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Top Ten Tips: Excel on Standardized Math Tests

Posted By Ryan Duques

 1. Mentally Prepare the Night Before

This does not mean that you should start looking over material for the first time the night before the test! All of your preparation to master the content of the test should be done long before the night before. Instead, use the night before the test to relax and to mentally prepare for the exam. Don’t deviate too much from your usual routine, but be sure to get plenty of rest and make sure to eat well balanced meal on the day of the test. Some of these tests can last as long as five hours, so being well rested and nourished is an essential element to your strategy for a high score.


2. Build Confidence: Do the Problems You Know First

When you get the test, look through it completely. Determine how many math problems are in a section. If a problem jumps out at you as being easy, do it right away. No one is scoring you on your ability to do problems in the correct order. If you get some of the easier questions out of the way immediately, you will have more time to spend on more difficult math problems. Plus, successful completion of a few problems right off the bat will build up your confidence and calm your nerves, which have proven to raise scores!


3. Look at Multiple Choice Answers Before Doing Any Work

You’re always told to eliminate multiple-choice answers that are obviously wrong, and this is good advice. However, you should also take notice of what the answers are telling you about the problem. If your answers are fairly close in value (i.e., A. 31; B. 32; C. 33), take care to work the problem through and don’t round out any numbers. If your answers are fairly spread in value (i.e., A. 40; B. 67; C. 89), you can save some time by rounding and estimating.


4. Be Sure You’re Answering the Question That Was Asked – And Nothing More!

One of my favorite standardized testing “tricks” is to present a familiar situation but ask an unusual question about it. For instance, I came across this problem just the other day:


A shipping company charges a flat rate of $5 plus $2 per item shipped to a maximum of 4 items.

We would expect the question to be something like “Find out how much it costs to ship 3 items” or “How many items can be shipped for $10?” However, the rest of the problem actually read:


Find an appropriate domain for the situation.

This means that you don’t even need to write an equation! The domain is the number of packages that you can ship, {1, 2, 3, 4}. No other work necessary. Take time to read the question and possible solutions, don’t be tricked!


5. Understand How the Standardized Math Test is Scored

One of the questions you must answer before taking any standardized test is how it will be scored. Most important, determine if it’s better to guess on a problem for which you do not know the answer or if you should simply not answer the question at all. Some tests are structured so that you begin with a score of zero and can only earn points, with no difference between getting a question wrong and leaving it blank. Other tests have you begin with a perfect score and count incorrect answers as more of a penalty than not answering a question.

Also be aware of the point structure of open-ended questions. Knowing how these questions are weighted relative to multiple-choice questions will determine whether you should spend more or less time working on them. Further, it is important to know whether you can earn partial credit on these questions—each point goes a long way!


6. Stay Calm, Stay Cool: Why it Matters on Standardized Tests

This is possibly the simplest tip to give and the most difficult to put into practice. Standardized tests are notoriously stressful. However, if you are prepared, there is no reason to let test-day anxiety get the best of you. Once you are seated in the testing room, there is nothing else you can do but finish the test to the best of your ability. To do this, you must stay as calm and clear-headed as possible. Try and take a few deep breaths before you begin the test. Remember that each question is a separate entity and do not let your struggles on one problem cause you to struggle with others.

One way to ward off test anxiety is to take practice tests. This way you will be conditioned for the test and well prepared.


7. Keep Track of your Time and Use it All

A standardized math test usually means a timed test. You should make sure you’re always aware of how much time is remaining on each section of the test, so sit somewhere where you can see the clock or wear a watch on the day of the test. (Watches are usually allowed in testing rooms as long as they do not have any alarms or calculator functions.) Don’t be afraid to ask the proctor if they are going to write the time remaining on the board and/or announce it aloud.

If you have time left, use it! Check your work for arithmetic errors, or at least ensure that you’ve completely filled in the circles for the answers you’ve chosen.


8. Know When to Use a Calculator… and When Not To

Sometimes, a calculator can save you a lot of time. There’s no denying that they make it much easier to do some functions like multiplying a group of three-digit numbers. There are limits to when it should be used, though. Possibly because of the stress from the test, students often use their calculators to do everything, including adding single-digit numbers. It is wise to use these tools to avoid mistakes but it’s unnecessary to do so for exercises about which you normally wouldn’t think twice. The first part of any problem should be making sense of your strategy, and not immediately reaching for your calculator.


9. Laugh It Off: Leave the Game on the Field

There’s a saying that athletic coaches like to remind their teams before a game: “Leave it all on the field.” The same can be applied to these tests. While you’re sitting in the testing center, you should give all of your attention and energy to the task at hand. As soon as you walk out the door, forget about it! At that point, there is nothing you can do to change how you did on that test. Enjoy the freedom! A day or two after your test you might want to reflect on the process and make notes for your next standardized math test.


10. Use the Results from Your Standardized Math Test to Prepare

Most standardized tests provide you with fairly detailed results, including a breakdown of which topics you did well on and which topics you did not. Instead of focusing solely on your final score, use the information to better yourself for next time. Unlike tests you might usually take in class, where you are always working on new information, standardized tests often cover the same topics. Know what topics you need to study more so you are not caught unprepared again!

For help preparing on your next test, consider using one of TutaPoint’s expert online tutors

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