Classification and Countermeasures

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At what stage of your answering a question do you make the silly mistake?

  • Did you read the question incorrectly?
  • Or did you make a calculation mistake while solving?

Broadly speaking,

  • Did you make a careless mistake while reading/ understanding the question?
  • Or, did you make a mistake while solving/ answering the question?

In a one-off case, by itself, this may not mean much. However, if you start recording this information for all your silly mistakes, you may soon start seeing a trend.

This trend will also help you with creating better test taking habits.

Tina found after logging this information that in most cases he was making silly mistakes in understanding the question itself. As a result, Tina decided to put some checks in place:

  • She started taking notes while reading questions
  • She started writing the variable that needed to be calculated at the top of her sheet and putting a circle around it
  • On ‘except’ questions, she immediately changed the language to make the question more straight forward
  • She’d remind herself of the question while going through each option




Say you go through all your calculations, figure out the answer, and then go and search for your answer among the answer choices. What if your answer is not one of the choices? Red flag, right?

The objective of our counter measures is also to raise red flags and alert you to a possibility that you might have made a silly mistake somewhere.

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.


Action steps:

By now you should:


Internal use: