It is not surprising that a study conducted by the Gallup survey put Mathematics as the most difficult subject for the students. Let us try and understand why math mistakes make students wonder why they make such stupid mistakes? and how to avoid silly mistakes in exams?

The word difficult is defined as: “...not easily or readily done; requiring much labor, skill, or planning to be performed successfully.”

This definition nails the reason why students make so many math mistakes. The worst part is when students revisit the problem to understand where they went wrong they wonder how they could have made such a stupid mistake!

Mathematics demands a lot of patience and persistence hence like the definition says it is not “readily done”. It needs labor, skill, and a lot of planning; only then can a student avoid stupid mistakes and careless mistakes in Mathematics. In other words, this subject demands a lot of time and energy.

Many times, the math mistakes have very little to do with brainpower. It is more of a matter of “staying power” Somehow, poor management of time and resources create a situation where the teacher has moved on to the next topic and the student is still in the “getting it” stage of the previous topic. That is why the math mistakes made by the students seem like stupid mistakes or silly mistakes as it displays a poor understanding of concepts.

There are theorists who believe that human brains are wired differently. Students, who have the dominant left brain, grasp Mathematics concepts faster than students who have the right-brain dominant. Hence students with a dominant left brain have lesser chances to make math mistakes. However, the curriculum demands that mathematics needs to be understood and learned by all students.

**How to stop making silly mistakes in math?**

So, how do we avoid these math mistakes? How to avoid silly mistakes in exams? Here are some tips on how to deal with common math mistakes.

**Move to a new concept ONLY after you have understood the previous topic. **

Mathematics works like building blocks. Unless one block is firm and steady one cannot build upon it. Our first building block happens when we learn to quantify numbers and then learn addition and subtraction. In middle school students first, learn formulae and operations. Topics like trigonometry, calculus, etc. So, these concepts in junior and middle school are our foundation. In other words, mathematics is like a cumulative discipline. Unless one concept is clear, the other concepts cannot be grasped in totality by the students.

Think of a situation where a student has scored between 40-50% in middle school. This means that a student has only understood 40-50% of the concepts taught and the student has already moved on to the next class. The result is bound to be a failure at some point. It is the responsibility of the parents, teachers, and students to work collaboratively to address this gap.

So, wherever a student is in their math studies, they need to identify and backtrack to reinforce the foundation.

E.g. A middle school student must not move on until they are thorough with pre-algebra concepts fully. They could engage a tutor for help. If the student is older, and struggling with math, they can revisit the concepts learned in middle school.

So, parents, teachers, and students must collaborate and acknowledge the weak topics in the foundation and work on those topics with diligence, practice, and understanding.

**Identify your learning style**

Students can be categorized into three types based on their learning preferences – Auditory, visual, and Kinaesthetic

An auditory learner is a good listener and a good speaker. They are attentive, answer questions, and also are good at listening to recorded lectures. They do well in oral tests. But, an auditory learner has difficulty reading a problem and visualizing it

A visual learner will learn very well using charts, diagrams, colors cheat sheets, etc. However, a visual learner has poor listening skills so, this learner will depend on what the teacher writes / displays on the board

Kinaesthetic learners are experiential learners. They are restless and need to be engaged in field or lab activities. They learn well in groups too. The greatest challenge for these learners is to control their restlessness in a talk and chalk instruction mode.

It is crucial that teachers ensure that their teaching methodology caters to all kinds of learners and parents and students need to identify their preferred learning style and develop a self-study method based on it.

**Taking Notes in sequence (linear notes)**

A student needs to note all the key points explained in the class and then to reinforce the concept, the student can make a chart or create an outline that will help the student recall the flow of how the concept was arrived at by the teacher. Display this

concept in a place where the student will keep revisiting it. This will prepare the student for the new class where the teacher will begin to speak about the application of the concept.

**Use color coding and highlighters**

This method is particularly useful for visual learners. Each concept can be given a color and the problems related to it can be categorized in the same color. The student can also create a cheat sheet using various colors.

This will help the learner use the key concepts and even create practice questions base on them.

**Repetition**

Do not underestimate the power of this tested technique. If a student has difficulty with a particular concept, the student needs to practice and repeat more problems that deal with the application of the concept. This will not just strengthen the concept but also self-test the students’ understanding of the concept.

**Turn off all distractions **

This is about the self- discipline of the students. Keep that cell phone away even if it is in silent mode. Keep it in a different room or give it to an elder when you are studying. Use a computer or a tablet only if you need it for your study. Disable all distracting applications especially during your exams.

**Be prepared for your physical needs**

Keep your water and snack ready. If you have committed to study for 4 hours, then you need to make sure that you don’t leave your study spot at all till the time you have committed is over.

**Understand your bio clock**

Are you a morning person? Or are you the wise owl? Identify the time when you are most alert and active and create a schedule based on that. Keep the most challenging concepts and problem-solving for that time. Once you have made the schedule stick to it.

**Summary**

When students struggle with formula shapes and number related concepts, it is called Dyscalculia There are students who have Math anxiety. Their brain just freezes and they even tend to forget what they know and tend to make careless mistakes unknowingly. However, studies indicate that most students have difficulty with maths only because of a weak foundation. These students might have moved on to another concept before they were ready and that resulted in falling grades. Also, the textbooks are designed in such a way that Maths appears as an abstract subject. It is not related to real life.

But the good news is that maths is cumulative and identifying the area that needs more comprehension and revisiting it will certainly help remove the fear of Maths and thereby math mistakes.

**Written by Jayashree Nair**

**FAQs**

**How to avoid calculation mistakes in maths?**

Many times, the math mistakes have very little to do with brainpower. It is more of a matter of “staying power” Somehow, poor management of time and resources create a situation where the teacher has moved on to the next topic and the student is still in the “getting it” stage of the previous topic. That is why the math mistakes made by the students seem like stupid mistakes or silly mistakes as it displays a poor understanding of concepts.

**Repetition:**

Do not underestimate the power of this tested technique. If a student has difficulty with a particular concept, the student needs to practice and repeat more problems that deal with the application of the concept. This will not just strengthen the concept but also self-test the students’ understanding of the concept.

This will also help students have a better presence of mind while attempting questions and thus reduce calculation mistakes.