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Testing Keep making silly mistakes in exams

  1. Mar 7, 2016 #1
    I keep making stupid mistakes on exams, despite knowing the material very well and being very good at these subjects. For example, on a math midterm I had a couple of months ago, I accidentally wrote 4 times 2 is 12, then used that 12 throughout the rest of the calculation. That cost me major marks and I ended up with an 85 instead of a 90-something, which I would have gotten had I not made that stupid mistake.

    I wrote another math midterm recently. My final mark was a 29/49 which is approximately a 59%. I could have sworn I aced it. What mistakes did I make? I misread two questions. One question indicated that continuous maps were from a metric space [itex] M [/itex] into [itex] \mathbb{R}^n [/itex]. I proved the proposition assuming that the maps carried the metric space into the reals!!! On another question on that same midterm I was to prove, or disprove by counter example, something about a certain collection of functions being uniformly convergent. However, I was supposed to assume that the functions converged point-wise to [itex] 0 [/itex]. I completely missed that part, which made me provide a completely false counter example, rather than proving the proposition. My mark would have been a 44/49, which is about an 90%, had this not happened.

    I don't know why this keeps happening, but it's unacceptable. This is my second academic career, so to speak. I went to school a few years ago, did very well in some math classes, but then dropped out. I returned to school this past September and I simply cannot afford to screw up, as I really want to go to graduate school. I never used to have this problem in my previous academic career. Perhaps I wasn't as serious about school back then, so I didn't put so much pressure on myself? I don't know.

    I guess my question is, what can I do about this? What exam strategies should I start employing? I'd really appreciate your help. Thanks.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2016
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 7, 2016 #2
    I also had the same problem and it happens because you get so nervous in the test. I knew God, God talked to me and he told me that he was going to be giving me the best grades in my studies. Now I feel less nervous and get excellent grades. I don't know if what I am saying is allowed because I am giving a non-standard answer. I know how it feels. I know how frustrated you feel, but unfortunately there is no standard solution in my opinion. I am speaking from facts. A real change that happened in my life. It looks like you have tried every conventional way to improve your grades, but it didn't work like in my case.
  4. Mar 7, 2016 #3

    Simon Bridge

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    Part of what an exam is testing is if you can avoid making silly mistakes under pressure... being able to accurately and quickly ascertain the problem to be solved is an important skill, for example, and you will be tested on it your whole life.

    Basically you need to work out what sorts of silly mistakes you are prone to and test different ways to ameliorate their effects.

    A lot of it is some sort of mental quirk.
    Some are harmless. i.e. I have an annoying habit of spelling "with" with 2 h's when I write it longhand, and I get ie/ei mixed up consistently, but this vanishes if I type.
    Some are serious: I used to misplace minus signs ... the solution was to use negative numbers and add them, for some reason did not misplace negative signs. After a while I would just read -1 as + negative 1 and now I can write equations like a normal person.
    Some quirks are lethal: I tutored someone who would burst out laughing at the sight of the exponential function written exp() - had to use e^, but it was impossible in an exam. We never figured what it was but the solution was acclimatization ... but we figured out he didn't laught if he hummed a bit under his breath when reading the question.

    Most people it's just pressure ... so you need to practise taking exams under pressure. Try to ramp up the stakes when you do prev exam papers.

    Some people pray, or do a meditation ... take a mascot into the exam, stuff like that.
    I'd be a bit concerned if the voices in your head were helping you with your irrational fears...

    If you don't already, on the exam day ... do no study about an hour before the exam, locate the exam room then stay away (there are a lot of anxious people hanging around out there), and make a crib sheet of the things you tend to forget ... read it to yourself right before entering the exam room, then write down everything from the sheet on the back of the exam paper the second you can start writing.
  5. Mar 7, 2016 #4


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    Besides the good advice given above: proofread, proofread, proofread.

    Example: can you find the math error you made in post #1?
  6. Mar 7, 2016 #5
    Oops..I wrote that 29/59 is approximately 59%. I changed the 29/59 to 29/49. I think that I may be thinking too fast, afraid that I won't finish in time, so I am rushing things. I think that I need to slooooow down.
  7. Mar 10, 2016 #6
    I have a similar problem and can only recommend what has worked for me.

    I am a top student in all of my mathematics classes, but too often I would make stupid errors, or at least errors I viewed as minor and silly. I thought about it for a while and realized that there was a much deeper issue at play.

    First, I felt like because of being a top student, I had to maintain this notion by being faster than everyone else. I realized, however, that by going unnecessarily fast, I was ultimately causing myself more problems which lead me to realize that I don't owe anyone my failures. Once I stopped caring about how I was perceived in relation to the other students, I was able to slow down and catch minor errors.

    Second, because I feel so comfortable with the equations, I often will take short cuts which come from familiarity. However, as I continued taking these short cuts and continuing making minor errors, I was only re-enforcing those habits. It made my hand hurt a bit, but I wrote everything out explicitly for several months which forced me to extend my attention to each individual term and catch errors, or more often, not make any errors at all. After a few months I was able to start taking some short cuts again, however there are specific processes where I know I am more often to err and I will still write those out to ensure I keep my work correct.

    I hope this helps a bit and best of luck!
  8. Mar 14, 2016 #7
    If I were you, I'd try to resist thinking of tests as something separate from your homework/studying outside of class. Instead, you should try to cultivate a consistent method of attack for any problems you do. If you find that you're making stupid mistakes (like misreading problems), I would suspect that when you do homework problems you maybe rush more than you should. The rushing is exasperated by being somewhat nervous on an exam (this is all my personal experience; if it doesn't match yours you can disregard this whole thing).

    To remedy this, try to be more careful in EVERYTHING you do. Practice like you play, as it were. I recently encountered a situation where I had to do calculations much longer than usual. By trying to be a more careful person across the board, I've found my calculational accuracy increase in homework, tests, you name it.

    Hope that helps.
  9. Mar 14, 2016 #8
    Thanks for the advice. My next test is on March 24th...I spoke to a TA in one of my math classes about my problem and he gave me some useful advice. So I will be changing the way that I prepare for my exams. I will let you guys know it goes!
  10. Mar 14, 2016 #9


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    Good luck,

    Make sure you use the full time available. If you finish early, rework any lengthy calculations to double check. I normally catch errors that way.
  11. Mar 15, 2016 #10


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    Check your answers!!! Sometimes you can do this just by quickly looking at it and asking, "Does this make sense?". Other times you may need to plug your answer back into the original question or part of the answer into some other part of your work.

    This right here. I have to force myself to write out small steps so that I wouldn't get lost or make an error.
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