check your answers once completed.
Practice problems in a variety of ways
Your professor or instructor is interested in testing your knowledge and understanding of underlying math principles and concepts. Consequently, they’re likely to put problems on the test that are presented in a slightly different way or format than what you’re accustomed to.
Practice problems set up a variety of ways since questions are often set up in confusing ways to test your knowledge. This will also help you learn how to utilize and apply numerous types of formulas.
Read instructions carefully
Since questions may contain more than one part, carefully read instructions in each section. It’s also not uncommon for a question to request only a partial answer or request that completes only one process. Reading instructions carefully and thoroughly will ensure you answer only the question being asked.
Estimate the correct answer
If possible, estimate the correct answer before working out a problem. If your answer is nothing close to what you expected, it may be useful to double-check your work to ensure your figures were correct and that you employed the right process or formulas.
Show your work
You must show the steps you took to get a final answer on math tests. You can always go back and review the steps you took if you’re unsure of an answer, and teachers frequently provide partial credit on incorrect answers when you show your work.
In many cases, your professor is going to be more interested in knowing how you arrived at your answer than in your answer itself. On some tests no credit is given for a correct answer if it isn’t supported by work.
Don’t ignore confusing problems
Never ignore confusing problems. If you have no idea where to begin, still attempt to work out the problem. Do not erase your work since your teacher can reward you with partial credit.
Don’t attempt to figure out the entire problem at once. When faced with challenging problems, start by writing down everything you know about the problem including what type of problem it is, the information provided in the question/problem, and the formulas you can possibly use to solve the problem. Also try to identify what form the answer should be in.
Review your answers
If time permits, review your final answers. You can even re-solve problems to double check your work on a separate piece of paper. If after re-working problems you get new answers, re-examine the instructions or look for calculation errors.