How to Minimize Careless Errors While Taking the GMAT

With regard to the GMAT, raw intellectual horsepower helps, but it is not everything. Manhattan Prep’s Stacey Koprince teaches you how to perform at your best on test day by using some common sense.

Remember those times when you were sure you got the answer right, only to find out that you got it wrong? For a moment, you even think that the answer key must have a mistake in it. Then, you take another look at the problem, check your work, and say, “I can’t believe I did that!”

By definition, a careless mistake occurs when we did actually know all of the necessary info and we did actually possess all of the necessary skills, but we committed an error anyway. We all make careless mistakes; our goal is to learn how to minimize these mistakes as much as possible.

A lot of times, careless errors are due to one of two things: (1) some bad habit that actually increases the chances that we will make a mistake or (2) our own natural weaknesses.

Here is an example of the former: they ask me to find how long Car B takes to go a certain distance, and I do everything perfectly, but I solve for Car A instead. So, what is my bad habit here? Often, I did not write down “Car B = ?” I also noticed that I was more likely to make this mistake when I set up the problem such that I was solving for Car A first; sometimes, I would forget to finish the problem and just pick Car A’s time.

So, I developed several different good habits to put in the place of my various bad habits. First, I set up a reminder for myself: I skipped several blank lines on my scrap paper and then wrote “B time = ______?”

I also built the habit of solving directly for what I wanted. Now, while I am setting up the problem, I always look first to see whether I can set it up to solve directly for Car B, not Car A.

So, what did I do here? First, I figured out what specific mistake I was making and why I was making it. Then, I instituted three new habits that would minimize my chances of making the same mistake in the future. Incidentally, one of those habits (solving directly for what is asked) also saves me time!

Happy studying, and go start figuring out how to minimize those careless mistakes!

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