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Stupid errors on tests

  1. Aug 1, 2012 #1
    I've always been the type to get the concept perfectly yet make some stupid algebra or general time based error on the tests. All through my schooling career, stupid mistakes have dogged me time and time again. I never took a proper algebra course(long story involving Christian fundamentalism and moving halfway across the country), which probably didn't help. I've tried to correct them periodically, yet have never succeeded. However, I've always been content with just knowing the material-I didn't care about getting a 100 versus a 90. It cost me more and more throughout high school, yet I never fixed it.... and I would turn out to regret that.

    Unfortunately, I go to a university that sadistically loves to take off major points for dumb errors, at least in the lower division classes. My penchant for little errors has RAPED my GPA for this first year due to the massive loss of points on exams. I'm not delusional enough to think that that was the sole cause of my failure(study skills/laziness, unprepared for college), but it definitely was non-negligible.

    I have gone through a lot of growth this summer, I'm getting some help with a certain issue of mine, and really think I can turn it around(that and I've changed my major), but I really want to make sure that a repeat of next year never happens again. If it does, graduate school won't be an option, and since I've tried research and really enjoy it(I think. I'm not sure my opinion is qualified to say so yet), I don't wish for this to be so. Though in the end, if they don't accept me or I choose not to go, at least I get to study physics for a few years. But that's unrelated.

    I've managed to arrange with the special service office to take tests alone(don't ask), and I know that will help-I like talking to myself during the exam. I also know I should go over every question-time permitting-and focus intensely on the parts that tend to trip me up.

    Other than that, any other advice? As I've mentioned before, I need to make sure this is different-I've tried to fix it before and fell into old habits. The problem is, I did both things above and STILL bombed the test I recently took, which I thought I did very well on.... I studied and everything, I checked for little errors, but I somehow missed them... Maybe I should go slower? I guess my biggest worry is that I realy don't trust myself anymore after this recent test. Why should I believe that this next year is different? I've been through it before...

    I secretly want to blame the instructor for taking off what I think are unnecessary amounts of points for little errors(I know, immature), but I know deep down that I shouldn't make such errors in the first place, and that blaming him gets me nowhere. I can only control me. So how do I stop from making those little errors? The only thing more irritating than failing exams are failing exams that you've studied for and you know the material going in on. I have one more exam this summer, and I NEED to do well, otherwise my plans for my major are screwed..... so if anyone has any general study tips or notetaking tips(another thing that I've only started doing in earnest recently. I'm getting the hang of it, but still am open to suggenstion for improvement), please say so.

    I've heard that strangely enough, upper level courses are a lot more lenient on little mistakes at my U, so it might be that I'm through the worst of the gauntlet anyway, but assuming that for granted is a risk I can't take, so I'm also thinking about the future. It doesn't get any easier in physics.....
    Thank you all in advance. Here is to the 2012-2013 school year!
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 1, 2012 #2
    I had the same problem and it kind of just went away as I went along, I just became more careful but...I also found out I didn't really get stuff and the subjects I found I really understood I was less prone to make little mistakes on.

    How are you sure you REALLY get the material?
  4. Aug 1, 2012 #3
    That's what I'm worried about. After this year, I really don't trust myself anymore... I feel as though there might be a disconnect from reality. From what I "think" I know, to what I know. Or is it the fact that I know it, but I overlook silly mistakes? However, after looking over the last one, and STILL not catching those stupid mistakes...

    I hate this. I should be concerned with learning new physics material, not chasing down whether I accidently wrote "2" instead of the 1/2 that I calculated above or wrote "sin" instead of cos by mistake, or I forgot to divide somewhere. This isn't learning. But it doesn't really matter what I think, so...

    Actually, I guess it does matter in engineering-my old major-because one little error could kill a whole project. On the other hand, I'd imagine most engineers use computers for tedious calculations and aren't on an arbitrary time limit.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  5. Aug 1, 2012 #4
    I feel ya, losing big marks because you accidently dropped a sign when, given the context, it was obviously just a quick slip of the hand seems a bit much.
    But I guess they've got to be tough or else you get into the problem of where to draw the line..

    Don't stop trusting yourself though, just go slow and work everything out twice.
  6. Aug 1, 2012 #5
    I actually think it's because they want to flunk as many of us as possible, damn how many future career ambitions or lives in extreme cases that they ruin(No. I know they do. Two of my professors explicitly stated it. It confirms what twofish quant said about weeder courses). Though I do see what you mean. I guess it's just reality... maybe they have no choice? I really want to avoid sounding like a whiner blaming others, as I've blamed others in the past while neglecting to change myself, so I'm hesitant to say stuff like that.

