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How to Study for Maths — 21 Wicked Ways to Level Up

Not sure how to study for a math test? We've got you covered. These simple study tips will help you approach the subject in a whole new way.

student learning differential equations while practicing new skill
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Math Minds

Friday, 12th August 2022

One of the most important skills you need to succeed in math is to develop good study habits. Unfortunately, many students don't know where to begin. As a result, they often struggle in school and end up feeling overwhelmed and frustrated come test time.

But it doesn't have to be this way! Whether you're studying for a maths exam or just trying to improve your grades, there are a few simple things you can do to make the process easier and more effective. In this article, we share 21 proven ways to level up how you practice maths.

Get organised from the start

One of the best things you can do to set yourself up for success is to get organised from the get-go. This means creating a dedicated study environment, making a study planner and gathering all the materials you need before you start.

kids preparing for math exams

1. Create a study schedule

By mapping out when you're going to study, you can make sure that you're making the most of your time and not letting other commitments (cough* gaming cough*) interfere with your studies. A good schedule should include regular study sessions, as well as time for breaks and socialising.

2. Make notes prior to class

A great way to get a head start is to make notes prior to your lesson. This will help you understand the math concepts better and make it easier to follow along when the teacher is explaining. Even if doesn't make sense—don't give up—make some notes and attempt a few questions before your lesson.

3. Understand your calculator

Your calculator can be a powerful tool, but only if you know how to use it properly. Take some time to familiarise yourself with the different functions and buttons so that you can make the most of it during a math test.

4. Form a study group

Find a group of friends and create a study group. This way, you can help each other out when you're stuck on a problem and motivate each other to keep going. Study groups are also a great way to have some fun while you're learning.

5. Don't cram before your math test

As you practice problems leading up to test day, make sure you spread out the workload. It's also crucial to get a good night's sleep, the night before and remember, leaving your homework assignments to the last minute just leads to unnecessary stress.

Use workbook tricks

Learning math is an art as well as a science. Little workbook tricks and tips, like using a consistent layout, writing clear titles or drawing diagrams, can help you understand and retain concepts better.

Student using workbook study tips to improve grades

6. Keep it neat

A math workbook is not a random sketchbook. It's a tool to help you learn, so it's important to keep it neat and organised. This means writing in a way that is easy to read, using headings and subheadings, and highlighting key points.

Always write the question number, the entire numerical question and leave a space in between each question as you work down the page. If you get something wrong, simply place a small cross next to it along with a note about what you learnt. DO NOT scribble over your mistakes! Sketches and doodles should also be kept to a minimum so as not to distract you from the work at hand.

7. Follow layout conventions

For each page in your workbook, put down the actual topic name (not just the chapter number), rule a line down the middle and place the date at the top. This will help you keep track of where you are up to, identify gaps and see at a glance what you need to revise.

8. Note down procedures and key steps

As you work through each question, write down the thinking that underpins the process. We always encourage students to note down why something works, rather than blindly memorising a sequence of steps.

Whenever you have an 'aha' moment, make a note of it in your workbook so you can refer back to it later. Get creative - it needs to stand out. You'll be amazed how much this helps!

Summarize key ideas

Math, like other subjects, has a bunch of key ideas that you need to understand. A great way to make them stick is to read the introduction of each chapter and summarise the main ideas in your own words before you actually dive into any practice questions.

Teacher explaining math concepts on board

Context is everything. The opening paragraph of each chapter sets the stage for the rest of the content. It builds a strong foundation by introducing the key concepts and notation.

9. Copy out worked examples

Many students fall into the trap of skimming the example problems, with some not even reading through them. Big mistake! These examples are there for a reason and contain vital steps and skills that you'll need to use in your own work.

texbook example

The textbook is literally giving you the process, the answer and the explanation all in one, so make sure you take the time to read them carefully and copy them out in your workbook. If you're struggling with your homework problems, we guarantee you—this one simple study skill will be a game changer!

10. Build your math vocabulary with a glossary of definitions

A lot of the time, understanding maths is like learning a language. So, one of the best things you can do is to create a glossary of key definitions. This doesn't need to be anything fancy - just a list of math vocabulary that you can refer back to when you come across a term that you're not familiar with. We suggest creating a short one for each subtopic.

11. Jot down everything from the board

So here's one that might sound a bit obvious, but you'll be surprised at how many students don't do it. When teachers write something on the board, make sure you copy it out in your workbook. Not just part of it. Every. single. line. Please don't rely on your 'photographic' memory.

Equations, formulas, processes or any key points—if it's on the board, it should be jotted down in your workbook. Plenty of kids who skip this fundamental skill wonder why they can't do the homework questions or end up stressing out during their math exams. Listening and writing efficiently (at the same time) is a technique that will serve you well in many aspects of life, so get into the habit of doing it now.

Focus on understanding

This is a big one. Many people think that Mathematics is about memorising formulas and repeating processes. When it comes to teaching math, many educators even encourage this short-term approach.

But they're missing the point. In fact, Math is really about understanding and making connections. If you can understand why a certain method or rule works, you're far more likely to be able to apply it in different situations.

