How to avoid silly mistakes

Peter Bayne


Peter Bayne


Saturday 21 May 2022 0:00

When going through test corrections with my pupils, I ask them to talk me through the question.

The vast majority of times, the pupil can tell me the correct answer with little or no guidance. The problem is that they have made a silly mistake! I tell children not to panic as there are quick fixes for these errors instead of simply not understanding a topic.

Silly mistakes can arise from misreading the question or from messy working out. This week's column will recommend techniques to avoid losing valuable marks. Firstly, it is beneficial to sit down and go through the corrections while identifying patterns concerning silly mistakes.

Messy Working Out

One of the most common causes of silly mistakes is messy working out. Children must do their work as neatly as possible. Regularly, I hear children say that they understood the question but made a mistake in their calculations. Check over your child's incorrect answers to determine if their errors are because of this and ensure they neatly lay out their work.

Underline Important Information in the Question

A key exam technique that I teach to avoid silly mistakes is to underline keywords (hooks).

An example from this week's English test is: Based on your reading of the passage, which of the following words best describe the village? Choose the best answer from the options below.

The keywords in this question are describe and village. The children now know to skim read over the text to locate the word village and look for a word that describes it (adjective).

A maths example from this week is: A swimsuit is reduced by 25% in the Black Friday Sale. The swimsuit normally costs £36 to buy. How much did it cost in the Black Friday Sale?

The keywords are 25%, reduced/sale and £36.00. It is easier to understand from identifying this information that the children have to find 25% of £36 and take it away.

Slow Down!

Another common cause for making silly mistakes is rushing. Rushing can result in misreading a question and misunderstanding what the question asks. From experience, when children read a question on a topic in which they are confident, they may rush into it without absorbing what is being asked or make a mistake in their calculations.

Exam Anxiety

Sometimes exam anxiety can be the culprit for silly mistakes. While a little nervousness can be a good thing as it keeps you alert, excess worry affects performance. I always tell the children never to worry about something they can rip up or throw into the fire! Moderate exercise before sitting practice tests, healthy eating and a good night's sleep are all great methods to try and counteract exam anxiety.

Check Answers

If children have time at the end of a practice test, ask them to check their answers. As mentioned at the beginning of the column, children regularly talk me through their mistakes without assistance, so there are potential marks up for grabs. If children spot even two mistakes from a test with 45 questions, that's over 4% extra on their final score!

School Places

Next Saturday 21st May, P7 children will discover which 'big school' they will be attending in September. While many will be accepted to their first choice, there is rarely enough room for all applicants. It's a very exciting time for all children, and once they settle into their new school and new friends, everything will seem to have happened for a reason.

"You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go…" Dr Seuss

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