    Part of the reason I don't trust myself is unrelated to this mess, but I get you. I just don't want to be believing an illusion and not knowing it. I'd prefer to be disabused of it.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2012
  7. Aug 7, 2012 #6
    I used to commit such mistakes once but not now. And you know what did I observe and learn from my experience ? That It all happens because your mind is not stable. It may not either have proper concentration or determination to for the proposed problem. Let your mind be calm,and you can read the questions thoroughly before writing down the solution , grasp every part of the question as much as you can, and then write down all the details given in the question plan your strategy and then after completing your solution , go through it. Perhaps it may take a long time initially but later on it will be a part of question or problem solving. This all may appear to you like I am giving you advice on how to improve your proof writing or problem solving skills but believe me, if you really will pay attention to what I'm saying you will get benefited, like I did.
  8. Aug 7, 2012 #7
    Did you try earplugs during exams? :D

    This problem used to be the case for me too. Thankfully, my school is very cool with such mistakes. In one notable example I managed to screw up like that (sign errors, missing terms etcetera) on 6 out of 8 problems on an exam in optics, still recieving an A.

    I found out that what stressed me was simply the noise in the exam hall. I have earplugs with me to any exam I write nowadays, and that solved the problem for me.
  9. Aug 7, 2012 #8
    That's the point of getting a seperate room, as the presence of others bother me. I also like to talk to myself during homework, get up and pace, helps me catch errors and such, so I figured on the test... but chances are I'll probably need to take some tests in a "traditional setting" in the future-and it might not a big deal anymore since my classes are much smaller now-I'll do what you said. Thanks.

    Now if only you could listen to music while testing....

    And simpy, your advice also makes since. I'm always tempted to dive right into the problem and crank it out. Maybe that isn't such a good idea.

    6 out of 8 and still and A... Man, I'm jealous. :P
  10. Aug 13, 2012 #9


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    Gold Member

    This response is not the response you want.

    This is the response you need.

    Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.

    Perfect Practice Precludes Poor Performance.

    Most elite athletes are as good as they are because they've worked HARD enough and LONG enough at drills, practices, and scrimmages to execute plays perfectly on game day. It's not enough to understand conceptually kinda sorta what you need to do. You need to be able to go through the motions consistently flawlessly.

    Do every problem you can do. Do more than the assigned homework. Hell, do every problem in every book you can get your hands on. If you get a problem wrong, do it again.

    I know what you're thinking. "Oh, but flesh-eating reanimation of a Nobel Laureate, how do I know what the answer is?"

    Because you qualitatively thought about what answer you SHOULD get before you started cranking the calculation machine. Because you checked your answer's symmetries. You checked how it behaves when r goes to infinity. You checked when r equals zero. You checked how it evolves with time (take some derivatives!). You compared it with answers you remember from analogous problems (you're doing a lot of these, remember?). You checked it with limiting Taylor approximations. You checked when N is small (or large). You see what happens when you turn off the electric (or magnetic or gravitational or...) field.

    In short, because you played with you answer like you would if there WAS NO ANSWER KNOWN. You acted like you were the first person to see this result. Ever.

    Will you still get answers wrong? Yes. So you better do even more problems to be sure.

    Do you think minus signs and factors of two and pi don't count? They do. A minus sign is the difference between the electron orbiting the nucleus and the electron flying off to infinity. A factor of pi is the difference between Gauss's law being correct and it being wrong. A factor of two is constructive interference or destructive interference.

    Do you think completing problems correctly in an "arbitrary" amount of time is unreasonable? See how reasonable your thesis adviser thinks it is for you to require funding for a decade.

    I'm not trying to make you feel bad. I'm trying to motivate you.

    Greatness is not achieved through puppies and rainbows. It is acquired through sweat and tears. It comes after grime and sorrow. Misery and defeat. It comes from doing a lot of problems.

    But what do I know. I'm just a zombie.
  11. Aug 13, 2012 #10

    Well, what can I say to that, reanimated corpse? You hit the nail right on the head.

    No, I don't think that's unreasonable(just the points taken off for minor errors, but you have provided a good counterpoint to that), but that's beside the point.

    Well, nothing to do now, except apply what you and the others said this semester, and hope for the best. And if not, I at least got to study physics.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2012
  12. Aug 13, 2012 #11


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    Gold Member

    Your sadistic professors are doing what any good teacher should do. They should motivate you to avoid making the same errors twice. They are a blessing in disguise.

    People have a misconception about what it takes to be a good physicist. Being a genius is not a prerequisite. Hard work is. "Geniuses" are just people who get to the same answer you can get to a little bit faster. A reasonably intelligent student with the drive, dedication and discipline to work extremely hard can be quite successful in physics.

    Good luck in your future endeavors.
    Last edited: Aug 13, 2012
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