Year 9 student asking a question in class

12. Elevate your mindset

No matter what your learning goals are, the way you think about Maths will have a big impact on how successful you are. So, if you're someone who often says things like "I'm not good at algebra" or "I hate Math", we challenge you to shift your mindset.

Instead, try thinking of Math as a game, or sport that you can get better at with practice. A puzzle that you need to solve. Or a universal language that will help you communicate your ideas and make sense of this world. Whatever works for you, find a way to see Mathematics with a positive attitude and it'll help you enjoy learning it (and doing well in it!) a whole lot more.

13. Embrace the wrong answer and the progressive struggle

As you solve problems, you're bound to make errors. And that's a good thing! Mistakes are how we learn. So rather than getting frustrated, try to see them as an opportunity to learn something new. We recommend you celebrate your mistakes and soon you'll realise that making them is actually a huge part of the learning process.

14. Make word problems a priority (and of course your times tables)

Pay close attention to word problems. Not only are they often used in exams, but they're also a great way to see how the content can be applied in the real world. Every chapter in your textbook will have word problems, so make sure you give them the attention they deserve.

By the end of year 3, you should have mastered all of your times tables. We cannot emphasise this enough. If you're not there yet, we recommend you read our article on the best ways to learn multiplication and try our times tables speed test.

15. Work toward mastery

Practice, practice and then practice some more. Math is not a spectator sport. You have to get in there and do the work to see results. Yes, it can be difficult at times, but the only way to get better at Math is to put in the hard yards.

And as you improve, you'll find that the subject becomes easier (and more enjoyable!). So find a method that works for you and stick with it. Whether it's going through extra practice tests or using the best maths app, make sure you're actively working toward mastery.

Revise like a pro

When it comes to learning how to study for a Math exam, 'spaced revision' is key. So rather than waiting until the night before your exam to start studying, we recommend you revise regularly throughout the year.

year 7 students preparing a formula sheet

16. Re-visit previous concepts

The Ebbinghaus forgetting curve is a real thing. So even if you're confident you know a concept inside out, it's still worth revisiting your existing knowledge. At various intervals, you must go over previous chapters and allow yourself to brain dump—that is, write out everything you know about a concept without looking at your notes.

Ebbinghaus forgetting curve

Not only will this help with retention, but it'll also give you a chance to identify any gaps in your knowledge. After all, it's hard to move on to new concepts if you're still unsure about the old ones.

17. Complete all practice tests and chapter reviews

Your teacher will often give you a practice test at the end of each topic or a practice exam towards the end of the semester. Make sure you do them under exam conditions (i.e. time limit, with no other distractions).

When you start Year 7 maths, completing every question in the chapter review, before a test, is a no-brainer. This means correcting it and leaving enough time to re-do any questions you got wrong. Never leave this task to the night before your test. You might need 2 days to go over your mistakes and clarify doubts—so plan ahead!

18. Re-do your tests

Once you've completed a test and received your score, it's time to go over the answers—especially the ones you got wrong. It's not enough to just 'look' at your errors. You need to re-do every question that you got wrong, working your way to the correct answer.

After you get your test back, ask yourself this one question. If you were to re-sit the test, would you get 100%?

If the answer is no, pinpoint why. If you want to learn how to be good at maths, you need to get to the root of your mistakes. Only then can you learn from them and avoid making them in the future.

Seek help from an expert

If you're struggling to understand a topic or you'd like to leap ahead of your class, it might be time to seek help from a maths tutor. A private coach can provide you with the one-on-one support that you need to boost your grades and confidence.

student learning the basics online

19. Learn how to study for a maths exam with proven problem-solving techniques

Come exam time, there's nothing more frustrating than getting stuck on a question. Learning how to study for a Maths test means being prepared for anything—including those 10-mark questions that just won't give up.

That's why we work with students to develop their maths problem-solving strategies. This way, if you do get stuck on a question, you'll have the tools you need to push through and find the answer.

20. Ask lots of questions

A great way to learn is to ask your teacher questions. Never be afraid to put your hand up in class or approach your tutor for help. If you don't understand something, it's better to ask for clarification than to sit there feeling lost. To get the most out of your classes, we recommend you come prepared with a list of questions.

An experienced coach can stoke your curiosity and help you see maths in a whole new light. We believe that everyone is capable of enjoying and excelling in this subject—it's just about finding the right approach for each individual.

21. Know yourself and own the journey

Everyone learns differently. Some students might need only 30 questions to become proficient in a topic whereas others might need 100. Don't just follow the number of questions your teacher has set. Instead, the most effective way to learn maths is to be in tune with your own progress and needs. Use your level of confidence as the real test of your fluency—not the number of study hours.

Final Thoughts

There's certainly no magic formula for becoming a straight-A student or acing a math test. However, its starts with self-awareness and a willingness to put in the work. So if you're serious about better grades, it's time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in!

Actively participate in math class. Work on developing discipline with your notes and your homework. Create a study plan, make use of practice exams and seek help when you need it.

You need to find the methods that work best for you. If a particular style isn't giving you the results you want, don't be afraid to try something new. The most important thing is that you keep learning, growing and progressing towards the best version of yourself!

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