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How to nail a Maths exam

By Lauren Condon on 9 June 2017Exam adviceMathsNSWblog

Have Maths exams got you feeling a bit freaked out? 😱😱

We’re all in the same boat! Maths exams can be seriously intimidating because you know you could come up against some questions that are worth a lot of marks and you might not even know where to start.

But luckily, we’ve got quite a few poeple here at Atomi that have locked down the best way to nail a Maths exam and used it to get some seriously high ATARs.

So, this is what our experts say:

1. Start with what you know you can do

First things first, you’re never going to know how to do every single problem in a Maths exam straight away. Just accept that fact and don’t let it stress you out because you can still nail the exam. We promise.

So, start your exam by working through the whole paper and doing every question that you know how to do. If you get stuck on one, put a big star next to it and you can come back to it later.

The thing about Maths is that you should always be able to get a few marks from each question so just because you get stuck finishing one question, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to get any marks out of the rest of the paper.

2. Check your work

Check. Your. Work.

When it comes to the Maths exams, the smallest mistakes are going to make big changes. We’re not talking about a spelling mistake in an English essay here. If you accidently turn -9x to -9 or +3 becomes -3 between two lines of working then 1) you’re going to lose marks because you will end up with the wrong answer and 2) you probably won’t be able to do the rest of the question because you are working with the wrong answer.

So, be careful when you’re working things out and if you have the time, really really try to go back through and just double check each line of working.

3. Make sure you find exactly what the question is asking

It’s always pretty heartbreaking when you get a Maths exam back and you see that you did all the working perfectly for one question, gave them a correct answer… and then realised that wasn’t the answer they were asking for.

Yeah, oops.

  • If you give the correct value of < ABC, that still won’t get you any marks if the question was asking for the length of AC.

  • If the question asks you to give the coordinates of a point, just giving the x-value isn’t going to get you full marks. And it really wouldn’t take you much time to work out the y-value too.

  • Finally, if the question asks you to give an answer to two decimal places then highlight that part of the question before you work it out so you don’t forget!

So as well as checking your work carefully, go back and make sure you have 100% answered the question they were actually asking. You need to be squeezing every single mark out of this paper!

4. Go back to the hard questions and just start trying different strategies

So, did you read that first step and think, umm hello? There are still a lot of questions that we don’t know how to do that probably shouldn’t be left blank.

Well, yeah. Good point.

On some of those later questions, you might not be able to get to the final answer. But they can be worth up to 10 marks so the focus here is that we just need to try and get as far as possible.

So, when you don’t know how to answer a question, we go for the trial and error approach. See, in Maths we’re taught a lot of different strategies as well as the different formulas. So when we get to a difficult question, we need to start trying out those different strategies to see if we can make any headway and start to untangle the giant mess that is the Maths problem.

If a 10 point probability question has you ready to throw a tantrum because you can’t even begin to see how you could find the values they’re asking for, just start by working out what you do know. By just starting, you’ll begin to see the path to the exact answer you need. And hey, even if you never get that answer you’re still going to get a decent amount of marks for your working.


We all know Maths exams can be pretty intimidating. It’s not a subject like English where there can be a tonne of different good answers so Maths exams are really about just squeezing out every possible mark from each question. You have all the tricks up your sleeve to be able to smash this paper so it’s all about having the right strategy: start with what you know, read your working and the questions carefully and try out different approaches to the tricky questions to get as far as possible. Seriously, maths isn’t as scary as you think!

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