Not everyone is a “math person,” and even skilled math students can get out of practice if they haven’t had to do math in a while. If your math skills are a little shaky, there are number of steps you can take to prepare for Praxis Core Math. Below are ten tips to help you get in touch with your inner “math person” and get a top score in math on the Praxis Core.
1. Know the terms on the exam. One of the most frustrating ways to “blow” a Praxis Core Math question is to simply not know the vocabulary. Be sure you understand the key words associated with algebra, geometry, statistics, and math operations. Know the meanings of words like numerator, factor, mean, median, congruent, variable, and so on. The Dummies website has a good list of Core Math vocabulary words here.
2. Know the formulas on the exam. Sometimes Praxis Core Math will give you the formula you need. But more often than not, you won’t be given a formula, and you’ll just need to know it. A great starting point for remembering the formulas is Mike’s cheat sheet right here on our blog.
3. Really know the terms and formulas. All too often, test-takers simply memorize formulas and vocabulary words without actually understanding the deeper meaning behind them. When you learn a vocabulary word, don’t just memorize the definition. Instead, take a really good look at the concept behind the vocabulary word, and how this concept makes math “work.” Similarly, analyze the logic behind every formula. If you don’t develop this deeper understanding, you will make mistakes easily on test day.
4. Don’t overthink math problems. The Praxis Core Math exam tests your ability to focus on the right details in a seemingly complicated problem. Geometry questions will depict angles or lines you don’t actually need to pay attention to. Story problems will mention variables that aren’t useful in calculating the answer. Develop an eye for information you don’t need. If you waste time on variables that don’t’ matter, you will make more mistakes and risk running out of time.
5. Eliminate obviously incorrect answer choices. Just as you don’t always need to carefully check each variable, there are often quick ways to rule out an answer choice without picking it apart. If a problem involves multiplying by two odd numbers, any even number will be a wrong answer. If a problem involves multiplying by an even number, you can eliminate odd answers. If you need to identify the points on a coordinate plane and the question already tells you that one of the points is x2, y-4, then you can quickly eliminate any answer that doesn’t contain that intersection.
6. Get good at mental math. More often than not, using the on-screen calculator will slow you and increase chances of error. The same goes for writing out all of the steps on scratch paper—don’t write out every step if there’s a simpler way. Mental math is key here. The more math you can comfortably do in your head, the better you’ll perform on the Core Math exam.
7. Get good at estimation. Most Praxis core math problems are multiple choice. Frequently, if you can estimate the answer within reasonable accuracy, you’re as close as you need to be. Just choose the answer that comes the closest to your estimation.
8. Know how to estimate pi. Pi is a symbol that looks like this: π. It’s used to calculate certain properties of circles and cylinders. Pi comes up multiple times on the Core Math test. In numerical form, pi is 3 followed by an infinite number of decimals. All you need to know for the purposes of core math is that pi can be rounded down to 3.14. Estimate pi accordingly.
9. Know how to estimate square roots. Some square roots are easy to calculate. The square root of 4 is 2. The square root of 9 is 3.
But what about square roots that don’t result in whole numbers? How, for example, can you calculate the square root of 5? Bringing up that square root on a calculator will produce decimals that are needlessly complicated for the purposes of Core Math.
Fortunately, there’s a simple estimation method in cases like this. 5 is between 9 and 4, but closer to 4. You already know that 2 is the square root of 4 and 3 is the square root of 9. So you can know that the square root of 5 is between 2 and 3, and closer to 2. Similarly, the square roots of 6, 7, or 8, would be between 2 and 3, but closer to 3. These estimates are not terribly accurate, but they’re as accurate as you need to be on Praxis Core Math.
10. Know when you should use a calculator. There are times when using a calculator is absolutely the right move on the exam. Sometimes the Praxis will give you an exceptionally complicated problem specifically geared toward calculator use. But even more often, a math problem may be beyond your own personal limits of math ability. If you find yourself taking too long to solve a problem and feeling you’re nowhere near the answer, break out the calculator and get things right. The trick during practice is to get very good at mental math, so that your “I need a calculator” moments are minimal.