SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, GRE. What do these acronyms all have in common? Well, they’re all standardized tests, but more importantly, they all have multiple-choice math test sections. Despite whether or not they’re accurate indicators of student performance in the classroom, lab, or office, they are all essential for entry into some educational career path. So whether you want to be a lawyer or you want to get into a STEM-focused private high school, it helps to do well in a standardized, timed math test to get there.
One of the biggest frustrations for students is taking their knowledge and understanding of math and applying them to a standardized environment. No matter which specific test you’re taking, there are a number of techniques to apply before, during, and even after the test that can help you achieve a better score and get closer to achieving your educational and professional goals.
Before the test
Perfecting your study habits and comfort level with the test before you take it is essential.
Studies have shown that if you vary the location of studying, students typically have much higher retention of the material than studying in a single place just as often. Vary it up. Study for your math test at the kitchen table, your bed, the couch, the library. If you always study at your desk with the same level of lighting from your desk lamp and then you find yourself not recalling many things the day of the test, this could be one reason.
This one is different from person to person. Certainly the more you spread out the studying over several weeks or even months, the more comfortable you’ll be with the test and the more time you’ll have to prepare. Beginning your studying a few days before the test will not give you the amount of time you need to master all the material or the format of the test. However, the amount of studying you do the week leading up to the test depends on you. I found that taking a practice test daily in my weakest subjects for the few days leading up to the test kept me sharp and kept the material fresh in my mind. For others, this may be fatiguing and render you exhausted for the day of test. Figure out what works best for you, but don’t start studying for the first time the week of.
Tailor your studying to the test
A common math question for a math class is:
“What is the area of a square with a perimeter of 400?”
A common math question for certain types of math standardized tests is:
“Johnny works for Fences R Us and has been hired to design a fence in Millennium Park in Chicago. He can only build 400 feet of fence made out of pine wood. If he wants to make a square enclosure with all of the pine wood, what will the area be in square feet?”
This is a very long-winded way of saying, “What is the area of a square with a perimeter of 400?” Being able to answer these types of questions is important; it’s how math problems present themselves in the real world as well as the ACT and SAT. If you’re only studying “What is the area of a square with a perimeter of 400?”, then you’ll be caught off-guard when you take the actual test. Knowing the math is important, but having practice dissecting it from the problem is just as important. Furthermore, keep track of what types of questions you get wrong in practice tests and what these questions have in common. Is it the wording? The area of math? Then create a study plan for attacking these types of problems, over and over again.
During the test
After preparing for weeks or even months, it’s what you do in those few hours on test day that determine your score.
The absolute biggest factor on the test is time. If you don’t understand a question after reading it once or twice, skip it, circle it, and go back to it later. In most tests, all questions have the same value, so it’s not worth trying to get that one question if it takes away time from questions you can answer more easily. One problem I really had was after I completed a question but was uncertain of my answer, I would recheck my math to make sure it was right. First off, there is a chance you did the math correctly but just feel uncertain. Second off, finding math mistakes in addition and multiplication is like finding a needle in a haystack. My solution to this time-consuming problem was to star questions I felt uncertain about. Then, after I had completed all other questions, I would go back and redo the problems another way. Typically, there are many ways to solve a problem. If you solve it a second time with a different approach and get the same answer, you should feel confident about your answer. This is a good approach to not waste time rechecking math before answering all other questions.
Understanding the problem
Ignore unnecessary information. Often times, problems will specify company names that sell a product or units of a specific length on a picture, but often times that’s extra information. Just see the example in the previous section. Sometimes, when questions are particularly wordy, I like to jot down numbers in an organized fashion while reading the problem. Then, by the time I’m done reading the problem, the important numbers are already separated out for me.
After the math test
It’s a good idea to go home and write down some thoughts as to how the test went, how you think you did, what you did well, and what you think you could have done better. This way you have a good start for studying if you decide to take the test again.
I hope this gave some insight into how to get closer to a perfect score in math tests. Ultimately, optimal studying and test-taking techniques are unique to each person. This is the very purpose of getting tutors for test prep rather than solely getting test prep books. Still, these tests tips are a great first step in mastering math tests!
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