Studying Maths

How to Prepare for a Math Exam

How to Prepare for a Math Exam

Studying Maths

How to Prepare for a Math Exam

I often hear my learners confidently pipe up that Math is an ‘understanding’ subject. According to them, it is a subject you don’t need to study for, you only need to understand what is going on, and if you understand, then you will be fine in the exam.

This is a GIANT misconception!

High school Math has a very large learning or studying component to it. A learner cannot, for example, merely understand exponents if they have not learned the exponential laws. They cannot apply formulae that they have not studied, and they cannot tackle a geometry problem without knowledge of the underpinning theories.

At Abakus, we try to start helping our learners prepare for their tests from the moment we start covering the content. When we cover content, we have the learners make something we call the ‘cheat sheet’. It is usually an A4 summary of what they need to know or study to master the topic. They keep this sheet with them while they complete various questions and problems. It is a tool they can consult before asking for help. As they become more proficient in the topic, they become less dependent on the cheat sheet because they have assimilated the content knowledge. These cheat sheets do not work for every learner that comes to us, and we adapt if need be, but for the most part, they are a great tool to promote studying for math and independent practice.

Below are some other tips that can also be used when preparing for a test:


    • As mentioned above… study!

      Practice alone is not enough. Directed practice requires an understanding of the theory that underpins the topic.


    • Past papers and end-of-unit reviews in a textbook are great tools. However, they should not be the only tools.

      Past papers and end-of-unit reviews are excellent practices as they are condensed versions of various types of questions posed at various difficulty levels. Students should be using these to test themselves to identify topics that need may need some extra effort. Those topics should be worked through in more detail using the textbooks.


    • Hide the memorandums.

      I had a student that once called her brother an ‘oh ja’ learner. His method of study was to work through a paper with a memorandum next to him. Whenever he got stuck, he would read the memo and say ‘oh ja’ and move on as if he would now understand how to complete a similar problem in the future. This method does not work. When completing papers and exercises, the memorandums should not be within reach. Once the learner has completed the task to the best of their ability, they should mark their efforts using the memorandum to identify areas in which they may need some help accurately.


    • Help doesn’t come at the drop of a hat.

      Plan in advance. When preparing for a Math exam, set out enough time each day to work through exercises on a topic covered in that paper and then two days for working through past papers that include all the topics. This will enable the learner to ask a tutor, teacher, parent or peer for help before they place themselves in the mock-test position. This will also avoid last-minute cramming, leading to more stress and confusion than actual test preparation.


    • Train your brain.

      Your body cannot run a marathon without proper training. In the same way, our brains cannot stay focused for three hours if they are not trained to do so. When preparing for tests, and mainly when working through past papers, learners should create an environment that simulates the school test environment. They should also work through the papers for the allocated time, as they would at school. Often learners get mentally fatigued during their tests, and that is where the ‘silly mistakes’ creep in. This can be avoided by training our brains to be able to focus for the required time.


    • Drink water and have a snack.

      Studying can be hungry work. In a typical day, a person can use about 320 calories just to think. Research suggests this number increases significantly when engaged in a Math exam (or other activity) that requires intense mental effort. Learners must keep their brains fueled with water and energy from healthy foods.


    • Exercise also plays a crucial role in preparing for any exam.

      Research proves that just 20 minutes of exercise (walking counts as exercise) significantly improves concentration and focus in teenagers studying for tests. By that logic, it may even be worth having a morning workout before your test.


    • SLEEP!

      I cannot stress this enough. Our memories are consolidated in our sleep. If learners do not get enough sleep, they will not be able to consolidate what they have learned into their long-term memories. They also will not be able to focus optimally if they are tired. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep before they write their exams.


    • Wake up early enough.

      Research suggests that the brain is not functioning optimally until 2 to 3 hours after waking up. Learners need to give their brains a chance to wake up properly before they start writing the test. A good breakfast is also needed for fuel to focus.


    • Do not study in the mornings.

      Learners will already have consolidated their knowledge in their sleep. By the time they wake up, they know what they know. Early morning cramming is risky because learners can confuse themselves and panic. Learners also shouldn’t discuss the work with their peers before the test. Learners interpret concepts differently and use different languages to express their understanding. In Math, there are many ways to solve problems correctly and many interpretations that will be adequate. If learners share their differing ideas minutes before the test, they may come to doubt their understanding and interpretation without cause, which adds unnecessary stress.


    • Go to the bathroom before the test.

      Learners need to make use of the time given to them and should not have to lose time to go to the bathroom. That said, if a learner needs a mental reset, a quick loo run may be just what they need.


I have written the above tips purely from my experiences and based on practices that have worked well with my learners.


Math Exam