Remove Silly Mistakes From Your Test

If you feel you do not make silly mistakes while practicing, you are not looking hard enough.

We all make silly mistakes while taking aptitude tests. I have around 15 years of experience with aptitude tests. I still make silly mistakes. Just recently, while practicing, I solved a question completely, got the correct answer, and yet ended up marking the wrong option. I only found this out while reviewing my answers later on. I’m still trying to figure this out how this happened,by the way. We cannot completely do away with silly mistakes. What we can do is minimise them while preparing for our aptitude test. That is what I will discuss in this article.

Typically when you answer a question with absolute certainty, but on looking at the answers later on you go “How could I do that?” you’ve made a silly mistake. To be exactly clear, let us first classify.

What are silly mistakes, and what aren’t

Realize, the following are not and should not be categorized as silly mistakes:

  • Using equations to try and solve an algebra question when plugging in answer choices would have got you to the answer in half the time with complete surety is not a silly mistake.
  • A particular strategy to solve a geometry question not striking you while attempting the questions is not a silly mistake.
  • Answering a grammar question based on “it sounded right” is not a silly mistake

Some examples of typical silly mistakes we’ve all made:

  • 3 x 2 = 5
  • Reading a 7 as a 1
  • Forgetting the question had an “Except” in the end
  • Finding value of ‘A’ instead of the required value of ‘B’

Now, it is easy to notice a silly mistake and brush it off with a “surely I’ll not repeat that again”. Realize, the actual test day would not be much different from your practice test days — except maybe you’d have even more pressure and you’d be in an unknown environment.

The first step towards solving any problem is realizing you have one.

So, it is important that you realize:

  • you are making silly mistakes.
  • Making silly mistakes is a problem.
  • If it is a problem, it must be resolved.

With this realization in mind, let us look at a 5 step process to minimise silly mistakes:

Step 1: Identify silly mistakes

Identify questions on which you made silly mistakes. Keep a track.

Step 2: Classify into specific brackets

All silly mistakes can primarily be classified into 2 types:

  1. Calculation based
  2. Reading/ understanding based

Within these classifications also, it is important to dive-in further. For example, within calculation based: Did you read a 4 as a 7. Did you multiple 2 small numbers incorrectly. Only once you have done this in-depth classification would you be able to achieve the next step.

Step 3: Figure out root cause

E.g. Say you made a multiplication mistake. Was it because you were trying to perform the calculations mentally? Were you doing your calculations in a tiny corner of an already messy rough sheet? Were you skipping steps to try and save time?

This step is very important. If you perform this step properly, the next step is intuitive, and I’m sure you’d be able to reach that stage yourself from here.

Step 4: Ways to eliminate root cause

Once you have identified the root cause behind the silly mistake, figuring out ways to eliminate the root cause is comparatively easy.

For example, your made the calculation mistake because you had done your calculations in a messy fashion. Solution: Stop being messy. You cannot change your handwriting overnight, but you can make a conscious effort to not be messy. Do not be sparse with rough sheets. Use as many as you need. Don’t be shy to ask the invigilator for more. It is your right. Leave empty spaces between questions. Use rough sheet the way you would a fair sheet. Write in a sequential fashion, maintain the lines. Do not criss-cross.

Making habits out of ways to help eliminate the silly mistakes causing root causes takes time. Alongside, it is a good idea to have a parallel way to identify and fix mistakes.

Step 5: Countermeasures

Each root cause would have its own counter measure to help eliminate it.

For example, say you made a calculated 7 x 9 = 56.

Countermeasure: Perform sanity checks.

What I mean by this is: you should know certain basic things about the answer even before you have solved for the answer.

Some examples of sanity checks:

  • The answer should be positive.
  • The answer has to be between 200 and 300.
  • The answer has to be a multiple of 3.
  • The answer has to be even.
  • The unit’s digit has to be 7.

These are some ways in which you can try to restrict answer choices before even doing any of the calculations. If you are sure of the conditions, and the answer you got does not satisfy the conditions, your sanity check has raised a red flag, and that means you made a silly mistake somewhere. Time to go back to your calculations.

In the above case (7 x 9 = 56) one basic sanity check is: product of 2 odd numbers has to be odd. So, 56 can never be the answer.

Countermeasures could be habits you inculcate. E.g., I developed a habit of writing what is asked for at the top of the page in big, clear letters. Say a question is asking for John’s original rate of work, I’d write some shorthand notation of this to remind me of what the question is asking for.

Countermeasures help you avoid making silly mistakes, and raise an alarm if you do end up making a mistake. You can then go back over your work (or start again in some cases) to identify your mistake and fix it.

These 5 steps, some effort, and awareness will go a long way in reducing your silly mistakes.

Now, I do not claim we’ll eradicate all silly mistakes once and for all.

But just like Dettol soap kills 99.9% of bacteria, we’ll come mighty close.

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Anish Passi

Anish Passi is the founder of Test Cafe. With 99th percentiles in both the GMAT (760/ 800) and CAT (99.55 percentile), Anish has a keen understanding of how aptitude tests work. He has shared his conceptual and test taking expertise with students for over a decade, and has helped them master their tests, and shape their careers.
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  1. Chirag

    Thanx..It helps me alot.thanxx for uploading this content..

  2. Amit Bagchi

    Your suggestions are really so helpful, Anish! I will start practicing to improve my focus from now with an excel sheet. I will check those whether I’m improving or not. Thanks a lot for your valuable suggestions. Take care!

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