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I seriously need some test taking strategies for Math

  1. Jun 24, 2010 #1
    I just got back my midterm and I went from like a 85% down to a 70%. The subject was Math

    I noticed that I made a lot of silly and stupid mistakes. Like I really know the stuff from heart, but I wrote it differently and thus I my brain went with what I wrote.

    Like I made a mistake on dividing fractions I had 3/2 in mind and I wrote 2/3 and then the mistakes follow and bam...the entire answer was wrong.

    I got some of the easiest questions wrong...like for converting coordinates, like I had arctan(y/x) in my mind and I wrote down arctan(y/r)...it was worth 4 marks..

    So now I went from an 85% to a70%...

    The midterm was like 1/4 of our marks...

    There were more silly mistakes...

    Can someone please boost my morale a bit?...I am feeling so down right now.

    Like it's not that I don't study hard, because I do math like everyday and I review my hw when it is test time. I just dont' get why I make those mistakes
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 24, 2010 #2
    Sounds like you just weren't in the zone when you were taking the test. It happens to the best. People are not machines. Just study hard and relax as best you can when you are taking a test.
  4. Jun 24, 2010 #3
    I've actually had the same problem. I basically tutored 4 people in math, 3 of them got 100 on the exam while I only got an 88 because I panicked when I saw the test and ended up missing an entire question(on an 8 question test). If I didn't get the other 7 questions 100% correct I would be "stuck in quicksand".

    What matters is: Can you teach the material to someone and explain it rigorously? Can you prove each theorem and re-derive formulas on your own? Also, the only way to avoid silly mistakes is by fixing the mistakes while practicing.

    Some people are good at computation, but they are slow at learning and weak in understanding. Others may be quick with learning and have a strong understanding of what they learn, but they may be very error-prone when it comes to computation. There are of course people that are any combination of the above, but let me get to the point: Do every single practice problem you can get your hands on.
  5. Jun 24, 2010 #4
    Practice. Do more problems from the textbook, and review the questions on the tests you have to see how he will ask something. Also do not stress before the test, study hard but when you need to sleep do it. When you get to the test, review the entire test quickly and then begin, do all the problems that come to you quickly and then go back to finish the ones that require more thought (this warms up your brain for the hard ones). Always stay as long as possible, recheck your work in the calculator and in your head to make sure it makes sense. and for those really small mistakes... hope your teacher gives partial credit :)
  6. Jun 24, 2010 #5
    Thank you everyone, but the thing, I have done all of that. Did every problem in the book, proved every theorem.

    Like I said, the questions are very easy, but making one silly mistake can pretty much destroy your answer.

    I am worried because if I keep doing this, I am going to graduate with a low gpa and never get into grad school and not get a job.
  7. Jun 24, 2010 #6


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    Sorry to hear it gretun. Have you had problems with tests in the past, or is it just this class?

    About the line I bolded: I advise you to not let yourself go down that thought path. You're just putting pressure on yourself needlessly, which won't help.
  8. Jun 24, 2010 #7
    Honestly, the only subject I ever cared about was Maths so I never noticed.

    Last year in my class, I took it online. I barely made any mistakes like this and graduated with a 95%.

    I know it is unhealthly to think negatively, but this is the sad truth of our society. I just can't think of any alternative plans if i fail college.
  9. Jun 24, 2010 #8
    Seriously, just relax. Just tell yourself that you've done all that you can do, and you're going to slaughter this stuff. Try to develop an intuitive concept of the material. For instance, I've never even had a trig class -- only self study -- and I spotted your mistake on arctan(y/r) right off the bat, since y/r is a representation of sine. I knew this because I associate the y axis with sine, due to the unit circle representation. Find out what works for you, then go into the test and RELAX.

    One thing I've found effective is the "Lost" technique for surviving high-stress situations. Look up, breathe deeply, count backwards from five, and afterwards, you're gonna ace that damn test. It WORKS. Really.
  10. Jun 24, 2010 #9
    No the thing is I know it, like I know it by heart, kind of like 1 + 1, but when I write it, it's not 1 + 1, I write 1 + 2 and then, well you guessed it, 1 + 2 = 2, and it is wrong.
  11. Jun 24, 2010 #10
    Might I recommend reviewing your work before submission? You may even need to be checked for a form of dyslexia.
  12. Jun 24, 2010 #11
    My advice is to slow down in the following way. After you [strike]right[/strike] write (← these are the sort of mistakes that can be cut down by reviewing your work) down a step, pause a second and think about it, then go along. Done right, this should not drastically increase your test-taking time and will give you more confidence in your answer. Maybe this will not help you, but it might be worth a shot if you remember.

