Common Test-Taking Errors

Research has shown that there are six types of test-taking errors commonly made by students taking Math tests. You can improve your test scores by watching out for these errors before they occur. It's also a good idea to review your graded Math exams to see which category your errors fall under.

Six Common Errors

1. Misreading the Directions

  • Failure to read directions.
  • Ignoring the directions.
  • Not reading the directions carefully.
  • Not understanding the directions.

To avoid these errors:

  • Read all directions on the test carefully.
  • Follow the directions after you have read them.
  • When doing homework and practice tests, note the directions (ie. "solve," "simplify," "evaluate," "factor," etc.) and know the procedures that these directions are asking you to do. 

2. Careless Errors
  • Lack of focus on what you are doing.
  • Becoming tired or distracted.
  • Sloppy handwriting.
  • Disorganized presentation of work.

To avoid these errors: 

  • Don't rush through an answer.
  • Look for sign errors.
  • Look for arithmetic errors.
  • Work in a neat, organized fashion.
  • Check all your work! 

3. Concept Errors
  • Not understanding how to do a problem.
  • Not fully understanding the concepts and principles behind a problem.
  • Lack of practice in working similar problems.
  • Failure to attend class, take notes or do homework regularly.

To avoid these errors: 

  • Learn all the material well before the test.
  • Study examples from the textbook, class notes and homework.
  • Take all practice tests in the textbook and from your instructor.
  • Create your own practice test. 

4. Application Errors
  • You know the concept, but cannot fully apply it to a problem.
  • Lack of practice in applying the concepts before the test.

To avoid these errors: 

  • Practice all types of application (word) problems before the test.
  • Memorize methods for specific applications (for example, mixture problems).
  • Use your self-confidence and intuiton to apply concepts in a new way. 

5. Test-Taking Errors
  • Bad test-taking habits.
  • Inefficient use of time on a test.
  • Not completing a problem to the last step.
  • Doubting yourself and changing correct answers to incorrect answers.
  • Spending too much time on one problem.
  • Rushing through the test.
  • Miscopying the question or steps in your work.
  • Leaving answers blank.
  • Calculator errors.
  • Leaving a test early.

To avoid these errors: 

  • Review the test at first decide about how much time to devote to each question.
  • Complete the entire problem and answer the question being asked.
  • Procede through the test in a methodical way, at a steady pace.
  • Check all your work for correctness in copying questions and steps.
  • Work all problems as much as you can.
  • Be careful how you input numbers and operations into your calculator.
    • Stay in the classroom until the end of the test; check your answers again if you have extra time. 

6. Study Errors
  • Uncertainty on what concepts and skills the test will assess.
  • Not spending enough time studying, learning and practicing the material.
  • Not practicing checking your answers.

To avoid these errors: 

  • Know on what material you will be tested.
  • Overstudy the material.
  • Do all available practice tests beforehand. 

(adopted from Winning At Math by Paul Nolting.)