Some Practical Advice for Studying for Math Exams
By Phil Turk, Ph.D.
- When I was working towards my M.S. in Biology, studying for tests
usually consisted of memorizing the notes and concepts (the Kreb's
cycle, stages of mitosis, genus species for the black walnut, blah,
blah, blah, ...). I'll tell you from my own painful adjustment to
statistics that memorization is a poor strategy to bank on if you want
to do well on the tests. My advice would be to take your notes and
DO AS MANY PRACTICE PROBLEMS AS YOU CAN! Memorization without context
is only good for one exam, whereas memorization with context will last
a lifetime! Seek for understanding!
- Start studying at least a week ahead of test day. ``All nighters''
will not work for statistics classes (or for that matter, many other
classes). Studies show that memory recall after 2 in the morning is
almost non-existent. It took me many a bombed test to learn this!
- Starting a week ahead of test day, study your notes for one solid
hour during the day. Then study an hour or two with a study partner
each of the 7 previous nights. Discuss and quiz each other on terms
and concepts. Don't socialize or you're just wasting each other's
time. Remember, the goal is to understand the material, not
just memorize it.
- Find an empty classroom somewhere on campus with a chalkboard
Go there with your study partner. Work out problems on the board that
your study partner chooses from the end of the chapter sections. Take
turns every couple of problems or so. Ask yourselves ``What do I need
to work on?''; ``What are my weak points?''; ``Do I understand my
- Buy some flashcards and write down all the highlighted terms and
definitions in the book (usually located in the margins in red print).
Add any important concepts from the lectures. Go over these with your
- Here's a good technique I've used: Look your notes over for 1/2
hour right before going to sleep. This will enhance your memory
retention at a quick rate.
- As you find yourself getting more comfortable with the material as
you study for the test, work on your speed. The reason is because you
will have 50 minutes to work over a mixture of approximately 30
problems (true/false, multiple choice, show your work), some of them
tough ones. Keeping this in mind, you need to develop a pace whereby
you can work through the problems quickly and confidently.
- If you have paced yourself and your studying, you will not have to
cram the night before the test. Instead, get some sleep!
- Some people have difficulty budgeting their time when actually
taking the test. If you find yourself stuck on a problem for a couple
of minutes, MOVE ON! No one is perfect.
- Some studies have shown a strong statistical correlation
between good grades and going to class. When I was an undergrad at
Ohio University, I would have laughed this off as b.s. I rarely
went to class and and struggled mightily as a result. Some people are
naturally brilliant enough that they can get away with this. However,
most of us, including myself, are not so blessed. It wasn't until I
simply went to class, that I turned things around.
When attending class, try to pay attention and avoid distractions.
Learn how to take notes properly through listening. This almost always
means writing down more than just what the teacher puts up on the board.
- I'm surprised by how few people take advantage of the Learning
Center and office hours. There's no doubt in my mind that as I look
back over the semesters, some of my more successful students
invariably were regular visitors during these times.
- Finally, there is nothing wrong with going out once in
awhile with your buddies to have a good time. In fact, going out for
a good time is a vital part of the education process at college. It
teaches you a great deal about life. However, use these times as a
reward for studying, not as an excuse to avoid it. Discipline
yourself or flunk out ... it's that simple!
Last modified: Mon Jul 28 17:51:49 HST 2008