Avoiding Small Mistakes in Math
Six Useful Tips
Mistakes…they happen! Even the brightest of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians make them. But silly mistakes on a math exam can quickly add up and bring your grade down quite a bit. This is especially frustrating when you actually knew the material, only to see a red X strike through a problem you should have answered correctly. What is important about mistakes is to learn to identify them and correct them before presenting your final solution. Let’s go over some tips to identify and avoid mistakes.
1. Write out every step, whether or not it seems silly!
Doing this allows you to to easily reference back to your work and rework steps that you are unsure of. Also, if you need to ask for guidance on a problem, your teacher or tutor will be able to follow your thought process on the problem up until the point that you needed assistance.
2. Break it Down!
Don’t do too much in one step, break it down into smaller steps. When you break steps down into smaller tasks, it keeps the problem from becoming overwhelming. It also helps you and your teacher or tutor to identify the exact step where you might have made a mistake.
3. Use your Calculator.
Always feel free to check any calculation using your calculator. Calculators are, after all, an important tool used in every profession. While you should know how to do every task by hand – without the aid of a calculator – a calculator will confirm your answer and help you decide whether or not you should rethink your final answer.
4. Check Your Answers...Before Moving On!
Always check your answers to make sure it is right before moving on. You solved for x, great! Now make sure you plug your variables back into the equation and show that your equation is still balanced on either side.
5. Use Common Sense.
Use common sense: Does this answer make sense? Stop for a sec, and do a “gut” check. Does the answer, on the surface look and fell right? Having a conceptual understanding of a problem is just as important as getting the final answer correct.
6. Understand the Question.
Make sure you answer the question you’ve been asked in the problem. This may sound obvious but many students, in their rush to get through and exam, misread what the question is actually asking. Reading the question carefully is always the first and last step you take for any problem. Sometimes the biggest mistakes are caused from simply reading the question incorrectly or missing a key part of the question. A great practice is to read the question once and then a second time. On the second read-through, go through and highlight any important phrases, information, or numbers that may be important to the solution. Again, re-reading a question may seem obvious but many students fail to do this.
Most importantly, remember that everyone makes mistakes and that you learn more and more each time you make one.
You've Got This!
By Marisa Dimperio