Stupid mistakes

How do I not make them. It's a reoccurring problem I've been having on tests in college. I try to always read the problems carefully, check my work etc, but every time I make some kind of mistake. These range from algebra errors, to misreading the questions, to actually coming up with the right answer but circling some other formula or relation...

I think it may be test anxiety but that doesn't really tell me much. I always sleep the night before a test, come well prepared etc. So any suggestions for how I can relax??
 
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I just made one today...it probably costed me 5 marks.
 
same here, everyone makes them. We're all human (I'm assuming)
 
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same here, everyone makes them. We're all human (I'm assuming)
Not really an excuse when it becomes consistent. Like I noticed that i make at least one silly mistake every exam
 

Redbelly98

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How do I not make them. It's a reoccurring problem I've been having on tests in college. I try to always read the problems carefully, check my work etc, but every time I make some kind of mistake. These range from algebra errors, to misreading the questions, to actually coming up with the right answer but circling some other formula or relation...
Not sure if this will help, but do you tend to write things down, or try to remember all the details and intermediate results when working a problem? You can try making a point of writing down, briefly, what the question is asking for so that you don't go off on some wild goose chase. For example, "Find vfinal", "Find x", "Factor the expression", etc.

It sounds like you take a lot of multiple-choice tests, if you are choosing answers from a list. How about writing down the answer you get, before selecting in the multiple-choice list? Then if you pick a different answer, you might see your mistake and be able to correct it.

Don't know if that would help with your issues, but I've seen enough students who try to do everything in their head, without writing stuff down. Then when it comes to doing complex problems they either go around in circles or can't remember what they were thinking 2 minutes ago.
 
Something that works for me are some quick checks. For example, if you are doing a polynomial equation, set everything to 0 or 1, and then you can quickly figure out if you've made a calculation error. Other technique that I've found useful to step back and sketch out what the solution is supposed to look like than the fill it in later (i.e. write a general outline).

Finally, something that works for me is that I just tell myself that I'm not that good at arithmetic. The thing that you want to avoid is a test "death spiral" in which you worried about making a mistake and your brain freezes, so sometimes I'll just tell myself that I'll lose 5 points and that's ok, otherwise my brain stops working and I lose 30.
 
Not really an excuse when it becomes consistent. Like I noticed that i make at least one silly mistake every exam
It's more of a statement of reality than an excuse.

You should know that in the "real world" people are expected to make mistakes, and if you have a situation in which one math mistake can cause a disaster, then the problem really isn't with the people but rather the system the people are in. If you've created a system in which someone calculated 1+1=3 will cause a plane to explode, then you really have to rethink the system, because at some point someone will calculate 1+1=3.

One of my favorite movie scenes is in Apollo 13 in which you have a group of engineers calculate a critical number and then report if a calculation is correct or not. It's a favorite scene because that sort of thing happens in real life, and if you have a life-and-death calculation, you really do want to have several people do it.

Also, when writing real world computer systems, people are expected to make stupid mistakes. Machines are much less prone to making arithmetic mistakes, and so anything that critically involves making a calculation you try to get a machine to do.
 
Finally, something that works for me is that I just tell myself that I'm not that good at arithmetic. The thing that you want to avoid is a test "death spiral" in which you worried about making a mistake and your brain freezes, so sometimes I'll just tell myself that I'll lose 5 points and that's ok, otherwise my brain stops working and I lose 30.
Hmm...never thought of that. Happened to me today in fact. Blew my Algebra midterm because I spent too much time worrying about doing a shot elegant solution instead of just brute forcing the last remaining part of the question. That in turn led me to loose a bunch of time and in the end I didn't get to finish my exam.
 
Something that works for me are some quick checks. For example, if you are doing a polynomial equation, set everything to 0 or 1, and then you can quickly figure out if you've made a calculation error. Other technique that I've found useful to step back and sketch out what the solution is supposed to look like than the fill it in later (i.e. write a general outline).

Finally, something that works for me is that I just tell myself that I'm not that good at arithmetic. The thing that you want to avoid is a test "death spiral" in which you worried about making a mistake and your brain freezes, so sometimes I'll just tell myself that I'll lose 5 points and that's ok, otherwise my brain stops working and I lose 30.
That happens to me too and I normally do those "quick checks". Problem is your "death spiral" is almost constant in my case. I get very anxious all the way through the test, so that by the end I always have to go burn my extra energy through exercise.

It isn't frustration necessarily. Yesterday I left the test sure that I got each problem completely correct, in fact I finished with enough time to go through every step of each problem again. That was until I was comparing answers with my friends who told me that the last question (30 points) was just a copy of a easy homework question and I had misread it.
The question was the minimum E a electron needs when it strikes a stationary electron to form a electron positron pair. I missed the part about one electron being stationary. Not important but thought I should clarify. It feels like I got blinders on in the test room.
 
