Math can be a very difficult subject. Unlike English or history, a math test will require you to carefully work through every single aspect of a problem or equation. If you get any part of a problem or equation wrong, you may not get the right answer. Sometimes even if your answer is correct but your work was wrong, you may not get points. If you want to do well in math, you’ll need to come prepared to every class, spend time studying and doing homework, and prepare for every quiz and exam.

Developing Strong Study and Homework Habits

Devote plenty of time to studying and homework every day.

You cannot study for math the day before an exam. You need time to understand the concepts learned in your math class and to learn how to solve the equations you’ll need to do. Spend some time every day, or at least every class day, reviewing your notes, going over quizzes, and reading material from the textbook.

  • Some experts recommend spending three hours studying for every one hour of class time. This is a very effective way to reinforce the material that you learned in class.
  • If you study the day you had class, the information will be fresher in your mind. You’ll also be able to stay on top of the work more easily.
  • Remember that there is only so much your instructor can help you with. It is ultimately your responsibility to learn the material, test yourself, and ensure that you understand it.

Read your assigned textbook chapters more than once.

Because math can be very complex, the textbooks you use in class tend to be very dense. It’s often difficult to understand all the material after just one read through the chapter. Reread it as many times as necessary and test your knowledge by solving problems without looking at your notes or textbook.

  • Go through the chapter summaries (if your textbook has them) at the end of each section.
  • You should understand the material well enough that you could write a few sentences about each concept without checking your notes or the book.
  • If you cannot do that yet, go back and review any material that you’re still struggling with.

Do practice problems at home.

Part of your regular study sessions at home should include doing practice problems. You may not have to turn them in, but practice problems can help you test your understanding of a concept or a formula before you discuss the homework and the assigned reading in class.

  • If the practice problems are part of an assigned chapter, there’s a chance that those problems could appear on a test or quiz.
  • If nothing else, you’ll get a chance to review the material you’ve learned as you complete the practice questions.

Show your work on all assignments. Any time you turn in an assignment to your instructor, you should always show all of your work. It’s not enough to get the answer right, and getting the right answer won’t prove anything if your textbook has an answer key in the back. Showing your work lets your instructor know that you’ve spent time studying and doing the assignments, and that you either understand the concept or you don’t.

  • Never write out the answer without showing your work, unless you write a separate solution sheet and attach it to the paper that shows your work.
  • Your instructor won’t need to know every single addition and subtraction, for example. But you’ll need to prove to your instructor that you can solve the equations and get the correct solution.
  • When in doubt about how much of your work to show, imagine that you were writing out your work for another student in the class. Your professor obviously knows the material, but another student would need to see how some of the steps are done.

Try out advanced problems before class. A good way to prepare for the next day’s class at home is by reading ahead and trying your hand at advanced problems. You may not get them right, and that’s okay. You’ll know what aspects of those equations you struggle with and can work on them accordingly.

  • Read ahead if you know the next section your instructor will be covering.
  • Try your hand at some problems from that section. Take notes on any part you find confusing/unclear.
  • During your next class, you can ask your instructor about the problems that were confusing for you. You can also ask about any other part of the material that was unclear.

Review your homework and quizzes before exams. Any time you sit down to study for an upcoming quiz or exam, you should go over previous homework and quiz assignments as part of your study plan. Spend extra time working through problems you got wrong or only received partial credit on, and make sure you understand how to do them correctly this time around.

  • The material covered on your homework and quizzes is likely based on the material that will be on the test.
  • Make sure you understand how to solve the equations from your previous assignments forward and backward. This should be a large part of your exam preparation.

Form a study group with other students from class.

Working with other students can help you motivate one another and bounce ideas off of each other. If there’s some concept that you’re struggling with, someone in your study group can probably help explain it to you, and vice versa.

  • Keep your group small so that you can all stay focused. One to three other students is plenty.
  • Make sure the students you choose for your study group are similarly dedicated to doing well in the class. Don’t just choose your friends; go with students who can help you work through difficult equations.

Give yourself time to study.

Never try to cram for a test. It doesn’t work with most subjects, and it definitely won’t work for math. It’s generally best to err on the side of caution and give yourself more time than you think you’ll need. That way if you get through everything and have a few extra days, you can spend that time reviewing the harder material a little more.

  • Start memorizing everything you’ll need to know for the test (definitions, formulas, etc.) at least a few days, but ideally a week, before the actual test.
  • You can use flash cards to memorize definitions, formulas, and theorems, then quiz yourself.
  • Study in a place that is free of distractions. You’ll need to be able to get through your work uninterrupted, so a library or coffee shop might be better than your dorm room or bedroom.

Study for exams more effectively.

If you’ve been keeping on top of the assignments all semester, you probably won’t need to review everything equally. Some material will come easier to you, while other concepts and equations may be very difficult. You can study more effectively by reviewing the material you’re already comfortable with and then buckling down for an intense study session on the material that you’re struggling with.

  • Make two separate lists of hard problems and easy problems. The easy problems should be reviewed, but they won’t require as much time as the hard problems.
  • Take a practice test, if you have one. Set a timer for however long you’ll have for the real test, and see if you can complete the test and do well on it within that timed period.
  • Any problems you get wrong or that you don’t finish before the time is up should be added to your list of hard problems.

Start your day out right.

How you start out your day before taking an exam can have a big impact on how you feel. If you’re tired, hungry, or anxious, you won’t be able to focus on the problems as clearly as you would if you didn’t have those distractions. Start your day out right, get to class early, and make sure you’re prepared. Bring scrap paper, pencils/pens, and a calculator (if you’re allowed to have one for the test).

  • Make sure you get a good night’s sleep the night before a test. You’ll want to be well-rested and refreshed before the exam.
  • Don’t bother trying to review your material the morning of the test, as this will only stress you out more. Go into class knowing that you’ve spent many days preparing and you’re ready to take the exam.
  • Try to avoid caffeine and refined sugar before the test, if at all possible. Both can make you “crash,” and caffeine can make you anxious.
  • Eat a well-balanced breakfast the morning of the exam.
  • Try going for a walk, run, or bike ride shortly before the exam, as this can help relieve stress and anxiety. Just make sure you’ll have enough time to change and get to class.

Use effective test-taking techniques.

Just as you used techniques to study more effectively, you can also use techniques to take your test more effectively. Pace yourself, be aware of the time remaining, and don’t sacrifice parts of the exam you might excel at for a question that you may never figure out in time.

  • Prioritize the questions on your test. Make sure you get through the problems that are worth the most points first.
  • If you’re having a hard time with a problem, skip it and return to it later.
  • Keep your eye on the clock and know how much time you have remaining.
  • Write out some work on every problem, even if you can’t solve for the solution. You may at least get partial credit for showing some of your work.
  • If you have time remaining after you finish, review your work. Make sure all answers make sense and that you didn’t leave any questions blank or incomplete before turning in your test.

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