Academic Tip of the Month – Avoid Easy Mistakes and Get the Score You Want

By ArborBridge Test Prep

There is an aspect to scoring well on standardized testing that too often goes unexamined: minimizing careless mistakes. Depending on starting score, we see up to one-third of a student’s incorrect answers stemming from carelessness. While it’s easy to brush this off either as inevitable or as something that will fix itself with repetition, remember that the test does not care why you got a question wrong: all incorrect answers cost you the same number of points. Students should view careless errors with the same seriousness as they view content gaps. By identifying the root causes of carelessness, we can implement practices that will minimize careless errors and save valuable points.

Fixing any problem starts with understanding it. In standardized testing, there are two broad reasons we might get a question wrong: we don’t understand the underlying academic content or we make a solving mistake.

In the latter case, we often respond with “I knew that! That was so silly!” Thinking that there isn’t anything to really be learned, we move on with a vague idea to “not do that anymore.” This lack of retrospection can lead to a rushed correction, more mistakes, and frustration. We call this the understanding delusion: in short, we are stuck in the error wheel. The key to breaking this cycle is to realize that careless mistakes are actually gaps in knowledge. While a student may have the academic knowledge to solve a problem, careless mistakes illustrate a lack of procedural knowledge. Only by adequately identifying and addressing the procedural knowledge gap do we have a chance at preventing careless mistakes in the future.

One useful way to frame mistakes is to view them as essential to the test prep process. We have to make mistakes in order to diagnose and treat our weaknesses. Instead of being frustrated or discouraged by mistakes, think of them as indispensable learning opportunities. Look carefully at the questions you miss and classify them as stemming from lack of academic knowledge or from careless mistakes. Within the latter category, identify specifically how you were careless. (“I didn’t distribute to both terms”; “I didn’t identify the correct axis”; “I didn’t re-read the entire line reference.”) It will not take you long to notice patterns, even amongst the questions that you “know” how to do. Once you’ve identified these patterns, you’ll be able to recognize the question types where you are most likely to make a careless error and proceed with caution. In other words, you’ll be able to predict (and prevent) your careless mistakes.

To summarize, follow these simple steps to minimize carelessness and increase your score:

  1. Write out every step of your work on all problems.

  2. If you get a question wrong, cover your work and solve it again.

  3. Identify your mistake.

  4. Classify your mistake.

  5. Find patterns.

  6. Predict and prevent!

Happy testing!

Academic Tip of the Month Brought to you by ArborBridge

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