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Three ways students can avoid careless errors
  • Calendar Apr 02, 2018
  • User Jared Wells
  • Category In Uncategorized
  • Comments 0 Comments
There are few things more frustrating for students then spending lots of time and effort studying for a test, only to make mistakes in process rather than knowledge. woman-pulling-hair-out-frustrated Students call them “stupid” or “careless” errors. But I prefer the term “discipline” mistakes, because they usually boil down to a student, for one reason or another, not doing things that they know that they can and should do in order to execute the way they can. Of course, this is a not a problem that only students have. I’m sure you can think of adults in your own life (and maybe yourself from time to time?) that have the same difficulty! So for a student that is over being frustrated with disipline errors and ready to change the way they are doing things, here are three things that they can do starting today to minimize careless errors.

Show your work on every problem, every step

Yes, of course this is what their teachers have probably been telling them for years. And sometimes, for “easy” questions, it can seem like it isn’t worth the effort. Here are the two things a student should keep in mind 
  1. There is no such thing as a problem “so easy” that it can’t be missed because of a careless error. And the “easy” questions are the most frustrating ones to miss! For me, personally, it’s the easy questions that I am most determined to show my work. If I miss a really challenging question, I don’t have to feel quite so bad, since it was at the edge of my skills. But if I miss a question that I have no excuse for missing, it really grates me. When I take the SAT, every problem has work shown, start to finish. The reason for that is that the one thing I have learned over the years is that I’m not so smart that I won’t make a mistake if I am not doing my due diligence, and I want to get every question right!
  2. Showing your work on an “easy” (in your mind!) question is PRACTICE. Practice for the good habits that you want to have in place already when it comes time to do something more difficult. If you have a habit that you want to build, not starting is not just delaying when you start building the habit, it actually makes it harder because you are reinforcing the opposite habit. Every problem you work through on which you don’t show your work simply makes it that much harder for you to have the discipline to show your work when you know you need to. Same thing with any habit (eating well, exercising, you name it).
In the end, it's simply about making the conscious decision that you want a different result, and to get it, you need to do things differently. The good news is that what you need to do differently isn't that hard!  

Say why you are doing the step you are doing

When I am working with my students and see that they’ve made a mistake, I give them a few seconds to notice before I say something. If they don’t notice, I say, “Can you walk me through what you’ve done here, and explain each step and why you’ve done it?” 9 times out of 10, when the student gets to the error, they recognize it immediately. Why? Because when they worked through the problem the first time, they were not fully concious. They were going through the motions: repeating memorized steps. Now, there is nothing wrong with memorizing steps! But if you want to avoid careless errors, you need to stay fully engaged in each problem. The best way to do this is have an internal (or external if you prefer!) monologue, explaining what, and why, you are doing each step. If you can’t quite explain, that’s an opportunity to learn something you aren’t 100% on, but more importantly, it will help you minimize errors.  

When you make a careless error, problem solve, don’t dismiss. Learn the lesson.

Ok, so you’ve made a careless error on your homework (or a test). Now what? Instead of just being angry at yourself for carelessness, recognize that you’ve got an opportunity here. Your job needs to be to figure out 1) Why you made the mistake you did and 2) What can you do to ensure you NEVER make that mistake again? This can be a challenging process, but if you commit to learning from every careless error (instead of just groaning in frustration!) you’ll be doing something to actually improve for the future. If you think about the types of careless errors you make, I bet you there are some that happen repeatedly, right? And I also bet that, if you thought about it, there are some relatively simple things you could do to fix them. So do it! -Vince
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