7 Proven ways to avoid making careless O- Level Maths mistakes

"I knew the answer! If only I didn't make that small calculation mistake!"

We have all been in this position. We know the formula and we understand the topic, yet we lose marks in the exam by making those careless mistakes.

Making one or two little mistakes sometimes is ok; we are all humans, after all. But if your mistakes hurt your grades, these simple tips might help you reduce them.

(P.S. These tips are for O-level students. For parents who wish to help their kids, check out these 4 useful tips to help your kids avoid Maths mistakes.)

Tip 1. Take some time to understand what led to this mistake.

Try to identify patterns. Are you prone to making mistakes when time is limited or when questions are easy? Once you understand why you make careless mistakes, it'll be easier for you to develop techniques to avoid them. For example, if you make most errors when you are short on time, it may be a good idea to learn time management techniques before your next exam. Or if you realise that you're making more mistakes when dealing with fractions, you can slow down and be extra careful when solving problems that involve fractions. Understanding yourself is the key here.

Tip 2: Revise. Revise. Revise.

Since O-level Maths (regardless if it’s E. Maths or A. Maths) is the most difficult subject, make sure you take enough time to revise and go over your work once before moving on to the next question. Make it a habit to go through the work every time you sit down to study; this will create a habit, and in the long term, you'll make fewer mistakes.

Tip 3: Slow down and stress less.

While technology has evolved, our bodies still behave the same as our ancestors. Our brains literally go into a "fight or flight" mode when we’re stressed. This fight-or-flight response has evolved as a survival mechanism. When it’s stressed, the body feels it needs to make decisions that would help you stay alive…and at this stage, we’re expecting it to solve an algebraic equation. It's no wonder that we end up making silly mistakes. 

If you’re too stressed, focus on self-care. Take some time off, don't put too much pressure on yourself, and make sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep. Sleep is the best way to reduce elevated cortisol (stress hormone) levels. If you feel stressed out in the middle of the exam, take a few minutes to breathe deeply and slow down. Stay calm and give the right answer rather than making hasty errors.

Tip 4: Take it as a learning opportunity.

Did you know that making mistakes can be helpful in the long run? Yeah. Researchers have found that if you make "near miss" mistakes, you’ll be able to understand the subject better than if you had never made any mistake at all. These "almost there" errors act as stepping stones for the brain to remember the right answer. Since O-level Maths is all about understanding the topic, instead of memorising, knowing this is helpful. Now, instead of being hard on yourself for making small errors when trying to learn a new topic, pat yourself on the back for trying. You're one step closer to understanding and solving these questions correctly.

Tip 5: Don't expect to understand topics right away.

You can't learn Maths the way you'd learn English, History, or Science. Since Maths is a technical subject, you need to understand the "why" behind the formulas. If you understand the logic behind the formula, you're less likely to make those "Oh no, I used the wrong formula!" mistakes. 

Give yourself the time to understand the topic; if unsure, you can reach out to our friendly team of GenieAsk teachers. They'll spend time understanding your queries and explaining the logic behind what you are expected to do.

Tip 6: Use rough sheets to make calculations

During the exam, you'll need to focus on your paper for hours on end. If you try to solve all of the Maths questions in your head, it may take up a lot of mental energy. This in turn would make you lose focus and concentration. You can avoid this by using a rough sheet of paper to solve your questions. Doing this would help you preserve your mental energy longer and avoid those "I knew this!" or "I didn't see this!" or worse, "How could I forget this?" scenarios.

Tip 7: Organise your thoughts

When solving questions, make sure you organise your work. It's a good practice to divide your page into eight parts and solve each question in a different part. Doing this has two advantages:

1. You'll be able to see the steps of the solution clearly, leaving less room for error.

2.  When you need to go back and check your answers, you'd have no problem locating where you've solved the answer.

All in all, don't put pressure on yourself. Do your best and make sure you revise and double-check your work to avoid silly mistakes.




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