How to Do Better On Math Tests in 7 Easy Steps
Imagine you have a big math test coming up and you want to do well, so you sit down, open your math book and think, Okay, now what? You know it’s going to take more than just memorizing information, so what exactly should you do to prepare for that test?
We talked to several Educational Endeavors math tutors to find out what tips they offer students. Put these strategies to use, and you’ll start acing your math tests in no time.
- Do Your Homework
Here’s the good news: If you’ve been doing your homework all along, you really shouldn’t have to spend much time studying for your math test at all. In fact, our tutors agree that doing your homework consistently and going back to understand why you got certain homework questions wrong is the most important factor in doing well on your tests. “Homework is a good way to gauge whether you’re understanding the topic or not,” says Jaclyn Woodruff, a math teacher at Northside College Prep who also tutors students at Educational Endeavors.
- Ask Questions in Class
“A lot of the reason people get behind in math is because they’re nervous to ask a question, especially in front of their peers,” Woodruff says. But she adds that most of your classmates won’t judge you for asking a question. In fact, it may help them understand better, too. Still, it’s important to make your questions specific, according to Erin Nakayama, another Educational Endeavors tutor and a former math teacher at Chicago Bulls College Prep. “Most students say, ‘I don’t understand’ or ‘I can’t get this.’” Instead, Nakayama suggests, go through the homework questions you got wrong line by line to find out where you went wrong and ask why you got that specific step wrong. For example, you might ask, Why do you distribute the 3 to the y and the x? or Why is the 7 negative and not positive? “Really troubleshooting and pinpointing where you went wrong is so important,” Nakayama says.
- Study By Yourself
Although studying with your friends might sound fun, it isn’t that effective when preparing for a math test. “Group studying is less effective with math than with other subjects,” Nakayama says. “A lot of students will think they’re doing fine because they’re working with other students or using the answer key as a crutch.” Instead, it’s best to find a quiet place where you can concentrate and just do lots of practice problems.
- Do Practice Problems
Speaking of practice problems, the more you can do, the faster you’ll be able to do them when it comes time for the test. “Quantity is really important,” Nakayama says. “Being able to do [problems] under the gun is part of the game.” Start by re-doing the problems that missed on previous quizzes; then re-do problems from your homework that you got wrong. And if your teacher will let you, ask to see a test from the previous year and practice doing those problems as well. Erica Nayvelt, a math teacher at LaSalle II Magnet School and tutor with Educational Endeavors, says she assigns even-numbered questions for homework and then suggests that students do the odd-numbered questions before a test. “I encourage students to complete the odd problems and check their answers on sections they need extra practice with,” she says. “I also tell students to review notes and rework the problems they found difficult in class or for homework.”
- Explain the Concepts to a Friend
One time when studying with others does make sense is if you use the time to explain a concept to another person. “You’re much more likely to remember how to do it if you have to explain it to someone else,” Woodruff says.
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Don’t stay up late cramming for a math test. If you haven’t learned the concepts by now, you’re not likely to learn them at 2 a.m. It’s better to get a good night’s sleep and hit the test rested and refreshed.
- Check Your Answers
There’s nothing worse than missing a question you could have gotten right just because you made a silly mistake. As Woodruff says, “Part of studying is knowing how to verify your answer.” Start by plugging your answer back into the equation to make sure it works. Next, look at your answer and ask yourself if it makes sense. “For example,” Woodruff says, “if you have an exponential function and your answer is a decimal, you’ve probably made a mistake.”
Even if math isn’t your favorite subject — or your strongest — following these expert strategies is sure to improve your confidence, your understanding, and your grade.