Let’s face it, math is different. The study skills and processes your child has used in other subjects won’t necessarily serve her well when the time comes to prepare for a big math test.
What is the best way to study for math tests? Our language provides an important clue. We don’t say “do the history” or “do the English”, but we do say “do the math.” Thus, it goes without saying that the first step in doing well in math is for your student complete her assigned homework problems on time before every class. For the gifted few, this will be enough. For the vast majority, this is only the beginning. Here are some key steps to ensuring success on that big test:
- Pull It all Together
Students can’t wait for the last minute. Well before the big test, they should begin by gathering up all quizzes (and answer sheets or solutions given in class), homework, class notes and other study aids. These problems will make the foundation for a practice math test.
- Find Areas of Weakness
Next, your child should go through everything that has been graded, including homework and quizzes, and write down all the problems where credit was lost for other than obvious mistakes in calculation. Questions from the math teacher’s quizzes, tests and study packets or even better yet – old versions of the test to be taken – are the ideal source for these practice tests because teachers so often recycle questions.
- Create a Practice Test
The third step is to create a practice test using the problems just gathered and to work through it, problem by problem. There’s no doubt that this takes time. It is easy to forgo preparing a practice test because of the work involved in pulling it together, but it’s the best investment when it comes to studying for math.
Testing yourself repeatedly before an exam teaches the brain to retrieve and apply knowledge from memory. If you are facing an Algebra test, practicing the problems is far better than simply rereading notes. The very act of writing a question and solving a problem also helps cement information in the brain.
- Use the Internet
For students who aren’t willing to go the extra mile, consider one of the best websites out there for math. Khan Academy, has placed 2,600 10-minute videos on math and science subject on its own You Tube channel. When troubled by a math concept, there’s no better, more engaging place to go on the internet.
- Test Day Jitters
Even when students are fully prepared, anxiety can be a huge burden on test day. An estimated 35 percent of students are so nervous before high-stakes tests that it impairs their performance. Reducing stress on the day of the exam can prevent choking under pressure, says Sian Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. Anxious students should set aside 10 minutes beforehand to write down their worries. She and a fellow researcher tested 106 ninth-graders for anxiety before their first high-pressure exam, then asked half of them to spend 10 minutes writing down their thoughts right before the test. The anxious kids who did the writing exercise performed as well on the test as the students who had been calm all along. But anxious students who didn’t do the writing performed more poorly.
- Get Help
If you find that as a parent, you’re not the best teacher for your child, consider hiring a tutor to teach these study skills. A tutor comes to the table as a skilled and objective third party, without an emotional history with your child. One-to-one attention can make the difference between grasping the material and falling further behind.
Just remember that math is a different animal from other subjects, but with just a few adjustments to studying, your child will be much more successful in the long run.
Ann K. Dolin, M.Ed., is the founder and president of Educational Connections Tutoring and Test Prep in Fairfax, VA and Bethesda, MD. In her award-winning book, Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework, Dolin offers proven solutions to help the six key types of students who struggle with homework. Numerous examples and easy-to-implement, fun tips will help make learning less of a chore for the whole family. Learn more at anndolin.ectutoring.com or ectutoring.com.