Once students get to high school, it’s assumed they know how to study for math tests. At least that’s what I assumed in my first year of teaching. Some students had previous teachers that gave them helpful study strategies, but others hadn’t. Either way, a study strategy is listed below, both for studying throughout the school year and the night before tests.
The best way to study for a math test is to practice problems.
Math is like sports. You can watch sports all day long, but it isn’t going to make you a better athlete. You have to apply the ideas and skills you’re seeing. In math, you can watch your teacher solve problems or you can look back at your notes before tests and convince yourself you can re-create the problem solving process, but to truly know the content, you must practice it.
How do you know what to practice? First, you must complete the homework each night. But the night before tests, there’s obviously not enough time to redo every homework problem you’ve had over the past few weeks.
How to Study for a Math Test in One Night:
Make yourself a practice test.
As an example, let's say your upcoming test will cover Quadratic Equations and Complex Numbers, the 5 major topics listed below. Get a blank sheet of paper and write down one or two questions (from your notes or from your homework—you want to be able to check the correct answer) from each section. So write down the directions and problem(s) for:
1. Operations with Complex Numbers
2. Solving Quadratic Equations by Factoring
3. Solving by Graphing
4. Solving by Quadratic Formula
5. Solving by Completing the Square
Put all of your notes away and try to solve those problems like you would on the test (so if your teacher lets you use a calculator, go ahead and use the calculator). Then check your answers. If your answers were correct for topics 1-3, but you missed topics 4 and 5, get a new piece of paper and write down new questions with just topics 4 and 5. Keep repeating the process, making new practice tests, until you feel confident in all your test topics.
The reason I mentioned writing down the directions with the problem is because I remember sitting in AP Calculus, staring at a pop quiz, not knowing what the question was asking. So even though I knew most of the Calculus processes, I didn’t know which process to apply because I wasn’t sure what the question wanted me to find. Once I started writing directions down with the problems, I connected which questions matched with which problem-solving process, and then it clicked what the solution represented.
Pro Study Tips from a Former Teacher
As you're copying questions, you would ideally want the review questions to be mixed up randomly because that’s how the test will be. In other words, the test won’t be all topic 1 questions then all topic 2 questions. To prepare for this, you can copy a question from topic 4 then one question from topic 1 then one question from topic 5 and so on to make your own practice test.
As a former teacher, I always started class with warm up questions. Not all teachers have this philosophy, but I used this time to challenge students with difficult problems since I could support them being in class. To reward the students who tried these questions, I put the warm up questions (or very similar questions) on tests. Does your teacher start class with warm up questions? If so, add them to your practice test.
Do you want new practice problems? Sometimes it's boring and repetitive to solve the same question multiple times. I get that. Find extra practice by searching the topic and "worksheet with answers." For example, for topic 2 on the test, Google "solving quadratic equations by factoring worksheet with answers." The answers are helpful for you to check your work after you complete the practice test.
What to Study Consistently (minimally once a week):
If you read the study process I listed above and thought, “Wow that’s going to take me hours to get through if I don’t remember the topics well,” you’re absolutely right! If you have to go back and relearn concepts before tests, you can easily spend hours studying the night before. And you still may not feel confident going into the test. To combat that, and to help recall concepts for longer periods (anyone take a test then forget the concepts the next day or week?), it’s best to review a little at a time throughout the chapter.
I’m sure you’ve heard this many times from teachers and parents but it’s true.
You must keep practicing over and over in order to master new skills! Again, completing homework each night is essential. On top of that, you should start studying early. Cramming information into your brain the night before a test won’t result in long-term recall or understanding.
Most math classes cover about 3 major sections/topics a week. So in the above example, that would mean covering 1. Operations with Complex Numbers; 2. Solving by Factoring; and 3. Solving by Graphing in one week. You likely have math homework each night covering the respective topic. But at the end of the week, or on a night where you don’t have much homework, apply the study strategy of creating a mini practice test for the topics you’ve covered thus far.
So write down one review question from Operations with Complex Numbers, one question with Factoring, and one question with Graphing. This should only take you about 10-15 minutes. And if you remember how to solve all those topics now, you’ll likely still remember the process the following week when you’re getting ready for the test. Putting in the 15 minutes each week will reduce your study time the night before the test since you’ll know how to solve the problems and be more confident in the topics. No more studying for hours the night before a test!
But, it takes structure and dedication to put in the time for these extra problems each week.
The Easiest Way to Continue Studying for Math Tests
Need someone to keep you accountable to study consistently? This is the benefit of tutoring.
In tutoring, you will you get all your questions answered and ensure your problem solving processes are correct. Further, if your tutor is a certified teacher, they will know what topics you’ve been covering and what topics you will cover. They can provide you with practice problems so you are constantly reviewing old topics and previewing new topics. This creates a solid math foundation for not only upcoming tests but also future math classes, as math topics build on each other.
See more tips on hiring the most effective tutor.
To become great at sports or great at math, you must practice! If you want a tutor to help review key concepts and study for math tests, please fill out our New Student Form and we’ll get started right away.