Studying for Success: Dealing with a Math Test Study Guide (page 3)
Introduction to Studying for Success: Dealing with a Math Test
Dealing effectively with a math test requires dedicated test preparation and the development of appropriate test-taking strategies. If you've gotten this far, your test preparation is well on its way. There are just a few more things you need to know about being prepared for a math test. This appendix also equips you with some basic test-taking strategies to use on test day.
"Be prepared!" isn't just the motto of the Boy Scouts. It should be the motto for anyone taking a test.
Familiarize Yourself with the Test and Practice for It
If sample tests are available, practice them under strictly timed conditions, simulating the actual testing conditions as closely as possible. This kind of practice will help you pace yourself better during the actual test. Read and understand all the test directions in advance so you won't waste time reading them during the test. Then, evaluate your practice test results with someone who really understands math. Review the relevant sections of this book to reinforce any concepts you're still having trouble with.
Set a Target Score
Find out what score you need to pass the test and how many questions you'll need to get right to achieve that score. During your practice sessions and the actual test, focus on this target score to keep you moving and concentrating on one question at a time.
The first set of test–taking tips works for almost any test, whatever the subject. These general strategies are followed by some specific hints on how to approach a math test. The basic idea is to use your time wisely to avoid making careless errors.
Preview the Test
Before you actually begin the test, take a little time to survey it, noting the number of questions, their organization, and the type of questions that look easier than the rest. Mark the halfway point in the test and note what time it should be when you get there.
The most important time-management strategy is pacing yourself. Pacing yourself doesn't just mean how quickly you can go through the test. It means knowing how the test is organized and the number of questions you have to get right, as well as making sure you have enough time to do them. It also means completely focusing your attention on the question you're answering, blocking out any thoughts about questions you've already read or concerns about what's coming next.
Develop a Positive Attitude
Keep reminding yourself that you're prepared. The fact that you're reading this book means that you're better prepared than other test takers. Remember, it's only a test, and you're going to do your best. That's all you can ask of yourself. If that nagging voice in your head starts sending negative messages, combat them with positive ones of your own, such as:
- "I'm doing just great!"
- "I know exactly what to do with fractions, percents, and decimals!"
- "Wow! I just got another question right!"
If You Lose Your Concentration
Don't worry if you blank out for a second! It's normal. During a long test, it happens to almost everyone. When your mind is stressed, it takes a break whether you like it to or not. You can easily get your concentration back by admitting that you've lost it and taking a quick break. Put your pencil down and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and picture yourself doing something you really enjoy, like watching TV or playing golf. The few seconds this takes is really all the time your brain needs to relax and get ready to focus again. Try this trick a few times before the test, whenever you feel stressed. The more you practice, the better it will work for you on test day.
Use the 2-Pass Approach
Once you begin the test, keep moving! Don't stop to ponder a difficult question. Skip it and move on. Circle the question number in your test book so you can quickly find it later, if you have time to come back to it. However, if the test has no penalty for wrong answers, and you're certain that you could never answer this question, choose an answer and move on!
If all questions count the same, then a question that takes you five seconds to answer counts as much as one that takes you several minutes. Pick up the easy points first. Do the more difficult questions on your second pass through the test. Besides, answering the easier questions first helps build your confidence and gets you in the testing groove. Who knows? As you go through the test, you may even stumble across some relevant information to help you answer those tough questions.
Keep moving, but don't rush. Rushing leads to careless mistakes. Remember the last time you were late for work? All that rushing caused you to forget important things—like your lunch. Move quickly to keep your mind from wandering, but don't rush and get yourself flustered.
Check Your Timing
Check yourself at the halfway mark. If you're a little ahead, you know you're on track and may even have time left to go back and check your work. If you're a little behind, you have a choice. You can pick up the pace a little, but do this only if you can do it comfortably. Remember: Don't rush! Or you can skip around to pick up as many easy points as possible. This strategy has one drawback if you're filling in little "bubbles" on an answer sheet. If you put the right answers in the wrong bubbles, they're still wrong. So pay attention to the question numbers if you skip around. Check the question number every five questions and every time you skip around; make sure you're in the right spot. That way, you won't need much time to correct your answer sheet if you make a mistake.
Focus on Your Target Score
Your test is only as long your target score. For example, let's say that the test has 100 questions and you need only 70 right to reach your target score. As you take the test, concentrate on earning your target score. This strategy focuses you on the questions you think you've answered correctly, rather than the ones you think are wrong. That way, you can build confidence as you go and keep your anxiety in check.
If You Finish Early
Use the time you have left to return to the questions you circled. After trying them, go back and check your work on all the other questions if you have time. You've probably heard the folk wisdom about never changing an answer. It's only partly true. If you have a good reason for thinking your first answer is wrong, change it.
Check your answer sheet as well: Make certain you've put the answers in the right places, and make sure you've marked only one answer for each question. (Most standardized tests don't give you any points for giving two answers to a question, even if one is right.) If your answer sheet is going to be scored by computer, check for stray marks that could distort your score, and make sure you've done a good job of erasing. Whatever you do, don't take a nap when you've finished a test section; make every second count by checking your work over and over again until time is called.
Approach a Math Question in Small Pieces
Remember the problem-solving steps you learned in Lesson 1, when you first started working with word problems? Follow them to answer all math questions! Most importantly, as you read a question, underline pertinent information and make brief notes. Don't wait to do this until you reach the end of the question, because then you'll have to read the question a second time. Make notes as you're reading. Your notes can be in the form of a mathematical equation, a picture to help you visualize what you're reading, or notations on an existing diagram. They can even be just plain old notes in your own abbreviated format.
One of the biggest mistakes test takers make comes from reading a question much too fast—and thus misreading it, not understanding it, or losing track of part of it. Slowing down enough to carefully read a question and make notes turns you into an active reader who's far less likely to make this kind of careless error.
Don't Do Any Work in Your Head
Once you have formulated a plan of attack to solve the problem, go for it! But don't do any math work in your head. Working in your head is another common source of careless mistakes. Besides, that blackboard in your head gets erased quite easily. Use your test book or scrap paper to write out every step of the solution, carefully checking each step as you proceed.
Use the Backdoor Approaches
If you can't figure out how to solve a problem, try one of the backdoor approaches you learned in Lesson 16, "Backdoor Approaches to Word Problems." If those approaches don't work, skip the question temporarily, circling the question number in your test book so you can come back to it later if you have time.
Check Your Work after You Get an Answer
Checking your work doesn't mean simply reviewing the steps you wrote down to make sure they're right. Chances are, if you made a mistake, you won't catch it this way. The lessons in this book have continually emphasized how to check your work. Use those techniques! One of the simplest and most efficient checks is to plug your answer back into the actual question to make sure everything "fits." When that's not possible, try doing the question again, using a different method. Don't worry too much about running out of time by checking your work. With the 2-pass approach to test taking, you should have enough time for all the questions you're capable of doing.
Make an Educated Guess
If you can't devise a plan of attack or use a backdoor approach to answer a question, try educated guessing. Using your common sense, eliminate answer choices that look too big or too small. Or estimate an answer based on the facts in the question, and then select the answer that comes closest to your estimate.
It's finally here, the day of the big test. Set your alarm early enough to allow plenty of time to get ready.
- Eat a good breakfast. Avoid anything that's really high in sugar, like donuts. A sugar high turns into a sugar low after an hour or so. Cereal and toast, or anything with complex carbohydrates is a good choice. But don't stuff yourself!
- Dress in layers. You can never tell what the conditions will be like in the testing room. Your proctor just might be a member of the polar bear club.
- Make sure to take everything you need for the test. Remember to bring your admission ticket; proper identification; at least three pencils with erasers (number 2 pencils for a computer-scored answer sheet); a calculator with fresh batteries, if one is allowed; and your good-luck charm.
- Pack a high-energy snack to take with you. You may be given a break sometime during the test when you can grab a quick snack. Bananas are great. They have a moderate amount of sugar and plenty of brain nutrients, such as potassium. Most proctors won't allow you to eat a snack while you're testing, but a peppermint shouldn't pose a problem. Peppermints are like smelling salts for your brain. If you lose your concentration or suffer from a momentary mental block, a peppermint can get you back on track.
- Leave early enough to get to the test center on time—or even a little early. When you arrive, find the restroom and use it. Few things interfere with concentration as much as a full bladder. Then check in, find your seat, and make sure it's comfortable. If it isn't, ask the proctor if you can change to a location you find more suitable.
- Relax and think positively! Before you know it, the test will be over, and you'll walk away knowing you've done as well as you can.
After the Test
- Plan a little celebration.
- Go to it!
If you have something to look forward to after the test is over, you may find the test is easier than you thought!
Summary of Test-Taking Strategies
|1.||Skim the test when it is handed out. Determine what type of questions are on it, how those questions are organized, and how much they are worth.|
|2.||Plan how much time to spend on each group of questions. Stick to your plan and stay calm!|
|3.||Use the 2–pass approach:|
|Pass 1: Answer the questions you can, and circle the ones you are unsure of.|
|Pass 2: Try the circled questions.|
|Don't waste time on questions you can't answer.|
|4.||Make sure you follow the test directions.|
|5.||Leave time to review your answers at the end of the test.|
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