Laying a strong base is vital to success in math.

Only 39 percent of fourth graders and 34 percent of eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level on the 2009 nationwide spring math test, according to "The New York Times." The statistics are disappointing, considering that math is a core subject in elementary, middle and high school and that achieving impressive test scores is critical for students who hope to pursue math-related majors in college. However, students can use a variety of methods to improve their low math scores.

Supplemental Curriculum

Students who are struggling with math can benefit from a supplemental curriculum, where the teacher provides individualized attention on specific concepts. Schools typically offer a standard math curriculum, approved by the board of education. However, to improve math scores, a school also can use a special curriculum, where children learn at their own pace with guidance from teachers. For example, at Alicia Cortez Elementary School in Chino Valley, California, math test scores improved after the school introduced a digital, supplemental curriculum that targeted problem areas that teachers had identified for each participating student.

Understand Vs. Memorize

Students can apply a math formula better if they understand it instead of just memorizing it. Math problems require a student to use a formula to work out the answer; sometimes students must show how they worked through the problem on the answer sheet. A student who tries to memorize how to answer a question may score low on tests if he forgets the exact sequence or mixes up the information. By comparison, a student who understands how to derive and apply a math formula should be able to answer any question on the topic, regardless of how it is framed in an exam.

Practice Frequently

Math is a practical subject, so students who routinely handle different kinds of mathematical questions, such as word problems, fractions, calculus and algebra, are better able to tackle exams. Doing a number of problems daily, particularly in the run-up to a test, helps students remember how to sort out math problems at exam time. Students also can take online tests to become familiar with how to answer questions, how to finish the test in the time allocated and also will get instant feedback about problem areas that need more work.

Follow Directions

Keen attention to detail is key to improving math test scores. Failure to follow instructions is a common downfall. Students must learn to avoid careless mistakes, such as failing to show their calculations where required, writing answers in the wrong spaces or failing to double-check their answers before turning in their tests. Low-scoring students must learn to strive for accuracy as they answer math problems.