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While taking a test a student is bound to make some mistakes but I make excessive errors. It's not that I get a question conceptually wrong. I'll make a mistake in reading it or in simple arithmetic calculations.

This issue is not a new occurrence it's been haunting me since middle school. I've seeked advice from my teachers/parents/classmates they are always along the lines of:

  • Try to stay calm during the exam.
  • Practice more questions.
  • Read the questions properly.

I've done all of that. I try my level best not to make any mistakes but they just happen and it frustrates me to no end.

I distinctively remember my middle school math teacher telling me that if I don't take care of my silly mistakes I'll pay the price later.

As a cocky preteen I brushed away her warning after all silly mistakes are just silly mistakes but she was correct. I did pay the price. I messed up an exam recently and now I won't be getting a tier A university.

How do I stop making silly mistakes?

  • I see no evidence that your rate of mistakes is vastly higher than that of other students; you could be suffering principally from anxiety and rumination. – Aaron Brick Jan 17 at 17:28
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First, stop thinking about "Tier A" or "Tier B" or whatever "tiers" -- it's another kind of a silly mistake. You have the whole Internet in front of you, so gaining knowledge anywhere is not an issue.

Next, after supervising many different students, I tend to believe that some people are inherently unable to be meticulous. We indeed should discipline ourselves, and simple tricks do help. The best one is to write, put aside your writing, do something else, re-read later carefully and fix.

However, in general I think the best advice is to focus on your strong parts. Yes, perhaps, you won't win a medal for attention to details. So try to train yourself to the best of your abilities, but think what kind of future job/career would not be too demanding in this regard. Exams are quite artificial situations, hopefully in "normal" life you won't have to do often something quick and correct while the clock is ticking.

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Well, simple steps can be:

Slow down, many errors are due to rushing.

Read the question twice before starting , make notes or underline important info.

Return and re-read the question and answer checking the detail, make sure that numbers have not been changed - I managed to swap 293 deg C for 273 deg C as 273 wasmore common in the practice questions...

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I had the same exact problem and I then later found out I have dyslexia and dyscalculia. I am not in anyway suggesting that you have the same issue, but I was diagnosed very late in life (18 yo) and I honestly see many colleagues having the same issues and never being diagnosed with that to then later found out they had some form of it.

Thing is, even if this problem of yours has a name, there is no cure for these type of learning disabilities. In some universities you can ask for a bit more time and a calculator but that's it. I decided not to ask for those because 1. it was a long process 2. I was too proud (and stupid) to ask for it.

Honestly, my tricks were the following:

  1. If it is a math test, I did thousands of exercises, even of the same type... I just did them over and over and over again. This does not mean that I did not do any silly mistakes (as you call them) but still, the chances were pretty low.

  2. In case it was not a math test, I would still approach the problem similarly. Studying more (and I mean a LOT more) made me more confident and also less prone to silly mistakes.

  3. I drank passiflora tea (I still do it sometimes) that made me more attentive during exams and helped me focus during long study sessions. Passiflora is also called the "Student's tea" because it has important effect on concentration and stress. I very much advice it to all students that have similar issues. Just do not drink three liters of that in one shot (you could hallucinate).

While all these made me pretty stressed at times, I always studied more than necessary and ended up with a PhD. I think that all depends on you. For some, it is natural to commit 0 silly mistakes, for me, this was a big challenge (as you said, at uni they really cared about certain details and I would get very little points at exams for similar errors). However, there is always a way to solve these problems, and you can definitively achieve what you want in life despite these issues it is all a matter of finding what works for you.

Hope this helped.

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"Read the question properly" is really important. Answering the wrong question isn't going to get you many marks.

Another strategy I have used is to run through the exam reasonably quickly. Don't ponder too long while answering the questions. This should result in your finishing early.

Now go back and do it all again. Read the question again. Check your working again. See if you spot a mistake.

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  1. Practice more questions. This is basic pedagogy. Look at how people learn sports or music for instance. We are not computers who just learn a concept and then can use it flawlessly any time in the future. We have to be trained. Similar to how a dog is trained. We are animals also.

  2. Check your answers. If you made any mistake, even as simple as a sign error in math or the like, force yourself to do the ENTIRE problem over again. Do this without looking at what you did before. Imagine it is a fresh problem. Believe me, if you start training yourself this way...you will get better.

  3. Give yourself some mental reward if you ever do all the assigned homework flawlessly. It can be as silly as drawing a smiley face on the page. And it will be hard to get to. Especially given your current skill. But when you eventually achieve it, you will know you did something well.

  4. If you have a choice, emphasize books that have answers (detailed solutions not needed, but at least answers). Make sure you check your work and force yourself through the training in 2 (and eventually 3). If you don't have books like this, than try to buy the solution manual. Or get a separate drill book (e.g. Schaum's Outline). Note, you are always doing the problems FIRST. The answers are for checking work and creating a feedback loop. And especially to DRILL the mistakes away.

And I don't believe you on the "I've done all that" because in a different part of your question, you mention that you told your middle school teacher silly mistakes were no big deal. So I don't trust you to have really arduously executed the advice you were given.

However, the good point is that if you do turn to, you will get the rewards. It won't happen overnight. But hard work pays off. Same as sports or music. You can't change the past. But you can affect the future.

P.s. Work hard in the Tier 2 university. Life is not about just getting a Harvard brand stamped on your butt. Work, study, learn. You will set yourself up for rewards after graduation from Cal State. (The material isn't that different. Learn it well. Be like Good Will Hunting and show those Harvard boys.)

  • Allow me to repeat the comment I made here. Are all these accounts you? – Arnaud D. Jan 17 at 23:13

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