Improve Test-Taking Scores: Learn From Your Mistakes

Every math teacher will tell you that there are at least three common errors seen on tests and exercise review questions. However, by paying close attention to the errors they made, students can — and have — improved their math scores in both tests and daily work.

3 Common Errors in Math

1. Failure to Answer the Question

Students who don’t actually answer the question are either reading the question incorrectly or are only answering part of what the question is asking for. There are two components to this common error. The first is when the problem is either a 2 or 3 step problem; they answer only the first part of the problem. The second component is when a problem is misinterpreted, which means they haven’t fully comprehended the problem or used the wrong application when solving the problem.


Highlight the important parts of the problem. We use this strategy in other subjects and should use it in math too. Re-read the problem. Once the problem is solved, ALWAYS go back and read the problem again to ensure the question was answered. Ask yourself, what am I actually being asked for.

2. Careless Errors

Careless errors are all too common. The response I often get from students when I give them the feedback regarding their careless errors is “Arrgggh!” As soon as I point out the carelessness, they recognize it immediately and quickly realize that they could have answered the question correctly.


Go over the calculations to ensure they are correct. The best way to address careless errors is to check and re-check. Careless errors are often a result of a hurried attempt — if this is the case, slow down.

3. Inappropriate Review/Practice

Have you ever practiced something only to realize you’ve done it all wrong? These errors are a direct result of missing parts of a formula or not quite using an algorithm correctly when practicing for a test.


Study with a friend or go back to previous examples in your work or your textbook to ensure that you are using the correct strategies or applications for the problems.

Your next step is to analyze the patterns of errors you make and ask yourself what type of errors you see. Use the advice above, and you’ll see improvement. However, if it’s test anxiety you suffer from, you may also benefit from reviewing strategies for overcoming test taking anxiety.

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