Career & Education

How Not to Make “Dumb” Mistakes On Exams

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“Dumb” is a little harsh, so let’s call them “avoidable” mistakes. These are the flubs that happen when you start to experience test-taking anxiety, panic attacks, time-related stress, daydreaming, drowsiness, that hunger you’re feeling after skipping your usual granola bar…I could go on.

The usual culprit for me is not reading as carefully as I should. You might know the material like you know where all the candy is stashed in your room (no? just me?), but all of this goes out the window with a few minor distractions, or a simple lack of focus.

Thankfully, there are ways to combat and steer clear of these mistakes. 


Sometimes those methods are challenging. They could mean reaching out when you’re a person that normally wouldn’t do so. It might mean putting in extra effort before the exam to get in touch with your thoughts more than you might want.

We all have things we find difficult to overcome when it comes to paying attention to ourselves, but it’s time to start taking action so you can understand why you’re making mistakes, then take precautions to sidestep them.

YouTube Videos

Whether it be meditation videos or videos that help you learn about/manage studying habits, video learning can be a great way to prepare you for an exam. Some social media influencers have even committed themselves to making content that helps students like you battle those pesky test-taking situations that keep you making those mistakes. For example, Thomas Frank, a completely awesome YouTuber, has created a series of videos focusing on test taking.

Some are focused on test anxiety in particular.

Which leads me to…

Practice Stress Maintenance

Cori Dykman of Annapolis College Consulting believes that test anxiety can and will be overcome by her students. Dykman suggests writing as a way to combat anxiety before an exam. “The University of Chicago found that a 10-minute exercise before the exam helped to reduce internal anxieties, and thus, helped students perform better,” writes Dykman. “The students would write about their personal worries, allowing them to ‘unload’ before the actual test.”

She also believes that it’s important to:
A) Mediate. Take time to breathe in, breathe out, and focus on the internal rather than the external.

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And…

B) Seek help from those that love you and want to help you succeed. If those people are family members, reach out to them. If it’s a counselor, peers, or otherwise, they can be successful resources to help you achieve your goals.

Pace Yourself

The Oxford Royal Academy notes running out/keeping track of time as one of the primary reasons students lose marks on exams. And yet, looking at the clock to keep time can drive you mad with stress. Seems like there’s no way out? Yep, I can see why you would feel that way, but it’s really just about pacing. Make sure you’re allocating your time as best you can, and moving on to other questions when you’re stuck on a truly difficult one that’s eating up your time. Unless you think you’ll really progress on that answer if you stare at it long enough, it’s best to move on and return to it later on in the exam period.

Try and portion out the test as best you can before you begin so there are no surprises. Nothing creates more panic than an unexpected page of questions.

rob weasley harry potter pottermore mistakes exam

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Take Notes in Colors…

So your brain can more easily create associations. According to Fast Company, using colors to write down information helps your brain create maps, easy ways to access information. In this way, we’re not necessarily getting smarter, but becoming more efficient by helping our brains to access information in a rapid, practical fashion. Some sites, like Life Hacker, provide some other helpful tips to boost your note taking skills to keep you on top of all the information you’re learning during your busy day. Some of these methods include shorthand, switching mediums, and using a more visual method to lay out your notes. Or, try them all! See which way works best for you. Couldn’t hurt!

Re-Read EVERYTHING

I know you’re exhausted by the end of the exam and you’re not about to go multiple choice question by question to check your answers. HOWEVER, you probably should. But, if you don’t have the stamina by the end of the exam, try finishing a page and going back over your answers when you finish. Then, you’ll have a fresher perspective, you’ll still be double-checking, but you might have more energy then when you’re throwing your pencil down, dropping the mic, and moonwalking out of the classroom (again, just me?).

If you can handle another skim before you throw in the towel, I would recommend it.

Assure Your Preparedness Before the Exam

To make ABSOLUTELY SURE that your mistakes aren’t content-based–and to reduce stress–study your material backwards and forwards. Oftentimes “stupid” mistakes come from nervousness regarding the actual material, feelings of “I’m going to mess this up”, etc., so you may as well earn points on those avoidable mistakes by using the confidence of knowing your other material. Make sense? It seems intuitive, but overall, knowing your stuff can benefit you in more ways than one.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. We’ve all made those avoidable mistakes before, and we all look back and detail to our friends or parents exactly how we would have avoided them. It’s a frustrating, very real part of life and ~~that exam grind~~. Whether it be for school, a career change, or even a personality test, there’s no surefire way to skirt around every single mistake, but we can certainly try our hardest and feel that we’ve done our best. Part of not f*****g up is preparedness, sure, but a good portion of it relies on staying calm and focusing on what’s in front of you.  Staying confident, humble, and making the test-taking experience easy for yourself are the best ways to keep pushing through those stressful times.

Sources: Annapolis College Consulting, Life Hacker, YouTube, Oxford Royal Academy

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