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How to Prepare for Maths Exams!

Can’t Do Maths? First in a 3 part series to help parents and kids with maths preparation.

image of three school girls studying in a library.

Time in a school term slips by incredibly quickly. Before you know it, you are only a few weeks out from the first assessment period. Experience tells us though that many students don’t actually know how to prepare for a Maths exam. There are some ‘Golden Rules’ for maths preparation which are included below, but studying for Maths essentially requires students to develop several study habits which empower them to learn Mathematics. The teacher can only teach Mathematics, and that is only half of the equation. The learner has to actively engage in the process. When we get to preparing for exams, the process boils down to students …

Prepare for Maths – Start with…

  • Knowing exactly what it is that they need to know (a unit or topic plan)
  • Knowing what they know out of what needs to be known, and …
  • Knowing what they don’t know out of what needs to be known!

The topic plan and the learning materials come from the teacher. Working out what you do and don’t know is the largely the job of the learner, and the Golden Rules for maths preparation listed here are study behaviours to help achieve this.

Golden Rules for exam maths preparation

  1. Work your hardest during class time! You will be amazed at the difference that efficient and consistent effort in class throughout the whole term will make to your assessment readiness.
  2. Maintain an organised notebook/set of notes and practice questions. You can’t get help if you can’t find what you need help with.
  3. Answer as many set questions as you can. There is a direct correlation between the number of practice or consolidation questions answered, and performance on Maths assessment items. Any question answered independently by a student is effectively an exam rehearsal, where required knowledge is recalled and procedures are enacted. Repetition creates memory.
  4. For each type of question responded to, set the response out in a way that communicates the required steps and thinking. Actually writing these steps every time will reinforce concepts and procedures in memory. Again, repetition creates memory.
  5. Check your answers! You would be amazed at the number of students who complete Maths questions and then don’t check to see if they have answered the question correctly. Students can’t assess what they know and what they don’t know, if they are not confirming whether they are answering questions correctly. You may end up with pages of work completed, where you have actually been practicing and reinforcing something that is incorrect!
  6. Identify questions you get wrong or can’t respond to, and do something about them. Either rework the question to find your error or get some help (this is impossible however without an organised notebook).
  7. Allocate specific time in your weekly schedule for Maths study (and do the same thing with study time for all of your other subjects). Be it fitness, sports training, music or study, constant repetition and practice is the key.
  8. Enforce the self-discipline to actually follow the weekly study schedule! It is the sessions that you do when you don’t want to do them that make the difference.
  9. Create topic summaries. The strongest learning is that which you do on your own. One way to think about what to include in a topic summary is to imagine creating a cheat sheet. If you were going to sneak a sheet of paper in to an exam (not that you would of course!) that had essential ‘cheat’ information on it, what would you put on it? This is your topic summary!
  10. Don’t multi-task with your study time. Your brain focusses on what is immediately relevant; that is, what is going on around it at any given time. If your attention is constantly taken away from the task in hand, then you are not focussing your brain on the study.

Out of all of the Golden Rules, completing set questions is the most powerful, so set aside the time, switch off the phone, the video/computer games, Facebook and any other distractions, and get into it!

Stephen Andrews

Head of Faculty – Mathematics

Cannon Hill Anglican College

This article was published in Issue 10 of our print magazine, June/July 2015.

Photo of author

Janine Mergler

Janine Mergler is a veteran Queensland teacher, graduating from QUT with a BEd majoring in Social Sciences. After many years in the classroom, Janine moved on to academia. She has proudly trained new generations of teachers in her role as a lecturer at Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education. She has also worked in the Queensland Government as an education specialist, developing education resources and delivering community awareness programs to help families conserve water. Currently she is the owner and editor of Families Magazine, a publication specifically targeted at parents who value a quality education for children.  Janine leads a team of professionals who write about family lifestyle, early childhood, schools and education information and family-friendly events.

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