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Reducing the amount of stupid errors on tests?

  1. Mar 6, 2012 #1
    I am a 2nd semester freshman in college, and I am absolutely sick of making dumb mistakes on tests! For my first 2 tests this semester, I've received unsatisfactory grades because I messed up an integral here or added something wrong there.

    I feel like when I get to a test, I cannot think straight; it feels like I'm in a fog. Why is this so? How can I prevent or reduce this?

    It's upsetting to me because even though it's college, most of the stuff that I'm messing up on is pretty routine, and I usually would have no problems on it. Until I get to the test that is. I am on a hefty scholarship, and with the amount that I am messing up, I am starting to feel like I do not deserve it. Please, someone help me!

    P.S. My G.P.A. is around a 3.5, so it's not horrible, but it could/should be a lot better :/
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2012 #2
    I do this too. It's all stress for me. One thing that helped me a lot is to sit at least a seat from anyone. I've never cheated on a test but I always feel like every movement is being monitored by the professor/TA if I adjust or sit up when I'm close to someone. If I do sit close to someone I bury my head into my test and usually end up with a hurt neck by the end of the test. Silly I know.

    Another thing I do is draw pictures if I'm really freaking. I'm a very slow test taker so even though it takes some time to just space out and draw a doodle it usually helps me in the end. Also, I've been experimenting with another concept to develop my speed because I seriously have problems running out of time on tests. I will grab a page worth of problems and figure out immediately how to start the problems. I'm working on this right now for my upcoming circuits test. Good luck
  4. Mar 6, 2012 #3


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    Things that you can look at to help:
    - Are you getting adequate sleep? If you get more does that change things?
    - Replace 'sleep' above with exercise, nutrition, and down time.
    - How is your pacing when you write an exam? Do you finish early? Do you have time to (and do you) review each of your answers before you hand them in?
    - Have you tried the technique of answer estimation? Before even attempting a thorough solution, do you try to guess what the answer will be? (Sometimes this is just an order of magnitude or a unit thing, but it's surprising how many silly little mistakes it can catch).
    - Practice, practice, practice. Just because something is easy, if you haven't done it in a while you'll be rusty and the chances of a mistake are greater.
  5. Mar 6, 2012 #4


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    Sounds to me like you are doing just fine. Sounds to me like you are not going to get too much sympathy on your "awful" 3.5.

    But to answer your question.....a little stress is normal. It's a test.....part of the test is dealing stress. Typically, the more prepared you are for the test....the less stress you will have.

    And absolutley do not cram before tests. Study for a couple weeks before hand and truly learn the material....good night sleep the night before.

    Also, you are a young person....give yourself some time to mature and you will handle stressful situations more clearly. And even the best of test takers are going to get a little shaken during the toughest test. Unfortunately, we are all human.
  6. Mar 8, 2012 #5


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    I have the same problem. When I started taking exams in college, I would get so nervous that I felt like I couldn't think clearly. I would pace myself poorly then waste time panicking towards the end. Now as a sophomore I think I've finally gotten the hang of it. The key is to not only understand the concepts but to do tons of problems so you can simulate testing conditions. My instructor for E&M gives us past tests, so I always save the one from the year before to do under timed conditions. It's funny, because I always finish early when practicing but I never do when taking the real thing. However, I have no doubt that this is a very valuable technique, it's helped me a lot and now I don't feel nearly as nervous when taking tests. My first round of midterms this semester went pretty well.

    Even if your instructor doesn't give you past tests, you can try to make your own with materials you find in books or online. It's also a good idea to make it harder than the actual test will be.

    Don't be discouraged if you don't see effects right away. It took me a while to get used to taking tests in college and calm my anxiety. It's a learning process. Good luck!
  7. Mar 8, 2012 #6
    Do distributive learning
    Get good sleep
    Drink a coffee to get focused
    Relax when your taking the test, try taking a deep breath
  8. Mar 8, 2012 #7
    Here are some strategies I use for test-taking. I find that the more methodical you can make the process, the less stressful it is, and the less error-prone you become:

    - Underline relevant words and cross out irrelevant words as you read the problem.
    - In any algebraic steps, read them over starting from the bottom, working up. You should be able to arrive where you started if all your steps are correct.
    - Carefully examine any and all negative signs.
    - Check your units at the end.
    - Compare all your final answers with what each question asked for. Have you actually answered the question by giving what was asked?
    - Draw a diagram whenever you are in doubt.
    - Don't start writing too many steps down until you see the form of the solution. Otherwise you'll have to scribble/erase work and that leads to frustration.

    For test preparation:
    - Do practice problems and memorize any required data.
    - If stuck on a problem, always believe that you are capable of solving it (i.e. ruthlessly apply whatever relevant knowledge you have). Thinking that you should have studied more and/or you're incapable of finding the solution just wastes time.
    - After each practice problem, try to generalize and understand what problem-solving process you actually did. Look for patterns. I'll use some examples right here for 1st year integrals:

    [See multiple terms] --> [Integral of sum is sum of integrals]
    [See binomial raised to a difficult power] --> [Suspect trig substitution]
    [See a derivative divided by its integral] --> [Suspect logarithm]
    [See a product] --> [Suspect reverse chain rule or integration by parts]

    You will likely find that doing fewer problems and fully understanding their patterns and general concepts is more useful than doing many problems without fully understanding what you did.
  9. Mar 9, 2012 #8
    There is this thing called 'mindfulness'. Just search for mindfulness exercises. It helps in getting focused and after an exercise you feel less stressed. It's a bit like meditation. There are long and short exercises. I recommend a combination of both. Also great when you have trouble falling asleep at night because there are still equations in your head.
  10. Mar 10, 2012 #9
    If you have any time at all left once you've finished your exam, look over your work and double-check your math. Try to justify everything you've done and see if it makes sense. I make a lot of stupid mistakes (not on exams, just in general) and my favorite professor advised me to just make sure I can explain why I can do each step...it's not that you don't know what you're doing so much as carelessness/forgetfulness/distraction/stress, I suspect.
  11. Mar 12, 2012 #10
    What helped me a lot was to focus on my handwriting (stay with me here). I'm notorious for for switching + and - or even omitting them entirely but I was always writing very fast and trying to keep up with my brain. I decided it was time to slow down. Once I focused on writing every number/operator down neatly, I found myself more focused on what I was actually writing and why I was writing it. 90% of my stupid mistakes went away almost instantly. Don't expect them to never happen again because to err is to be human.
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