[Study Strategy]: Studying For A Math Final

We’ve written before on how studying for math exams is different than studying for other classes’ exams.  What about preparing for a cumulative math final exam?  Well, that’s different too, especially if preparing for the exam involves properly learning concepts that you may not have mastered the first time around.  Follow these steps to maximize your likelihood of success:

Gather, Organize And Review Your Materials


  1. First, recognize that a cumulative exam will test concepts that you may not have seen for some time and will need to review.  An essential first step is identifying the sections from your prior study that will be considered “fair game” for your final. Once you know the topics on which you will be tested, begin organizing your study materials.  You need to gather and organize all notes, homework, handouts/packets, and tests that cover the relevant material.
  2. Next, review your tests and quizzes carefully and make note of the problems that you got wrong and still may not understand.  Use colored pencils, markers or highlighters to mark these problems all the same color.
  3. Now, identify the problems that you got right, but do not have a strong recollection of how to do NOW. Like above, mark these with a color or symbol of their own.
  4. Lastly, identify those problems that you got right and still know how to do without much or any review.

Identifying problems that fit into these last two categories requires that you make an important distinction: FAMILIARITY with a concept and MASTERY of a concept are NOT the same thing. Many students make the mistake of seeing something and convincing themselves that because they “remember” it, that they can do it well right now.  DON’T Let This Happen To You!

Build A Study Plan


Now that you have effectively prioritized your work, lay out a study plan.  Your plan should include:

  1. First review those concepts that you did not understand to see if reviewing the material enables you to clear up things on your own.
  2. Next, schedule time with your teacher to correct your misunderstanding about the concepts you did not previously understand and could not “get” by reviewing on your own. Let us be clear here: scheduling time to review with your teacher is a big deal, so do NOT show up unprepared and expect him or her to simply reteach you the concept.  Be prepared with SPECIFIC questions about problems and procedures that indicate you’ve made a good faith effort to understand already. Once you’ve met with your teacher and corrected your misunderstandings, you should do some practice problems relating to the concepts as soon as possible.  This is to cement the new learning and make certain you really “get” it.
  3. Now, turn your attention to reviewing those problems and concepts that you previously understood but may have forgotten. You will find that what you learned before will return to you once you “dust off the cobwebs” by reviewing.  As with the concepts above, now practice some problems that are associated with the concepts so as to get in the groove of solving the problems associated with them.
  4. Finally, do a quick review of those recent concepts and those that you remember clearly, again, practicing problems that cover those concepts.


Notice a theme here?  That’s right, it’s PRACTICE. Like we’ve written before, simply “looking over” concepts is not enough when it comes to math.  Practice just the way a professional musician or athlete does.  You need to get your brain firing in the same way for problem solving as an athlete or musician builds muscle or movement memory.

You have to do problems to properly prepare.  If your study materials, e.g. packets and textbooks, are arranged with problems that increase in difficulty, challenge yourself to do some of the difficult problems for your practice.

Start Planning Now

The above program of study takes time.  You can’t pull this off in a day or two, so if your exams are in a week, START NOW!  If they are in two weeks, START SOON!  Proper preparation does not involve cramming or scrambling.  Create a study calendar and hang it prominently so that you are reminded to do a little every day.

What tips do you have that can aid in preparing for a math final?

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