Test Tips

Some Practical Advice for Studying for Math Exams

By Phil Turk, Ph.D.

  1. 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!
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. Find an empty classroom somewhere on campus with a chalkboard or whiteboard. 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 mistakes?''.
  5. 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 study partner.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. If you have paced yourself and your studying, you will not have to cram the night before the test. Instead, get some sleep!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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!
S. Hyde
Last modified: Mon Jul 28 17:51:49 HST 2008