    Onto the other task, boosting your morale. Last semester I took my algorithms final, which was worth 30% of my grade, and got a 39% (class mean was a 66 with low standard deviation), but still ended up with a B in the class, so it's not all hopeless.
  13. Jun 24, 2010 #12
    I am not sure if my instructor will curve the grades...because I don't think anyone made as many silly mistakes as I could have. And the thing is, I get tough questions correct, but the easy questions wrong because of silly mistakes.
  14. Jun 24, 2010 #13
    Just try your best, and let the chips fall where they may.
  15. Jun 24, 2010 #14
    I know this sounds absurd, but if I transfer, will my gpa reset? Like after I completed the course. I am not giving up on the course. If i apply to grad school, will they see this poor score?
  16. Jun 24, 2010 #15
    All I'm saying is that one poorer grade can be easily offset by other grades. Even though my final exam is curved, I'm guessing that two and a half standard deviations below the mean is probably not better than a 70%.

    In my experience, silly mistakes are always a difficult problem to fix. You can't really practice more or understand better. If it's nerves, surely try Angry Citizen's advice. I also knew a guy who in high school was two years ahead of his math curriculum, very intelligent. However, in every math exam, he always made stupid mistakes. In his case, I don't think it was nerves; just carelessness and some loss of focus. If that's your problem, you might think about trying my advice, and those similar to it.
  17. Jun 24, 2010 #16
    I usually eat an orange (sugarly food) or drink a cup of tea to heighten my awareness to avoid these mistakes, but it doesn't work...I mean I am awake, but I still make those mistakes.
  18. Jun 25, 2010 #17
    Your problem doesn't seem to be with the math so much as the test itself. You need to develop a checking strategy for your work.

    When I used to have math tests to go to, I would make mistakes like this as well - most people do. The way I went about trying to combat it was as follows:

    1. When entering the exam I would always take a couple of minutes to relax myself without opening the exam paper. This prevented me from rushing in to the first questions.

    2. Make sure that I fully read each question before attempting it. After reading the question, I would read through it again - this time making notes on the math I felt I was going to have to use. I would mark each of the major stages with some symbol, to help me as a reminder.

    3. When tackling a question, go slowly. Spread your work out so it's easy to read later when you're checking over your solution. Refer to the notes you've made on the question paper - it will give your mind some structure and help to plan for the whole question, rather than just the 'next step'.

    4. Very important, this one. Check your answers afterwards. Cover up each line of the solution with your exam paper, and look over them in turn.
  19. Jun 25, 2010 #18
    Yeah, echoing fasterthanjao, I used to have the exact same problem you're describing. And it really got me down.

    My piece of advice which has totally turned it around for me when checking is to check the answer in a different way to the way you solved it, it's absolutely imperative in my opinion. You say yourself that when you make a mistake, you don't realise it because at the time, you had the right thought process, thinking to yourself "I remember getting this one right" ? I don't know about you but certainly that's what I used to do, now I always check it using a different method wherever possible, or if time allows and I can't check it like that, re-complete the question. I know it sounds a bit over the top, but that was the only way i've been able to cut out stupid mistakes in tests.
  20. Jun 25, 2010 #19
    There's not much you can do to avoid silly errors, apart from reviewing what you have written before handing the paper/assignment in.

    I used to make similar mistakes in exams too, even though I'd get 90% - 100% in the coursework. It's not that I didn't know the material, it's just that due to the exam setting, and a feeling of being short of time, I used to miss things.

    For example, I can't count the number of times I've wrote [tex]\sin\theta dr d\phi[/tex] instead of [tex]r \sin\theta dr d\phi[/tex], resulting in the complete wrong answer! And once I spent days trying to work out why my answer to a piece of coursework was wrong. It turned out that in one part I had differentiated x2 instead of integrating it. A simple mistake, but one that took me ages to find!

    So, try your best to review your work, but you have to accept that mistakes will happen.
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2010
  21. Jun 25, 2010 #20
    How will one poor score in one course affect grad school?
  22. Jun 25, 2010 #21
    A B will hardly matter. If it's only 1/4th of your grade, you can definitely get it up to that. Don't worry man.

    I used to have these problems all the time. What I found was that I was actually overconfident. I would go waaaay too fast in my computations and make a silly mistake here or there. I didn't even check the answer with my calculator. Once I got my first test back, I almost had a heart attack. Afterwards, I decided I would do a few things which may or may not apply to you: I wrote bigger, instead of scribbling tiny things that I could hardly even read, and I wrote it on a separate piece of paper, and I definitely went through the entire thing on a calculator and checked it. I also decided to mentally go through the problem again recalling the basic structures of the rules in order to solve them, and doing some common sense checking on some simple computations. Lastly, I wrote as much as I possibly could, because I found skipping some steps can result in simple mistakes that would be nontrivial if I had written it out. Show as much work as possible. These things have helped me nearly eliminate all of my mistakes.

    You just have to find your own ways. You know yourself and you've really got to look and see why you're doing these things. For me, I was overconfident and thought I didn't have to be so clear and all, which ended badly for me. I sincerely hope you find what the problem is friend, because I know how crappy it feels to be shot down over such stupid things like that. I've been there. If you can't figure it out, hope you'll try out a few of my strategies if they're applicable.

    And most importantly, keep your head up. Nothing wrong with a little humility, but the right amount of confidence is key as well.
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