Tips to Improve on Math Tests

Updated: Dec 11, 2020

All of us have had the experience of feeling the doom of failing a math test or quiz. Whether that be before the assessment while you are studying, during it when you realize the test contains content you haven’t prepared, or once you receive the results. There isn’t a concrete way to simply do better, but there are definitely ways that you can improve your performance and feel more confident. These ways may not work for everyone, and they aren’t the only things you can do, but that is just the nature of studying—different people require different methods. These are just some of the methods that I suggest trying.


Showing Work

This year, classes may not be offering partial credit due to virtual learning. However, if you are taking calculus, for example, there is a chance that you will be given partial credit for questions even if you get the wrong answer on Free Response Questions (You should check up with your teacher on this). For this, you can see that it is imperative to write your work clearly. Grading according to AP guidelines has a specific list of things they will ask for and want you to show in your work to demonstrate that you solved the problem correctly. If you are on the right track, showing this work will give you some credit as opposed to getting nothing. Even if your teacher does not make you submit work, thus preventing partial credit, this will still be useful for the AP exams.

© 2018 The College Board.

Let’s look at this FRQ question from 2018. From this, you can see that even if you didn’t get any of the answers, you could still get 4 out of the 9 allotted points. Of course, if you got the question wrong, you could have messed up at any stage, even before any points would be given to you. However, making sure that your work is neat, organized, and legible will give you the best chance of getting maximum points. Moreover, even if you get the question right, you could lose points if some parts of your work are insufficient. Lastly, if you want to go back and check through your test, having a clear process of work ensures that you can not only understand your specific line of reasoning at the time, but also easily spot where things went wrong and why. If you don’t show your work clearly, and it is all over the place, the only way of checking that question might be to do the whole thing again, which you may lack the time for.

Studying Tips

There are a variety of ways to optimize your studying, but these are ways that I think are the best ways to go about it.

  • Do lots of practice problems. Chances are, practice problems that your teacher gives will mirror methods you will need to use on the actual test. Practice doing these as if they were real test questions - only look for help online or from a key if you are completely stuck, or have arrived at an answer that needs to be confirmed. This ensures that you actually practice the problem solving process, rather than looking at the answer key beforehand and assuming that you know what you are doing. If you always check the answers prematurely, you will not be accustomed to actually doing the math. If you do enough of these questions, the test questions can even feel similar to the practice problems. This will make things feel a lot easier if you are used to those questions.

  • Find questions online (mainly for AP Classes). If you find yourself needing more practice than what your teacher has given you, look online. This is not really recommended for non-AP classes, as AP classes have a strict curriculum that will make College Board resources valuable. This does not hold for other classes, where online resources are generally things that are posted by teachers. However, sources like Khan Academy can be super helpful. For AP classes, however, you can find old AP exam questions relating to specific units. These will give you the practice you need, as you can be sure it is according to the curriculum you are learning. The scoring guidelines will also assist you in understanding how to tackle FRQ-style questions.

  • Redo practice questions. If you get a question wrong, don’t look at the solution and move on. Read the solution, make sure you understand it, and redo the work for it without looking back at the key. This will make sure you actually remember the process.

Miscellaneous Tips

Here is a list of little things that can help you while taking the test.

  • Skip questions you don’t know.

  • Write down formulas.

  • Reread questions so you are approaching it in the correct way.

  • Use all the time you have to double check.

Hopefully these will help you approach math tests in a new way!


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