Overcoming Math Exam Jitters
Overcoming Math Exam Jitters
“I know this, but why can’t I seem to solve it?” As a student, experiencing “blackouts” are very common during an examination. However, there are some things you can do to lessen the stress and feeling of nervousness as the exams approach. In this article, we explore 3 Es in overcoming exam jitters, particularly for Mathematics.
- Early preparation
You have probably heard your parents and teachers say it over and over again, “Don’t wait till the last minute to do your revision! Start now!” Yet you think, “There are still so many months before the exams!” Like it or not, your parents and teachers are right! Procrastination hinders progress. Research shows that our brain forgets almost 50% of the new information that we learn within one day, and 80% within two weeks. Thus, it is extremely important to review new information regularly, so that it can be converted from your short term memory to your long term memory.
One way to help you in storing and retrieving the new information from your brain is to use cue cards. As far as possible, take time at the end of each week (best if you can do it at the end of every day) to note down key points, concepts, skills or formulas learnt onto index cards (approximately 3 inches by 5 inches, or at most 4 inches by 6 inches). When the end of the next week approaches, review the points noted in the first week first before noting down the new information for that week. This process should be repeated week after week until all the lessons are covered. Then, two weeks before the test or exam, go through all the cards at least once every day. When going through the cards, make effort to think about each point in detail so that your revision is maximized.
As you note down key points, familiarize yourself with the concepts and skills needed for each topic. While it is tedious, it is very helpful to supplement your revision with lots of practice. Our brain retains more information when it is put into practice. Whenever possible, try explaining what you have learnt to someone else too – that will also help to cement your learning.
Finally, especially for Mathematics examinations, you need to work on your speed and accuracy. In order to build up these two areas, besides being familiar with the concepts and skills, you need to train your brain to retrieve these pieces of information quickly. Practise answering questions within a given time frame. This brings us to the next E.
- Effective time management
Having a good sense of time is important when taking a test or exam. Always keep your eye on the clock. Questions are typically set in order of difficulty. Don’t attempt the difficult questions first. Work in chronological order so that you gain confidence.
Allocate time for each question and stick to it. A general guideline is to reserve 15 minutes towards the end of the paper for checking. Checking of the paper is not reading through your answers. When checking the paper, ensure that you work out each question again without looking at your solution. Then check against it to see that you have got the same answer. With the rest of the time, divide it by the total number of marks allocated for the paper and round it down to the nearest whole number. Then give yourself that amount of time for each question multiplied by the number of marks allocated for each question. For example,
Total time for the paper: 2 h 15 min.
Total marks allocated for the paper: 100
Time set aside for checking: 15 min
Time remaining: 2 h = 120 min
Time to allocate per 1 mark of the paper
120 min ÷ 100 marks = 1.2 min / mark ≈ 1 min / mark.
So, if Section A has 2-mark MCQ questions, then you have a maximum of 2 minutes to work on each question in this section.
If you get stuck at a question, work on it until the time allocated is up, then circle the question number, skip it and move on. Then come back to it after you have finished the rest of the questions. Once you have attempted all the questions, come back to those you were stuck at and work on them again, giving yourself approximately 1 – 2 minutes per question again. At this stage, if you still cannot find a firm answer to the question, then give your best possible solution. Never leave any question blank and always show your working as there may be working marks allocated to the question.
- Essential elements
This final E includes essential activities that you are encouraged to engage in before the exams. First, do ensure you have enough rest, especially in the two weeks leading up to the exam. Sleep is very important for the brain to recharge. While it is important to revise daily using your cue cards, it is even more essential to sleep early and sleep well the night before the exam. Do not stay up late to attempt solving difficult questions. This will increase your stress and make you more prone to mental blocks during the exam paper. Drink lots of water to keep hydrated, stay healthy and avoid unhealthy snacks so that your body is in the best condition to sit for the exam. Again, do not attempt difficult questions up till a week before the exam. Instead, use the cue cards prepared earlier to refresh your memory. Relax with sports or music or engage in your favourite activity.
One final point, if you still do experience a mental block or a “blackout” during the paper itself, take a couple of minutes to cool down. Take in deep breaths, close your eyes and try to relax. Think of a something relaxing to take your mind off the stress of the exam paper. Take a few sips of water. Then when you are calm, go back to the paper but try a different question first before returning to the question you were stuck at.
With these tips in mind, you are well on your way to overcoming examination jitters, especially for Mathematics examinations!
Box advert point: You can find a summary of main points for each topic in this series to help you in writing your cue cards. Also, there are 3 practice papers which will help you build a strong foundation in your concepts for each topic. You can also work on improving your speed and accuracy for each topic by using the time guide. This series of books will certainly help you to achieve confidence in overcoming Mathematic exam jitters!