How to study for math tests

Experts share strategies ‘mathletes’ can count on 

Becky & Bob Barnes

One of the most common questions asked by students is how to study and prepare for math tests. More often than not, these “Mathletes” also suffer from test anxiety, which leads them to believe that no matter how much they study, they won’t perform well on the test.

Let’s explore common myths about studying and identify some pointers on how to effectively study for math tests.

Myth #1 Math is just memorizing formulas.

While formulas are important, math is really a matter of problem solving. Students who are most challenged by math have not developed the reasoning skills necessary to find the solution. Every math student should ask these questions when approaching a problem: 1) What is the question I am supposed to answer? 2) What information is pertinent? (strike out what is extraneous) 3) How can I write a math sentence to represent the problem? and 4) What should I do first, second, etc.? (Break the problem into the steps necessary to solve the problem.)

Myth # 2 Reviewing a few problems in the chapter is all I have to do to study for a test.

While re-doing a few problems in the chapter helps to review the section covered, it is not the most effective way to study. Top math students work out every single problem in each section! They seek help from their teacher or tutor for any problem(s) they cannot solve.

Myth # 3 Even though I did not fully understand the previous chapter or section, if I can correctly solve the problems in the next section, I don’t need to worry about the test.

This common belief is another reason students “crash and burn” when they take tests. Math knowledge is cumulative. Material that is missed, skipped or poorly understood creates “gaps” in the student’s math comprehension. These “holes” may not manifest themselves until later, when another concept is introduced which builds on previous math concepts. Such gaps can cause a lack of understanding of the new material, and the student gets further behind.

Myth # 4 There is only one way to solve a math problem.

A student who only knows one way to come up with a solution will run into trouble when the teacher changes the parameters or “reverses” the problem to be solved. Reversing a problem requires an understanding of the concept necessary to solve the problem. For example, most of us can answer the question, “What is half of 12?” A reverse question would be “Half of what number is 6?”

Myth # 5 I don’t need to check my results.

Often students’ mistakes are caused by human error rather than lack of understanding. Another common cause of errors occurs when the student does not write down the steps necessary to solve the problem. Work through each problem carefully to minimize errors, and it never hurts to recheck calculations.

The best preparations for a test are:1) attend class regularly 2) take detailed notes from the teacher’s explanations 3) do all assigned homework over the period of time allowed 4) ask for help if needed
5) review previous math concepts regularly 6) get a good night’s sleep before the test, and 7) eat a moderate, healthful meal on test day.

Incorporating these techniques into a student’s course of study will result in the student being better prepared for the test. Who knows, the student may begin to view tests as a challenge that can be met with confidence due to a good grasp of the subject coupled with the necessary problem solving skills.

By Bob and Becky Barnes with Mathnasium Learning Center, located at 919 E. Interstate 30, Suite 126 in Rockwall. Email them at or visit  


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