7 Solid Strategies To Improve Math Test Scores

ALI Staff | Published  December 04, 2023

There is no single strategy when it comes to how to improve math test scores in the classroom. A classroom full of students comes with a classroom full of unique learning styles, so leveraging a few different strategies will typically yield more impressive results.

That all said, there are a few evidence-based methods proven to improve math scores, even among diverse learners or students who struggle in math.

Let’s take a look at seven different ways of boosting scores and how to help students improve in math. 


Student taking math test


1. Embrace hands-on learning

Manipulatives aren’t just for elementary-aged students. Kids of all ages should use hands-on tools to make abstract math concepts more concrete and to make the math classroom more interactive.

While it’s not likely students will be able to use manipulatives on testing day, it can make learning new concepts easier, especially if it seems like students are just stuck.

Hands-on tools can make it easier to visualize the step-by-step process of challenging math problems. Examples of hands-on learning in math include:

  • Physical objects to represent numbers and operations.
  • Pattern blocks and tangrams to represent geometric shapes or to explore the link between math and art.
  • Dice, coins, and spinners to teach probability and statistics.
  • Student-led surveys that can be organized into bar graphs, pie charts, and other visual representations.
  • Math games and puzzles that create opportunities for strategic thinking as students learn new concepts.

Hands-on learning experiences make math more enjoyable, deepen students' understanding of abstract topics, and make an easier job of how to improve in math.


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2. Relate math concepts to real-world applications

Math is all around us. Show students how math is used in everyday life to boost engagement and their interest in new concepts.

This can be particularly powerful with students who don’t feel a connection to math.

Make math more meaningful for students by using real-world data from current news topics. Engage with students about problem-solving scenarios on things they care about.

It doesn’t have to go that deep, either. Pizzas can become a real-life tool for learning fractions.

Student interest surveys can go a long way here to gather anecdotal information about your students’ likes, dislikes, and even the video games they love to play at home.

Model a new concept using themes from their favorite games, and you’ll quickly become the classroom MVP.


3. Target support for struggling learners 

Boosting math scores is directly related to challenges around how to improve math skills of all of your students. That includes your struggling learners or students with diverse learning needs.

If you have multilingual students in your classroom, frontload relevant math vocabulary so that everyone can participate in a lesson. Use more visuals and scaffold math instruction as much as possible.

It’s important to know which students are struggling before you initiate supports, too. Create opportunities for individualized feedback after both formal and informal assessments to ensure timely intervention.

Monitor progress with new interventions to see what worked and what didn’t.

When appropriate, connect math to art, engineering, science, technology, health, and literature. Show how an understanding of math can make everyday information more accessible and help make informed decisions (especially if statistics are involved.)


4. Guide students to show their work

Getting the right answer often isn’t enough on today’s math assessments. Students need to be able to explain how they got there.

This gets them thinking about the “why” behind the problem rather than simply memorizing how to solve a particular problem.

Students must learn how to do this. Guide students through the step-by-step process of not only getting to an answer but also showing the journey along the way.

This level of comprehension is interdisciplinary and could support growth in other areas, like language arts and science.


5. Teach social-emotional skills alongside math concepts

Math doesn’t come naturally for all students. For many, math can actually come with math anxiety. This is when just the very thought of math makes a student feel stressed or anxious.

That’s why it’s so important to explicitly link social-emotional learning with math instruction. Here are a few areas to target:

  • Perseverance: Learning math requires perseverance, especially for students who don’t like math at the moment or who believe they’re bad at math. Build confidence by creating a dynamic and supportive environment where it’s safe to make mistakes. 

  • Mindfulness: For students who have a hard time working through challenging tasks, introduce exercises before and after those tasks to help manage stress. Encourage brain breaks when things do get hard.

  • Collaboration: Encourage students to work together to solve complex problems. This builds interpersonal skills, teamwork, and the ability to communicate about math more effectively. It builds a sense of community in the classroom, too.
  • Reflection: Turn the math classroom into a more thoughtful, self-reflective place. Integrate reflective practices like math journals where students can jot down their thoughts or struggles. This can help students build necessary writing skills, too.

  • Self-awareness: Teach students how to notice when they’re feeling disregulated, especially when before an assessment. Show them ways to address those feelings and access those new skills around perseverance and mindfulness.


6. Show students how to work smarter

So much around how to improve at math has to do with looking for ways to make processes more efficient. You don’t need to teach to the test to show students how to eliminate obviously wrong multiple-choice answers.

It’s about teaching students how to become more intuitive with their thinking. Practice decoding skills, especially with diverse learners, as math often requires solid reading comprehension.

Teach students how to annotate to help them break down text-heavy word problems.


7. Practice, practice, practice

It’s not just about homework, although extra practice at home can help new concepts stick with your students. Practice new skills in the classroom. Deconstruct challenging math problems in small groups or as a whole group. 

Return to “old” concepts regularly, especially at the start of the school year or after a long break. Math concepts can build from one to the next, so it’s important to keep all of those learned skills fresh.

It’s also important that students aren’t surprised by anything come test day.

Take practice tests. If technology is involved in an upcoming assessment, practice using that technology before the day comes. Embrace technology as part of your daily routine, too.

Leverage technology as a way to monitor student progress and engage students through fun activities and gamification.

Make it less about how to raise your math grade and math scores and more about engaging with the content. 

The rest will come as students become more invested in the content. Learning math can (and should!) be fun.

The easier you make it for your students to access, the more likely they’ll want to practice fresh concepts on their own.


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