5 Tips for Acing Your Math Finals

1. Combat the Going Blank Syndrome.

When you are studying for a test, remember that it is not enough to simply know a fact. The ultimate goal is to study in such a way that you retrieve that fact while taking the test. Retrieving a fact (and not going blank) is made more likely when you don’t allow the fact to stand alone but instead understand the fact as connected to a whole body of knowledge. Tip #1 is to study by making connections among the facts you need to know. Study by getting an overview of the unit, perhaps making an outline. An overview is not simply memorizing four area formulas together. An effective overview understands where these formulas come from and how they fit together.

2. Understand the Patterns in Your Mistakes.

Too many times students complain that their grade on a test doesn’t match their knowledge because they made many careless mistakes. For example, in finding the area of a triangle, a student forgets to divide by 2. In finding slope a student subtracts -5 from 7 and gets 2 instead of 12. Tip #1 can certainly help combat these careless mistakes. Tip #2 is this: while you are studying, keep track of the careless mistakes you make. When you forget to divide by 2, don’t dismiss that as you being “stupid.” Rather, embrace that mistake as a learning moment. Make a list of these mistakes. Prepare for a test by knowing what can go wrong while taking the test.

3. Resist the Attitude “I Should Be Doing So Much Better.”

In trying to improve in math, students sometimes give too much weight to how much better they should or could be doing. Improvement takes time. The improvement may be subtle at first. Bear in mind that patience is the key. The more one is aware of what is going right in his or her math studies, the easier it is to further improve.

4. Avoid the Overuse of Memorization.

There is no question that memorizing is important if you want to do well in math. However, it is possible for a student to rely too much on memorization. In attacking a problem a student should allow time to fumble and to make sense of a solution. Patience is in order. Students sometimes memorize too early in the process of coming to terms with the understanding of a solution. Memorizing too early can make the knowledge gained difficult to retrieve during a test and easy to forget afterward.

5. Don't Drill Too Much.

There is no question that like memorization, drilling plays a role in a student’s success in mathematics. But like memorization, it is possible, however, for a student to overdo it. Drilling should never replace an understanding of the internal logic behind a solution. Patience is in order. Take the time to understand that logic. Drilling is more effective when it is connected to the logic of the problem.

Richard Somma is a mathematics and algebra teacher at the Horace Mann School, a leading Independent School in Riverdale, NY. 

Richard Somma is a mathematics and algebra teacher at the Horace Mann School, a leading Independent School in Riverdale, NY.