Studying for Math Tests

studying for math tests

One of the comments I hear year after year from students and their parents alike is “you can’t study for math – you either know it or you don’t”.  After hearing that comment over and over again I decided a couple of years ago to address that misconception at the very beginning of the year before I have to hear it!  I like to give my students several different ideas for how they can prepare for my tests and quizzes the first week of school.  On back to school night (which is 2-3 weeks into the school year for me), I go over that same list of ideas with the parents.

My plan this year is to print out the following list on half-sheets of paper and have the students glue it into their notebooks on one of the first days of class.  Here is my list:

  • Study the vocabulary words.  This can be done in many ways and you can use the same techniques you use to study vocabulary words for any subject (i.e. index cards).  It is important to keep in mind, though, that simply memorizing definitions is not enough.  I will rarely ask you to define a word on a test.  I am much more likely to ask questions that require you to use the vocabulary words to demonstrate your understanding rather than your memorization. 
  • Reread your notes.  Look over the example problems from both your notes and the textbook to refresh your memory on how to solve the problems.  Then “teach” your parents or friends how to do a particular type of problem by describing the process or steps to take to solve it.  If you are able to successfully explain how to solve a problem to someone else, then you must have a good understanding of that topic!
  • Most importantly, try some problems!  The only way you will know if you really understand the material is by trying to solve problems.  Find problems that you have already completed and corrected and solve them without looking at your answer.  Then check to see if you get the correct answer.  Your textbook has the answers to some of the problems in the back of the book.  Try those problems, too, and then check your answers.  You can also find practice problems on the textbook website.  Once you check your answers, if they are incorrect you need to retry the problem.  If you still can not get the correct answer, ask for help.  This is, by far, the most effective way to study for math tests.  The more problems you solve successfully, the more prepared you will be for the test or quiz!


I always reinforce the idea that these are just suggestions and that there are other ways to study math, as well, but I try to emphasize that no matter what other techniques they use they really do need to try problems.  (I also kind of “force” them to try problems by assigning a practice test for homework two nights before a test because I know that no matter how many times I say it there will always be students who choose not to study!)


How do you get your students to study/prepare for your tests and quizzes?

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