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Outwitting Einstein: Preparing for Math Tests, by Blythe Grossberg, Psy.D., Learning Specialist

By September 7, 2010Blog

My book, Test Success: Test-Taking and Study Strategies for All Students, Including those with ADD and LD (Specialty Press, 2009) is designed to help students find efficient and effective ways of studying geared to their learning styles. One section of the book covers how students can best prepare for math tests, which cause a great deal of anxiety among many middle and high school students.

Taking a math test can be like traveling to a foreign country in which you don't understand the language and are stuck in a train strike. In other words, math tests are filled with unfamiliar notation and symbols that tend to make kids quake in their boots. The answer to feeling comfortable while taking math tests is to do the right kind of preparation and to have strategies to defeat jitters on the test day. Here are some student-tested, real-life strategies for conquering math anxiety and performing up to one s potential on math assessments:

*Understand the general rules.
Many students prepare for math tests by doing multiple practice problems. What they don't realize, however, is that teachers like to confuse them on tests by changing numbers, flipping figures around, and performing other tricks that test students true understanding of the material. Rather than simply doing practice problems from their math books, students should write out each general rule. For example, if students learn that the number of degrees contained in any regular polygon is equal to the number of sides of the figure minus two times 180 degrees (don't worry if you don't understand this concept, just know that it's a rule that applies to all regular shapes), then the students can figure out the number of degrees in each shape the teacher may give them on a test. Students can write general rules on the top of the test when they receive it to remind them of these rules while they are working.

*Avoid careless mistakes by highlighting signs.
Many students understand the material but make careless errors on math tests because they read signs incorrectly. To avoid this common problem, students should carefully underline signs such as negative numbers. This step is particularly important for students who tend to lose focus or who have anxiety that interferes with their performance on tests.

*Use graph paper and paper with ample space.
Students who have poor graphomotor skills tend to cram their math work together and to make mistakes because they can't read their own handwriting. A simple solution to this problem to have them practice using large-format graph paper in which they insert a number into each box. They should also ask their teachers to have extra space to write down their work so they can write clearly.

*Start working and show what you know.
Students often get thrown when they encounter unfamiliar problems on a math test. They can calm themselves by starting to work on a problem on which they feel confident and then moving to less familiar problems. They should be sure to write down everything they know and to show their work for partial credit.

*Count the minutes and pace yourself.
When they receive a test, students should spend less than a minute scanning over the entire test and planning their time wisely. The back page of tests can be a killer for some students who don't realize that they are getting bogged down on the early questions and not budgeting their time well. This type of planning also helps them develop self-monitoring and planning skills essential to success in all academic areas.

Dr. Blythe Grossberg is a learning specialist working with students in grades 5-12 and college students at top-flight private schools as well as magnet and other public schools. Her clients include students with study-skills deficits and learning disorders such as ADD, Asperger's Syndrome and dyslexia. She collaborates with students, their parents and teachers to improve their ability to complete work effectively and prepare for standardized tests, including the ISEE/SSAT, SHSAT, PSAT, and SAT, in addition to preparing their college essays and applications. She is also the co-founder of a new tutoring companycalled Themba Tutors- She can be reached at:

Craig Selinger

Author Craig Selinger

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