Nine tips for (math) exam success

Time flies when you’re doing math…

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog, mostly because life got a little crazy, but also because, as a math teacher, writing doesn’t come naturally to me. But with exams on the horizon for secondary students, I thought I’d chime in and give some study advice (although I’m thinking specifically about math, I’m sure these tips are applicable to all subjects).

So without further ado, here are my top nine exam study tips for students (but parents can read this too, and you’re welcome to pass it on to your son/daughter as your advice. I encourage it!)

1. Do the assigned review.

Teachers won’t assign exam review if they don’t think it will be useful. Think about it. The person who has written the exam has just gone through either the textbook or put together a collection of questions he/she feels will help you. They probably have some insight into what to expect on the exam! It’s a no-brainer!

study2. Look at this year’s past tests.

These are gold. These are assessment tools that your teacher has put together to check your learning on individual curriculum requirements. That means these questions are very likely the questions the teacher feels BEST check for understanding of the course. Cover up the answers and try the questions again. My bet is that you see some variations of these questions on your final. If they are such good indicators of student achievement during the year, why wouldn’t they still be at the final?

3. Start from the start.

It doesn’t make sense to start your exam review on the unit that you just finished. This should be fresh in your mind. Instead, go back to that first unit and review from the beginning of the year and make your way through the year chronologically. You’ll find that the material will begin to come back to you, and you’ll start to put more things together.

4. Don’t spend too much time on the things you know.

Sure, you can factor trinomials from unit 2 with your eyes closed, but completing the square questions from unit 4 has its challenges for you. To me, it doesn’t make sense then to sit there and do 30 factoring questions that you find easy, when your challenges are in other parts of the course. You know what you have trouble on, so focus your studying on those sections.

5. Use your teacher.

No doubt you will have some exam review days. Use them. More importantly, use your teacher. They are there to help you through the course and to be as successful as you can be. Your teacher is there to make sure you are as prepared as possible to achieve your goal at the end of the year. At this point of the year, I know my students’ abilities. I can tailor my instructions to individual students to help their understanding of concepts by tapping into their prior knowledge. Besides, a teacher never wants to see their students fail.

6. Make time for everything.

Time management is a useful skill to acquire throughout life. This also applies to studying for an exam. Make sure you allocate time to study, as well as make sure you give yourself some breaks. Eight-hour study sessions on the night before the exam aren’t going to help you understand that one question you never could get. By hour five, you are probably falling asleep and your focus isn’t there. Spread your studying out over a couple of days, so that when you return to your books, things stay fresh and you don’t begin to hate the course (especially if its already not your favourite subject).

7. Get some sleep.

Falling asleep during an exam isn’t ideal. Actually, it’s terrible. In my experience, the students who fall asleep during my exams don’t get more than drool on their papers. A good night’s sleep (min. 8hrs), coupled with a healthy breakfast, goes a long way to prepare your mind for writing an exam. It’s an easy thing to do IF you managed your time well. Besides, last minute cramming isn’t going to resonate 90% of the time, and teachers hate marking slobbery papers.

8. Eliminate distractions.

I know Snapchat and Twitter can be a lot of fun, but checking out if they’ve found any eggs at Bieber’s house every 15 minutes or sending selfies of you studying to your friends actually takes away from studying. Put your phone away, close the laptop and spend some time doing questions. When you come up for air, limit yourself to a 15-20 minute break and then get back to work. Bieber and your friends aren’t going to be writing your exam for you, so might as well make sure you give yourself the best chance for success.

9. Have a math (or other subject) party.

My students laugh at me for suggesting it, but I think this can be very helpful for everyone involved. Getting together with friends and doing some of the above things (going through old tests, exam review, etc.) gives people a chance to do some questions in a more interactive process. The best part of this is when someone has a problem, another person gets a chance to explain that concept to them. Not only is the student receiving help, but the student who is giving the help begins to understand that concept even further.

I hope these tips give students (and parents) an idea of how they should be preparing for their final exams. But, at the end of the day, the student should know what works best for them.

Good luck on your exams, and I will write again soon in the new semester!

One thought on “Nine tips for (math) exam success

  1. I am trying to help my son prepare for a math test. His teacher is really good with the way she explains how math works, it’s just my son doesn’t completely understand each concept. I like your tip on how to study through a math studying party. I think this would help my son feel more motivated to study if he’s surrounded by friends.

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