Helpful Hints for Taking Math Tests

(especially standardized tests such as SSAT, PSAT, SAT, etc.)

  • The night before the test get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat well prior to the test (both protein and carbohydrates.)
  • Take your I.D., three of four pencils, your watch (and if allowed, a calculator with freshly installed batteries.)
  • Arrive at the test site a little early.

If your find yourself getting anxious, walk briskly for a few moments to get your heart rate up just a little (this takes the edge off any adrenaline jitters.)

Mastering Math Test Time Management

Are you someone who feels the pressure of time ticking away during math tests? Do you often find yourself running out of time before completing all the questions? Effective time management is crucial for success in math exams, whether it’s a standardized test like the SAT or a classroom assessment.

1. Familiarize Yourself with the Test Format

Before the test day, take some time to understand the format and structure of the exam. Know the total number of questions, the time allotted for each section, and whether there are penalties for incorrect answers. This information will help you plan your time allocation for each question accordingly.

2. Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to managing time during math tests. Take practice tests under simulated exam conditions to gauge your pacing. Identify which types of questions take you the most time and strategize accordingly. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at managing your time effectively during the actual test.

3. Use the “Three-Wave” Approach

Divide your time into three waves when tackling math test questions:

First Wave: Start by quickly solving the questions you know how to do and can answer confidently. Skip any challenging or time-consuming questions for now.

Second Wave: Return to the skipped questions and work on the ones you think you can solve with a little more time and effort. Don’t spend too much time on any single question; prioritize efficiency.

Third Wave: With the remaining time, tackle the most challenging questions. If you’re unsure, make educated guesses, especially if there’s no penalty for incorrect answers.

4. Keep an Eye on the Clock

During the test, keep track of the time remaining for each section. Pace yourself accordingly, ensuring you allocate enough time to answer all questions. If you find yourself spending too much time on a single question, consider moving on and coming back to it later if time permits.

5. Practice Mental Math

Developing strong mental math skills can save you valuable time during tests, especially when calculating simple arithmetic or checking answers. Practice mental math exercises regularly to improve your speed and accuracy.

6. Manage Test Anxiety

Feeling anxious can negatively impact your performance and time management during a math test. Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualization to stay calm and focused. Remember to maintain a positive mindset and believe in your abilities.

7. Review and Adjust

After completing the test, take a moment to review your time management strategies. Identify any areas where you could have allocated your time more effectively and make adjustments for future tests. Continuous improvement is key to mastering time management skills.

Effective time management is essential for success in math tests. By familiarizing yourself with the test format, practicing regularly, using strategic approaches, and staying calm under pressure, you can enhance your time management skills and maximize your performance on math exams. With these tips in mind, you’ll be well-equipped to tackle any math test with confidence and precision.


There is usually a percentage of incorrect answers that are deducted from you total score, so you must be very wise in guessing. Your strategy is to maximize your score in the time permitted, without incurring penalties.

On each section, you will be told how many minutes you have for that section.Math Test

  • Note what time you start, and figure the time at which you have to complete that section. For example, if you start a section at 8:37 and you have 25 minutes, time will be called at 9:02.
  • Now subtract 3 minutes from that time. Write that time down so you will know when you need to stop working problems and start filling in the answer sheet or grid. In our example, that would be 8:59.

As you go through the problems:

  • Work in the test book. Use any available blank space for figuring, as needed.
  • Circle your answer choice
  • Also write the letter of the answer choice next to the problem number.

You will be filling in the answers on the blanks or grid during the last three minutes, so do not put anything on the answer sheet as you are working problems.

Do the problems in three waves:

First wave:

  • Do the ones you know how to do and can do quickly.
  • Star any problems that you think you know how to do, but will take more time.
  • Circle any problems that you don’t know how to do. If it is not a multiple-choice problem, guess. There is no penalty for guessing on these short answer types.

Second wave:

  • Return to the problems that you starred. These are the ones that you’re fairly sure you can figure out, but that need more time. Typical of this level of problem would be the ones in which you must try all possible answers to eliminate the incorrect ones.

Third wave:

  • Spend what time you have remaining (not including your last three minutes) working on the problems. Up to now, you have maximized your points given the time constraint. On multiple-choice problems, if you can eliminate at least one answer as incorrect, guess. If you cannot eliminate at least one of the choices, it will be better not to guess. If there is no penalty for incorrect responses, then guess freely.

When you have used up all your time but the last three minutes, stop working. Use the last three minutes to fill in your answer sheet, and check it at least once to be sure you have marked the correct response for each problem. You may be able to check them all twice.

The PSAT and SAT usually have the questions roughly in order of difficulty. If you have 30 questions, you can be pretty sure that by number 18 or so, you will not find but a few problems that you can do very quickly and easily. Keep this in mind as you progress through the problems. If there are 30 questions and you find that number 27 is a “snap,” you may be jumping to conclusions and/or not really understanding what the problem is asking. Be very wary of “obvious” answers more than half way through the section. It would be better to mark it with a star and come back to it.

Put down your pencil and relax until the next section. You have done your best.

Try these techniques on the following group of problems.


For tests taken on a computer, you need to find out if you will be able to skip problems and then go back to them.

If you cannot go back after skipping problems, there usually is no penalty for guessing. (Ask about penalties for incorrect responses.)Just work each problem as quickly as you can, being careful to not spend more than 3 minutes on any single problem. Rather than use a lot of time on one problem, it will be better to guess and go on, so that you can at least try all the problems.

If you can skip and go back, ask about penalties for incorrect responses. Then number a sheet of paper 1, 2, 3,…., 25, or however many problems are in this section. This will be how you record the ones you need to go back to. You will be entering your answer choices on the problems as you go, so there is no need to save time at the end for recording answers.

On each section, you will be told how many minutes you have for that section. Note what time you start, and figure the time at which you have to complete that section. Write that time down so you will know when you need to stop. For example, if you have 30 minutes and you are starting at 10:07, you will have to stop at 10:37. Now take half of the allowed time and figure that from the starting time. In our example, half of 30 minutes is 15 minutes, so write down 10:07 +0 :15 = 10:22. We’ll call this you half-time. By this time you will want to have at least looked at most of the problems.

As each problem is presented, decide if you know how to work it and can do it quickly. If so, then do it and enter your answer. If you think you can do it, but it will take some time, star its number on your list. You will want to come back to this one.

When you find a problem that you have no clue about, circle its number on your list and go on. Continue through the problems, working the easy ones and marking the medium and impossible ones. Try to at least every problem read by half time.

At half-time, if you have not finished looking at all the problems, continue as before, doing the easy ones, and marking the harder ones. When you have seen all the problems, start back and work on the starred, medium-difficulty ones. If you get all of these done and have time remaining, then try the circled, impossible ones. If there is a penalty for incorrect answers, you should not guess on these unless you can eliminate at least one of the choices. If you can rule out at least one choice, then it will be safe to guess. If there is no penalty for incorrect responses, then guess freely.

About The Author

Virginia W. Strawderman, Ph.D. did her dissertation on Math Anxiety. She runs Home Math Help, which has developed and produced the MathHELPS series of games and activities for young children.

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