How to Avoid Silly Mistakes on the GRE Test?
A GRE student from Pakistan asked recently; “Wanted to know if anyone can offer insight on how to completely eradicate mistakes on the math section. It’s extremely frustrating to make the odd error or two on every GRE practice test, even when you expect to have answered every question perfectly. I realize it basically just boils down to being more careful/vigilant but is there a more defined method, a trick maybe?”
Well many of us make minute calculation errors and sometimes even tend to forget what the question has asked while making tedious calculations. This is frustrating because we know how to solve the question and understand the problem and feel confident, but we make stupid mistakes.
So one asks where the issue is.
You must evaluate where you make the error. Was it that you read the question incorrectly, or you read it fine but made a mistake in the beginning or the end? A lot of times, while working with GRE students in Pakistan I see that they don’t read the problem well – the question is asking something else but they are solving for something else or ignore important parts of the question. Sometimes they understand the problem, solve it correctly but then make a small error in the calculations or even make the worst mistake of all – mark the wrong answer.
This is just a lack of focus – how many times have you seen the Pakistan cricket team winning a match and then suddenly lose it in the final overs? This is the same thing happening to you on the GRE – you lose focus in the end, you relax and you rush through the question to do it wrong in the final steps. With the internet, Facebook, cell phones and so many distractions, our brains and eyes are now used to not seeing the same thing for more than a few seconds.
So how do you tackle this?
Well it’s simple; focus hard from the beginning till the end. Spend time reading the question correctly and identify what the question is asking precisely – write down and make notes of everything that is given to you in the question and highlight what is required. Do not reach for the pencil immediately; first read the question, let it sink in for 5 seconds and then write down the information on paper.
Don’t rush through the calculation – instead slow down and skim over the steps that you have carried out to solve a question to make sure you have not made any mistakes. At the end of every question spend 10-15 seconds looking at your work and tie it up with what the question is asking. Moreover don’t skip steps or don’t try to do too much in a single step. Make sure you write down every step of calculation that you are making and break down the solution in small steps. Be careful with minus signs – in arithmetic and algebra this is the most common mistake that students make. They either ignore the minus sign altogether or solve for it incorrectly.
Calm yourself down before taking a practice test and hide the time if you want – many GRE students in Pakistan that I have worked with find it much more relaxing if they hide the clock and stop thinking about how much time they are left with.
Starting fresh is absolutely essential. Don’t keep on doing one test after the other. Take 1 full length mock each day and not more than that. Many times I have seen students making a lot of mistakes because they are either tired or have been working for a really long time in a stretch. Take breaks and make sure you sleep well before you sit down for a few hours of GRE preparation.
With these simple techniques, I hope you will be able to perform at better during your preparation and actual test days. Make sure you practice enough with these techniques so that they become a second nature to you and you will see your improve.