Preparation is the bottom line if you want to ace a math final. There’s no substitute for developing good studying skills for middle school and elementary. If you work hard all semester long and persevere (even if you don’t have As or Bs), you will be more successful than those who work hard only the last week of the semester.
If you have time, plan on studying or working with a classmate or tutor a few weeks before the big test. That way, the knowledge will accumulate and move from short-term memory into long-term memory over the course of a few weeks. Math is a cumulative subject, meaning that each concept builds on the previous topic. “Chunking” topics or making small groups of similar skills and practicing those before you move onto the next, works well for math. If you have practice packets for the week before your final, break them up into 3-4 sections and work on part of it each night. Cramming for a test the night before, usually doesn’t work that well.
Before the test:
1. Know what concepts/topics will be covered and which topics are most difficult for you. Pay particular attention to your notes, past quizzes, study guides and review assignments. Frequently teachers will provide practice on each topic that will be covered on the exam so you can practice these skills. If you have a textbook, look in the table of contents for the topics to be covered. In addition, most textbooks have a review section at the end of each chapter that you can use to practice key concepts.
2. Once you know the concepts that will be covered, prioritize which topics you need to practice the most. If you already have understanding of a concept, skip it and go to a more difficult topic and spend time reviewing that. Build some extra time into your study schedule because there are probably one or two concepts that you will need extra help on. If you get stuck, ask your teacher or classmates for help or you can search on www.khanacademy.com for specific topics and watch free videos and practice specific skills.
3. Make a list of any formulas you may need on flashcards and practice memorizing them. You can even find and create electronic flashcards at websites such as www.quizlet.com. This is a great way to memorize properties, formulas, and theorems you may need to know.
4. Take some “mental” breaks during your study sessions. Go outside and run around, play with your dog, shoot some hoops, or do something that doesn’t involve screen time, and rest your eyes and brain.
5. Take some practice tests and try to answer all the questions without your notes. When you finish, go back and check your answers. If you missed a problem, ask your teacher, use your notes, practices, or online resources to find out how to do it correctly.
6. The night before, plan on reviewing your flashcards, or most important topics and then do something fun. Watch a movie, play a game or do something that is relaxing. Don’t stay up until 3:00 am cramming. Pack your backpack or bag with the things you will need for the test, such as: pencils, paper, calculator, formula sheet (if allowed). That way you are ready to go in the morning and won’t forget anything.
7. Get a good night’s sleep the night before, eat or drink something with protein (eggs, nuts, or a protein drink) for breakfast, and practice relaxation techniques such as deep-breathing before and during the test. Get to school on time, rushing around and getting to class 5 minutes late will not help your mental attitude.
During the Test:
1. Approach the test with confidence and relax as best you can. This may mean focusing on slow and deep breathing. Or close your eyes for a few seconds and picture yourself in a peaceful environment such as a beach, meadow, or mountain top. Think positive thoughts such as, “I can do this.” Take three deep breaths and get started.
2. When you start the test, write down any memorized formulas on the top of the page so you can free up your memory. When you need the formulas later, you can just refer back to the first page.
3. Read, reread, and follow directions. If the teacher asks for the answer to be written or shown a specific way, make sure you do that. Read word problems slowly. Frequently you will be given information that isn’t helpful and necessary, so you need to sort out what is important. Rereading will help you do this.
4. If you get stuck on a problem, circle it and move on. Be strategic about answering questions. For example, do all the easiest problems first, then go back and do the problems that you feel that you might be able to solve next. Finally, go back and work on the very hardest problems last. If you pace yourself this way, you won’t waste precious time working on an extremely difficult problem in the middle of the test and run out of time for the rest of the problems.
5. If you come to a problem you don’t understand, try to come up with a simpler version and work through it. Once you get the simpler version figured out, go back and apply the same strategy to the more complicated version.
6. Show all your work. Even if you get the answer incorrect, your teacher will probably give you partial credit for getting part of the problem correct. If you show no work, the teacher can’t read your mind, so won’t be able to give any credit. Even if it’s as simple as writing down the numbers to start with or the formula, it’s something and worth a little credit. Don’t leave a problem blank or write IDK (I don’t know).
7. If time permits, go back and double check your answers. This means reworking the problem again to make sure you get the same answer. Also, make sure the answer makes common sense.
8. Don’t pay attention to other kids getting done before you. Taking an exam isn’t a speed contest. It’s not a big deal if you are the last to finish, it actually means that you are being more thorough than your classmates. Who knows? The kids that finished fastest may have skipped problems all together and given up.
9. When you are done, celebrate! You made it through another learning opportunity! Do something you enjoy, listen to your favorite music, do whatever makes you feel positive and know you worked hard to do your best.
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