How often do you get a test back and are surprised at the results? What’s more, how often do you review an exam after you have taken it to identify what types of errors you made and learned from it? Below are some common test taking errors to keep in mind when reviewing graded tests and preparing for new ones and cumulative exams:
• Not reading the instructions carefully. Sometimes, wrong answers can simply be the result of skipping over important directions that you didn’t previously pay attention to. To prevent these kinds of mistakes, make sure you take the time to read the instructions carefully, or go back and review these problems after you get finish taking the test.
• Careless mistakes such as forgetting to add two numbers in a long math problem or skipping over steps in a math problem can cause you to get no credit or lose points on the problem. Checking your work appropriately after you complete the question is a good way to protect against these errors.
• Concept errors such as misunderstanding a principle involved in solving the problem or steps involved in the process can cause problems in answering the question correctly. To prevent against this, review your lecture notes and textbook carefully to make sure you are following the proper thought sequence is answering the question.
• Application errors occur when you know the concepts involved but cannot apply the concepts to the problems. Make sure when you are reviewing your terms and theories that you can draft scenarios or examples that integrate the concepts.
• Missing problems in the test sequence. If you have a tendency to miss problems at the beginning or end of the test, be sure to review these parts after you finish the test. Avoid rushing through the test and if you are stuck on a problem in the beginning, circle it and come back to it later. If you have a tendency to skip the last step or part of a question, be sure to look at this part of the problem first as a subtle reminder to not walk away from the problem until it is complete.
• Changing answers at the last minute. As a rule of thumb, unless some epiphany descends on your with respect to the correct answer on a problem, it is recommended that you do not change answers to problems at the last minute. A good rule to live by in this situation is to go with your gut in answering test questions. In addition, the more extensively you prepare, the more you can trust your gut!
• Spending too much time on a problem to the neglect of the rest of the exam. To avoid this barrier, set a time limit on how long you will spend on each problem. If necessary, take a stop watch with you to manage your time appropriately. Conversely, if you tend to rush through the easiest problems on the test, upon completing the test, review the easy problems first with the time remaining.
• Accidentally, copying the wrong answer from your scratch paper to the actual test. To avoid this, strategically plan to compare your answer on the scratch paper with the one on the test.
• Leaving answers blank. To avoid this mistake, make notes in the margin of the question or shorthand symbols to start the problem as a placeholder; then, make a conscious effort to go back and fill in the missing pieces at the end. Finally, prior to turning the exam in, make sure your name is on the test and that you attach your scratch paper to the test when you hand it in. As a rule, prior to taking the exam, do a “data dump” that includes everything that comes to mind from the test material, put in on paper so that when you take the test, your mind is “warmed up” to answer the questions.