How do I study for my MATH test?!


It’s an aged old question, back to the days of the single-roomed school house…  How do I study for a math test?  However, if this is the question you are asking, then you’re asking the wrong one!  You should be asking “WHEN do I study for my math test?”

Just the thought of studying for a math test  causes anxiety for many.

Just the thought of studying for a math test causes anxiety for many.

Many subjects like history and science involve learning about topics that we can easily relate to as human beings.  If I’m studying the American Revolution, I can relate what I’m learning to my life experiences growing up; If I’m studying physics, I can relate it to events that took place in my soccer game.

Math is harder to relate to.  Sure, there’s always story problems, but what kind of life experience do you immediately think of when you see the problem:  3.5X – 6 = 4Y?  Math is usually presented in a much more abstract format.

So, it makes math much more challenging to learn quickly.  Therefore, we need to train our brain in smaller increments over a longer period of time.  Basically, we need to approach math in the same way that we approach developing habits.  It takes 7-21 repetitions before a task becomes habit.  So, we need to practice, and practice regularly, over a short period of time to turn our mathematical mechanics into a habit.

So, back to our original questions:  How do I study for a math test?  Simple.  DO YOUR HOMEWORK.  If you don’t understand how to do something, you MUST figure it out now and get help immediately so that you can practice it the correct way and form it into a habit.

You cannot learn math by just observing. Doing the problems is what trains your brain. Staring at them mindlessly and convincing yourself you know how to do the work does not lead to success.

When do I study for a math test?  Every day.  Yes, I said “every day.”  Don’t misconstrue this to mean that you’ve got an additional hour of “studying” each evening.  It simply means, do your homework every night and review your notes frequently (i.e. at breakfast, on the bus, waiting for class to start, etc.).  This will train your brain HOW to do the problems from a habit perspective.

If you’re disappointed by the cold-hard truth of making math a habit, you’re probably starving for some “good news”, right?  Well, here it is.  IF you follow this strategy of making math a habit, you’re studying experience on the night before the test will be a breeze.

Why?  Because you will have virtually NOTHING to study!  Yes, you read that correctly.  If you practice your newly learned math objectives every day to the point of mastery or habit, then you could literally be ready for a test at any given moment.  Therefore, there’s no real purpose to spending significant amounts of studying the night before a math test.

That being said, some people gain an added level of comfort by reviewing all of the math concepts that will be on tomorrow’s test, but this activity is really just building confidence and reducing anxiety, which is always helpful. 

So, the real lesson here?  Slow and steady wins the math “race”, not the rabbit cramming the night before the test.

-Susan Kruger




  1. Kirk says

    I am glad SOAR wrote this. I have been telling my students the same thing, but they need to hear (or read) these things from an expert.

  2. Jinny says

    I also tell my students to do their math everyday, keep a journal to record new math problems and how to problem solve, and use learned problem solving strategies: Guess, and Check, Make a Graph, Make a List, table or chart, Work Backwards, Write a number sentence, and/or Use logical thinking. Using math everyday is essential to studying for tests.

    • SOAR says

      Ekram, the point is, if you’re approaching your studying process for math tests correctly, you shouldn’t be studying the night before the test. Perhaps reviewing some sample problems, but no real intense studying. The “studying” process should be done every day by completing your homework and making sure you truly understand the concepts each day. If you keep this up, you’ll find that there’s little to do the night before the test.