The Dos and Don’ts of Studying for a Math Exam

Studying for a Math Exam

It’s a date that strikes fear into the hearts of high schoolers worldwide – the math exam. At first blush, a math exam is no different than any other test. It’s a few pages of questions in search of solutions. 

But as your eyes focus on the details, a math exam reveals the true depth of its complexity: lengthy equations, long and complicated word problems, cypher-like notational symbols, and intimidating logarithmic graphs. It can seem overwhelming. 

But take a deep breath. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Whether it’s an MHF4U Advanced Functions test or an MCV4U Calculus and Vectors final, you can set yourself up for success with pre-planning and proactive study strategies. Here’s what to do – and what not to do – when studying for high school math exams. 

Don’t: Cram Everything at the Last Minute

Cramming isn’t effective. Countless research efforts have concluded that stuffing your studies into a single night is not a viable strategy for retaining information the next day, nor is it particularly fruitful for long-term retention. Moreover, cramming may zap your energy and fray your nerves, leaving you in poor shape for a morning exam. 

Do: Create a Comfortable Study Timeline

Instead of cramming, create a comfortable timeline of intermittent studying. Ideally, a month before the exam (a week will work, in a pinch), establish a study schedule. Break down the exam’s contents and units into bite-sized chunks and tackle a bit each day. The night before the big test, put the books away, calm your nerves, and get a restful night’s sleep. This combo of time management and healthy sleep will help you feel confident and attentive during the exam. 

Don’t: Jump Straight into Solving Problems

Jumping straight into solving complex problems might not be the right strategy for you, especially if you’re a little rusty on specific concepts. It might even have the opposite effect – frustrating you, chipping at your confidence, and taking the proverbial wind from your sales. 

Do: Review Vocabulary, Concepts, and Formulae 

Before delving into the “nitty gritty” of solutions, review pertinent vocabulary, concepts, and formulae. If it helps, create flash cards (digital or physical) to reacquaint yourself with the material. Write the formulae in a document and try to memorize them. As you open your exam, you can start by jotting down these formulae and any relevant terms or ideas. 

Don’t: Bear the Weight Alone

“I don’t understand this, but there’s nothing I can do about it now.” Let’s remove that phrase from your vocabulary. It doesn’t matter if the unit in question is far in the rear-view mirror; you can still get help. 

Do: Leverage Teachers, Tutors and Study Groups

Capitalize on the many supportive figures in your academic life. If you don’t understand something (or even if you do), chat with your teachers and take advantage of tutoring services. Get firm answers to any lingering questions you have about the material. You might also consider forming a study group, which allows you to bounce questions off your peers, compare notes, share insights, and even help others understand things (learning by teaching is a great way to retain material!). 

Next time you’re faced with an intimidating math quiz, test, or exam, consider the dos and don’ts above. You might even find the missing equation for success. 

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