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7 Last-minute exam tips for Maths

By Simon Hennessy on 22 October 2019NSWblogUKblogMathsStudy tipsExam advice

One of the most daunting exams, no matter what level you’re doing, is Maths. Despite this, Maths is one of those exams that we find really good to study for because it’s past paper after past paper and you can get yourself into a really good routine and pattern. If you are freaking out a bit about your Maths exam though, the Maths team at Atomi have put together a few inside tips on how best to rise to the challenges posed by your Maths exam in a couple of days.

1. Budget time

The very first sum to tackle in your Maths exam is working out how much time to spend on each question. If your exam is 100 minutes and you have 100 marks in the paper, that means a minute should be spent on each mark - and no more.

Leaving a question half-completed can be hard, but taking too long costs you the opportunity to get marks elsewhere. It might hurt to move on, but know that staying put is far more costly. There is no point wasting 6 minutes to gain 2 extra marks when those 6 minutes could get you 6 marks somewhere else in the paper. You have to prioritise and stick to the time limits you set yourself.

P.S. Work this out before you start the exam.

2. Read the hardest questions first

Over the course of an exam, our concentration and ability to focus on tough problems diminish. With that in mind, there is much to be said for using your reading time to mentally strategise answers to the paper’s most difficult, mark heavy questions (Usually the last couple of questions of the paper).

Best case scenario, you formulate a method to answer a question and smash it out as soon as writing time begins. Even if the path to the answer isn’t immediately obvious, familiarising yourself with the more difficult questions means you’ll have a headstart when you eventually get around to answering them.

3. Conceptualise the answer before you write

Take a moment to think about the right strategy to solve a question before you start writing. For example: ‘I have 2 known sides, one angle opposite a known side, and I need to find the unknown angle opposite the other known side. This can be solved using the sine rule.’

It might seem simple, but you’re more likely to spot problems in your strategy if you think it all the way through rather than dive headfirst into writing it. A little time at the start of your question to make sure you know where you’re going goes a long way towards keeping you from getting lost along the way.

It’s also really helpful to write down a quick dot-point summary of the strategy you’re going to go ahead with. That way if you get lost in working out, you can always look back and remember ‘oh yeah, I’m trying to complete the sine rule right now.’

4. Draw a diagram where possible

Even if the question does not request it, drawing a diagram has a number of benefits. It allows you to visualise the main features of a question and the missing element that we need to find. It puts all of the relevant information on the page, rather than asking you to hold it all together in your mind. And oftentimes, it allows you to physically map out the route to answering a question.

While it may not always be possible or desirable - a one-mark, speedy algebra question probably doesn’t require a full graph - pulling out the diagram move can sometimes be just the right move to crack a tricky question.

And as an added bonus, sometimes the markers to actually mark the diagrams, so if you’ve got information on there it’s definitely not a waste of time.

5. Set out the logic of your workings

You might feel it’s unnecessary, but it’s always a good idea to build your solution from the foundations up. Draw a diagram, define any unknowns, state a formula or identify what you need to solve the question, then show your workings step by step.

This not only helps you structure your answer but helps the marker see your train of thought.

In the event that your answer is off, you’re more likely to get partial marks for working if the marker can see exactly what each “x” and “y” means, and how you approached the problem. Even if not, mapping out your answers makes the route to giving you marks all the clearer for your marker.

The more working you get out of your head and onto the page, the higher the chances of the marker giving you more marks!

6. Be careful with rounding and units

An avoidable yet very easy mistake to make is not giving the answer in the requested form. Usually, a question will specify exactly how many decimal places they want the answer rounded to; once you have written your answer, go back to the question to make sure what you’ve put down matches what was asked. A small trick I used to do, is that when I first read the question, I’d highlight the part of the question that told me how to give my answer, that way I made sure I not only read it but could easily refer back to it when I needed.

The same logic applies to units being used. There is no more disappointing way to drop marks than to simply forget to put the units on the end of a number. Whether you are calculating time, distance, speed, dollar amount, or anything else, tell the marker so.

If this is a trap you regularly fall into, keep your units in your calculations - the extra time spent writing “cm” on every line will be worth the mark you avoid losing when it’s included in your answer.

7. Check your work at the end

Rarely will anyone be 100% confident of every answer they’ve written in their Maths exam. Highlight the questions you were the most unsure of and, if you’ve got any free time at the end of your exam, use it to go back to them and make sure you’ve given your best possible answer.

That may end up eating up all of your exam time, but if it doesn’t, another good move is to double-check as many of your calculations as you can. Shaky and sweaty hands can sometimes turn a 5 into a 3, or turn an addition sign into a multiplication sign when plugging into a calculator. Going over each sum again weeds out these small errors and stops you from needlessly shedding a few marks.

Remember

Your calculator! And also these tips. Put them to good use in your exam and you should be well placed to get the mark you deserve. Also for those Maths Advanced and Extension kids – remember to +C 🤓. Best of luck!

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