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Maths & numeracy: Preparing for tests and exams


  • Everyday study is a big art of exam preparation. Revision of any topic should start, no later, than the week after you’ve been taught it!
  • Good study habits throughout the semester make it easier to study for exams.
  • Do all the work when it is assigned. You cannot hope to cram 3 or 4 weeks worth of learning into a couple of days of study. Doing the work set is the best way to get practice.

Studying for the exam

  • Start by going over each section, reviewing your notes and checking that you can still do the work set (actually work through them again). Use any worked examples you have in textbooks and notes - cover up the solutions and work out the solutions yourself. Check your work against the solutions given.
  • Put yourself in an exam-like situation, work at problems from review sections at the end of chapters or sample exams (if you can find some) and work to a time. It's important to keep working at problems the whole time you're studying.
  • Start studying early. Several days to a week before the exam (longer for the final), begin to allot time in your schedule to reviewing for the exam.
  • Get lots of sleep the night before the exam. Maths exams are easier when you are mentally sharp.

Strategies in the exam room

Exams are not all about answering the questions - good exam-taking strategy can make a big difference to your mark!

  • First read through the full paper. You'll get a sense of its length. Try to identify those problems you definitely know how to do right away, and those you expect to have to think about, possibly grade them A, B, C.
  • Make sure you know how many questions you need to answer.  Are some questions compulsory?
  • Do the problems in the order that suits you! Start with the problems that you know for sure you can do (the As). This builds confidence and means you don't miss any sure points just because you run out of time. Then try the problems you think you can figure out (the Bs); then finally try the ones you are least sure about (the Cs).
  • Time is of the essence. Work as quickly and continuously as you can while still writing legibly and showing all your work. If you get stuck on a problem, move on to another one - you can come back later.
  • Work by the clock. On a 120-minute, 100 mark Exam, you have about 12 minutes for a 10 mark question. Starting with the easy questions will probably put you ahead of the clock. When you work on a harder problem, spend the allotted time on that question, and if you have not almost finished it, go on to another problem. Do not spend 20 minutes on a problem which will yield few or no marks when there are other problems still to try.
  • Show all your working. Make it as easy as possible for the person making the exam to see how much you do know. Try to write a well-reasoned solution. If your answer is incorrect, you will get partial credit based on the work you show.
  • Never waste time erasing! Just draw a neat line through the work you want ignored and move on. Not only does erasing waste precious time, but you may discover later that you erased something useful (and/or maybe worth partial credit if you cannot complete the problem).
  • In a multiple-step problem, outline the steps before actually working the problem.
  • Don't give up on a several-part problem just because you can't do the first part. Attempt the other part(s) - if the actual solution depends on the first part, at least explain how you would do it.
  • Make sure you read the questions carefully, and do all parts of each problem.
  • Verify your answers - does each answer make sense given the context of the problem?
  • If you finish early, check every problem (rework as many as possible from scratch on a separate piece of paper).