How can I get better at answering tougher questions on tests?
I wish more students would ask me this question because being able to answer tougher questions leads to better marks, more confidence, and an attitude of “Bring it on. I’ve got this!”
Two thoughts to keep in mind that will help you get better at tougher questions:
1. Challenging questions (a.k.a. tougher questions) build on Moderate questions, which in turn, build on Easy questions (a.k.a. the fundamentals). So it stands to reason that if you really, really understand the Easy questions (the fundamentals), you have it in you to get the tougher questions.
My definition of really understanding the fundamentals is that you know why you are doing what you are doing. Tougher questions are just easy questions presented differently so know, and understand, your easy questions!
2. Depending on your school and teacher, your tests may be broken down into the four KCAT categories: K - Knowledge, A - Application, C- Communication, and T- Thinking.
The easiest questions are the Knowledge questions; they are on the basic math in the unit (e.g. Evaluate 5+4).
The next toughest ones are the Application/word problem questions (e.g. You have $5 and are given another $4. How much do you have in total?).
The Thinking questions are the toughest because it isn’t obvious how to do them or what to do first (e.g. Why is 5+4 =9?). As a result, you need to be thinking about how you can use what you know about the easier Knowledge questions to help you with these tougher Thinking questions. Many tough Thinking questions become do-able if you really understand why the Knowledge questions work the way they do.
So how do the previous two points help? Well, basically you’re only a few steps away from making a tough question into an easier question by taking the following two (2) steps:
1. When faced with a tough math question, you need to ask yourself, “Where have I seen this before?” or “What past math concept does this build on?” In other words, you are trying to make a connection between the tough math question and the easier version of it that you have seen previously. Does thinking this strategy work? You bet it does and it’s one of the key strategies MathCubed students learn to do well. Our students are always looking for the connections between the math they are currently doing and the math they have previously done.
2. Now that you know tougher questions build on easier questions, your next strategy becomes a little more obvious. WRITE DOWN AS MANY STEPS AS POSSIBLE! Write down all steps! Write down everything you’re thinking. Do not skip any steps. Writing ALL steps will allow you to do the “tough” question one step at a time, and with each step you write down you’re a step closer to making it into an easier question. As someone once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” and tough questions are like that. Do them step-by-step and, before you know it, you’ve turned a tough question into an easier one – one which you now find do-able. Yeah!
Important to know: What’s wonderful about any tough question is that they force you to really think, problem solve, and persevere all of which helps you become a stronger math student. Yes, I know it feels great to get questions quickly and easily but the real learning happens when you get stumped. So have the attitude of “Bring it on. I’ve got this!” and you’ll start to look forward to tougher math questions.