Tests are part of the "hidden curriculum" (Note here that just because it's hidden, doesn't mean that it is bad).

Sometimes what is being taught isn't what appears to be taught. One thing that you do learn with these sorts of tests is stress management, and something that I've noticed with undergraduates is that they are usually overloaded with homework so what really is being taught there is time management.

This explains one curious fact that employers are often more concerned that you have a certain level of a degree rather than what the degree is in. For example, if you have a bachelor's degree, I know that

1) you've learned how to control your stress level in a test and think under pressure
2) you've learned how to work your way through an arcane bureaucracy and figured out how to play the credit game to get a degree
3) you can take orders from authority. If the teacher gives you an assignment, you might hate the teacher and the assignment, but in the end you will turn it in rather than go up to the teacher and punch them in the nose.

In short, if you have a bachelors, we know that you can be a corporate cog. You might not like being a corporate cog, but you can do it.

That's really what employers value the piece of paper that certifies that you can be a corporate cog.

One thing about this is that this explains why a lot of efforts to actually teach material online haven't get anywhere. If you learn physics through some sort of unstructured distance learning program, we know that you might know physics, but we don't know if you can be a good corporate cog that can take orders.
 
for test anxiety - what helps a lot of people (including myself) is working out before an exam. A quick run and shower before an exam can help a lot of people relax. Before an exam I always used to run through the daunting list of rolling implications - If I dont score well on this test, then I'll need to score better on the next one to get a decent grade in the class, if I don't score well on the next exam then I wont do well in the class, which means my GPA for the semester will drop, which means my chances of getting an REU that summer are slimmer, which means I wont have enough research experience to get into a good grad school which means ...and the list goes on, and ends up leaving me to believe that my life is a failure if I don't get problem 7a right and then I blank..Of course I'm exaggerating a little here but rolling implications used to get the best of me until I tried methods of clearing my head a little before an exam - thus working out.
 
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Well I've got a couple of points more on the 'quick check', which are completely necessary to make a good exam in my opinion, since it is impossible not to make small mistakes, but inexcusable not to correct them, if they can be found with a very quick check.

Nobody has said anything about unit checks here, which are often the fastest way to check if your result makes sense, and can catch many algebraic mistakes etc. Also, it does look very very bad in a graders eye when a velocity is giver in meters or something like it.

Also, do limit-tests. What happens with the force youve calculated, if the distance is very very large, or very very small? Is this what is expected? Very basic and fast (sometimes), but a great way to catch some errors.

For the 'write the question again' one can add, and draw a HUGE drawing of it, included known and unknown variables. The process of making such a drawing requires you to read the question carefully, making the risk of misunderstanding it smaller
 
For me, i have found that i can train myself in order to not make mistakes. I began this training about a year ago. I began writing exclusively in pen. When you write in pen, you take more care in what you write. You do not expect to make mistakes.
When I solve a problem at home, I treat it like a test problem. I do not look through my notes as I solve it, and I do not know the answer from the back of the book before I find it myself. When I solve a problem at home, I am so sure of my answer that I do not need to look in the back of the book.
One problem I have had is the tendency to race other students as we take the test. I still tend to do this for some reason. It is better not to. I have noticed that the less concerned I am with time, the quicker I actually finish, and the less mistakes I make on average.
Since I have started training in this way, I have been getting high A's on every test. I typically get 100%. I highly recommend trying this. Get a nice set of pens too! I have just bought a very nice set of pens called Rapidographs. You get to fill them up with your own ink, and you can get different colored inks. The inks flows out of the pens so incredibly smoothly and the writing looks simply exquisite.
 
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One problem I have had is the tendency to race other students as we take the test. I still tend to do this for some reason. It is better not to. I have noticed that the less concerned I am with time, the quicker I actually finish, and the less mistakes I make on average.
This is actually very good advice. I, too, find myself anxious when I see other students being ahead of me in terms of the test problem they're tackling, but it really is best to just concentrate on your own pace and not get caught up in comparing yourself to others. It is easier said than done, however, and I think it needs a lot of practice to master (I haven't yet).
 
Thank you everyone, I've applied some of your suggestions to my problem and have seen a lot of improvement in my test taking. I even ended the quarter with an A+ in Math, and have seen improvement in my other classes. Also Twofish thanks for your last comment it made me think of this as a personal challenge rather than a catch-22.
 
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If you're able to finish your exam early spend a few moments trying clear your mind by whatever method works for you.Tensing,stretching and breathing exercises carried out inconspicuously might help.With a cleared mind you may be more liky to spot and correct your mistakes.
 

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