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Preparing for Tests and Exams : sub-module 2 of 2 of Study strategies module

Tests can be nerve-wracking, but you can help yourself succeed with a bit of preparation. On top of that, tests help you recognize areas where you’re not as strong. You can work on these areas before they hinder your ability to pick up future concepts. This section contains some techniques to help you prepare for tests, as well as advice about what to do after a test.



  • Do lots of practice problems. Find example problems in your textbook and other sources, and complete them as practice problems. Create a summary sheet.
  • Make a reference sheet that summarizes the important concepts covered in a chapter or unit. You can use this summary to review for your test.
  • Create a formula sheet. Whenever you encounter a new formula, write it down, including an explanation. This will help you remember what the formula is for, what the variables represent, etc.
  • Fill in knowledge gaps. Math builds on itself, and so you can not move on to the next topic without understanding what came before it.
  • Review your test after it is marked. Look at the errors you made and figure out why you made them. Use the opportunity to clarify areas where you are struggling.
  • Get help if you need it. Seek out a tutor or coach at your college when you don’t understand something or if you are struggling with a problem.

Preparation strategies

Tips for Taking Math Tests

  1. Arrive early and with all the materials you will need, e.g. pencils, a calculator, and a ruler.
  2. Read the test instructions and each question carefully before beginning.
  3. Write down any formulas you have been asked to memorize for easy reference.
  4. Note point values for each question. Budget your time and allow yourself more time for questions with higher point values.Do the questions you know how to do first, and go back to the more difficult ones later.
  5. Write neatly and show all your steps. It is important to show how you arrive at your answer.
  6. When possible, check that your answer is reasonable. Does it make sense?
  7. Review your test for any questions you may have missed and check answers if time permits.

Tips for After You Take a Math Test

Because math often builds upon itself, it is important to make sure you understand the material from each unit before moving on to the next. This means you can’t just forget all of the material you learned after the test is over. The material you learn in each unit will be essential to progressing through a math course and moving on to future courses. It is important to go over each test/assessment to solidify the content covered.

After each assessment, make sure you do the following things:

  1. Review your test as soon as possible. If your professor does not hand back tests to keep, schedule an appointment with your professor to view your test.
  2. Classify the types of errors you made.
    • Was it a concept error? A concept error means you did not understand the question or follow the correct steps required to solve the problem. Concept errors are more serious and require that you review the material again and work to understand it. Book time with a tutor or a math coach if needed.
    • Was it a careless error? A careless error means you followed the steps correctly, but you arrived at the wrong answer because you may have read the question incorrectly, copied a number incorrectly, made a sign error, or punched a number into your calculator incorrectly. To avoid this type of error in the future, make sure to check over your work, check that you have copied the question correctly before starting, and double-check your calculations.

Creating a Formula Sheet

The number of formulas in math can sometimes be overwhelming. How do you remember when to use each formula and what the variables in each formula mean?

A useful strategy to help you remember formulas is to write them down in one place. Whenever you encounter a new formula, add it to your list. You can then use this formula sheet as a quick reference guide when solving problems or studying for a test. View an example of a formula sheet below.

When you add a formula to your list, you want to make sure you write down all necessary information. Use the WIN method to remember what you have to write down.

Write down the formulas.

  • On a separate page or document, write down each new formula you encounter on the left side of the page.
  • Include an image if it is applicable.

Identify the variables.

  • To the right of your formula, write down each variable and what the variable represents, e.g. l = length.
  • Remember that a variable is a letter or symbol that represents an unknown value.

Neat layout.

  • Keep your formula sheet neat and organized so it is easy to read and use when doing assignments or studying
  • Use the lesson name or textbook chapter name as headings on your formula sheet, so you can easily reference your notes or textbook for more information.

Creating a Summary Sheet

When preparing for a test, you want to make sure you are familiar with all of the key concepts covered in the applicable chapters or units. A summary sheet is a set of notes summarizing a unit or chapter. It is a good tool to help you review the important information.

To create and use a summary sheet:

  1. Look at your notes for the unit/chapter and the textbook to find the important concepts. Tip: If you used the Cornell Method, you can find summaries of the concepts at the bottom of each page of notes.
  2. Write down the important concepts and formulas and add short explanations. Include details such as:
    • Steps to solve the problems
    • Definitions of key terms
    • Meanings of variables in formulas
  3. To help organize your summary page and remember important information, use formatting tools such as:
    • Headings
    • Definitions of key terms
    • Tables
    • Underlines
    • Bold font
    • Colour
    • Highlight
  4. Use this summary to review concepts as you prepare for tests.

See an example of a summary in the ebook Pre-Algebra 2e - open in a new window.