Recommendations for Taking a Mathematics Exam

The following suggestions will improve your performance on the exam and your score on the exam.

  1. Remember the purpose of an exam is for you to show your knowledge. Therefore, have your paper reflect that you have knowledge (even if you don’t know everything).
  2. Try not to leave a question blank. Avoid the self-talk of, “I have no clue.” Try to get started or do something. Even showing that you understand parts of the problem is better than nothing. Also, if you know the units on the answer write down, for example, ____ square feet. This shows some knowledge.
  3. Erase things that you know are incorrect. Leaving bogus things on your paper does not reflect well on you knowledge. (If you mess up the paper real bad, ask if you can write on a separate sheet.)
  4. Label everything.
  5. Show your work. Show the steps. If you make a mistake (and you might), but it is clear you understood the overall process, you’ll get partial credit.
  6. Practice using good problem solving: 1. Understand* the problem; 2. Select a strategy; 3. Solve (do it); 4. Look back and extend.  *If you do not fully understand the problem (it may be vague), ask the professor a question about the question.
  7. Take a ruler (or other form of a straightedge, such as a Student ID), so you can draw straight lines. For example, on a graph.
  8. You may not have time to do a lot on Look back and extend, but at least check to see if you, in fact, you answered the question that was asked and that your answer is reasonable. Answering the wrong question or giving an unreasonable answer does not reflect well on your knowledge.
  9. Use your time wisely. Don’t spend too much time on one question. Work through all the problems, doing those you know how to do first. (On the first pass through it is OK to skip items.) Then go back and make an attempt at every question.
  10. Don’t be in a rush to get out (even though that may be a temptation ;-). Effort goes a long way in all aspects of life.  This applies to all the other items in this list.  Turning in a paper early with blanks, careless errors, no labels, and your work not shown clearly does not reflect well.

See also Suggestions for making a study plan for mathematics exams.

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Author: James R. Olsen