Below is a list of tips to help you during your next Mathematics exam (many tips will also be applicable to other exams):
Scan the paper: Go through the paper quickly reading or scanning it to get an idea of what is asked. Make quick notes next to questions if you are scared you are going to forget e.g. which formula to use.
Do what comes easiest first: Leave the more difficult questions until the end. You will lose valuable time if you get stuck on a difficult question and do not move on. Get some easy marks in first and then return to the more challenging questions secure in the knowledge that you have already got a solid mark.
Use every available minute: If you finish the paper before the time is up do not sit back and relax! It is unlikely that you have not made any mistakes and there may still be some marks to pick up. Spend every last minute looking for errors.
Write clearly: If the examiner cannot read your answer they will not mark it. If handwriting is not your strong point then take the time to write neatly and make sure you write your answer in the correct place. If needed, make a big box around your answer, you may also want to take a highlighter into the exam room with you and actually highlight your final answers.
Questions with parts that follow on to each other: If you cannot get the answer to the first part of a question, and you have to use the answer in the next part of the question, make an educated guess and write down something like : “Even though I could not solve the problem, I am going to use this value in the next part of the question.” The pick an answer and use it in the second part of the question.
Multiple choice questions: If you don’t know the answer, have an educated guess anyway. If you don’t choose at least one option, you won’t get any marks. If you want to change your answer later, make sure you clearly indicate which answer is your final choice. If it looks like you have marked two answers, you won’t get any marks either.
Read the question carefully: Read the question slowly to find out exactly what is being asked of you. Highlight or mark the different parts of the question and note the different calculations needed to come up with a final answer.
Make sure you are accurate! What is the question asking for? If it asks for 2 decimal places or 3 significant figures, then make sure your answer includes them. Simplify your fractions of your final answer.
Show all your working out, unless specifically asked not to show working out. Remember you can still get a significant portion of your marks even if you make a mistake in your working out, just because you demonstrate that you understand the processes.
Check for errors: Check your answer is sensible. It is unlikely that the answer will contain a long string of decimals. Sometimes it is useful to estimate a rough answer and check that your final answer is not miles away from it.
Learn your times tables and basic rules: This might seem obvious but it is essential for speed and accuracy in your exam to know your times tables.
If there is no sign in front of a number, it is a plus/positive number. If there is no number in front of a pronumeral, there is an invisible 1 in front of that pronumeral.
Fractions: Change all mixed numbers into improper fractions before you do anything else. For adding and subtracting, get the common denominator. For multiplying, multiply the numerators and then the denominators. For division, change the divide into a times sign and flip the second fraction, then just do a normal multiply fractions.
Inverse % questions: These are ‘backward looking’ problems. With current values given in the question, you have to calculate some original value before the decrease/increase occurred. Again, the answers tend to be rounded numbers. If you get a string of decimals, check back in your working.
Ratio: When you have divided a big number into a ratio, ensure that when you add up the ratio parts you get the big number you started with, e.g. to divide 100 in the ratio 1:9, you will get the ratio 10:90, and if you add up 10 and 90, you again get 100.
Probability: Simply check that your answer have no negative values.
The Mean: Use your common sense. Check that your answer is between the highest and lowest values.
Rounding: Unless the question asks you to, don’t round up a calculator stage until you get a final answer. You may end up with an incorrect answer even though you have implemented the question correctly.
Quadratic Equations: A question asking for significant figures or decimal places indicates you should use the quadratic formula.
Square roots: A) Remember you cannot find the square root of a negative number. B) Remember that if you have to find the square root of a number, put a plus/negative in front of your answer.
E.g. to solve x in x² = 49, then x = ±√49 so x = ±7.
Pythagoras and Trig: Check your answer. Remember a shorter side should not be a longer than the hypotenuse. For any 90-degree triangle, you will probably have to use Pythagoras and/or SOH – CAH – TOA.
Perimeter, area and volume: Convert everything to the same unit before you start any calculations. For perimeter, remember to add the unit after the final answer. For area, remember the answer is unit-squared. For volume, the answer is unit-cubed. Also remember that a length can never be a negative number.
For the volume of a prism, work out the area of the base shape, and times that answer with the height of the prism. For volume of a pyramid, work out the volume of the corresponding prism, then divide your answer by 3.
Graphs: Remember to clearly label axis. Also use a ruler to accurately show units on the axis. If you have to draw a stem and leaf plot, remember to include a key.
Name all pages: It is a good idea to put your name on the bottom of all your pages, especially if you use any loose leaf. You may also ask for a stapler to bind all your pages into one booklet.
And finally: Look at the marks for each question as that will reflect how much time and working is required to achieve the answer. Remember to include all stages of your working out.
Thank you to Clare Rimmer for sharing her ideas which inspired me to build on her list of exam tips: http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/surviving-exams/top-tips-to-beat-exam-stress-16153715.html