Preventing Careless Mistakes

Careless mistakes, by their very nature, are difficult to anticipate and prevent. They can be extremely frustrating because they seem like they could have been so easily avoided. I frequently hear people say things like, “Well, I missed 7 questions, but 5 of them were careless, so…..”

But you shouldn’t dismiss your careless mistakes so cavalierly. Don’t just think, “Well, I’m sure I’ll care on test day!” ‘Careless’ is actually a bit of a misnomer. Careless mistakes don’t really reflect a lack of caring but a lack of attention to detail. And attention to detail is a habit that must be cultivated; it’s not something you can just switch on when you want it. If you consistently make careless mistakes on your practice tests, it is imperative that you take specific steps to establish better problem-solving habits.

There are three main things you should do to prevent careless mistakes:

1. Outline a general plan that you will use for every problem.

2. When you make a careless mistake, determine its nature so that you can be alert for it next time.

3. Get in the habit of writing your work in a clear, legible, organized fashion.

Over the next few days I’ll talk about each of these in more detail.

These three things are important, but how successfully you incorporate them will depend heavily on your state of mind. When you solve math problems, it is crucial that you take the attitude that this is your job and that you are going to do it like a professional. Your boss expects you to be a professional at work. Demand the same of yourself on the GMAT. Do the problems carefully but quickly. Don’t tolerate mistakes. If you discover you have a weakness, do what it takes to correct it. People often give up on new techniques early because they feel awkward and unfamiliar. This is understandable, but if you want to succeed, you cannot be one of these people.

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