We make many errors in life, you’ll make many during your GMAT preparation as well. Errors can come in several different forms: careless errors, content errors, and technique errors. We’re going to discuss something critical today: how to learn from your errors so that you don’t continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. First, let’s define these different error types.
Remember the times when you were sure you got the answer right but once the results came out, you got to know you made a silly mistake. You take a look at the problem again, you check your work, and you want to slap yourself on the side of the head. You knew exactly how to do this problem and you should have gotten it right, but you made a careless mistake!
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 made a mistake anyway. My parents always scolded me for making careless mistakes but I’ll tell you a fact. It is not easy to achieve. Rather, to be more practical I will assume we will be making careless mistakes during the 3.5 hours test. So, our objective should be to minimize it to the smallest possible.
“Content” is the actual knowledge we need to know in order to answer a question. What’s the formula for the area of a circle? What is subject-verb agreement? These errors can be due to two reasons only – first, you had knowledge about something but you forgot about it, and second, you never knew that piece of information.
There are numerous ways in which a quantitative problem can be solved. In that case, apart from content, technique is also important. For reading comprehension and critical reasoning, of course, all we have is technique; no actual knowledge is being tested on these question types. Timing is also a technique. So, any errors made in timing should also be classified under technique errors.
The Error Log
Now that we know about the errors that we usually come across, whats next?
Your first step is to create an error log. You can do this in a notebook or an electronic file, but have one consistent place where you can record your errors. This is your error log, so you can customize it to your needs. I tend to keep my careless errors separate. You can choose whatever you are comfortable with.
For each problem, keep track of this data:
- The basics: where the problem can be found again in your materials, the question type to which the problem belongs (as specifically as possible), the content category being tested (if applicable), the time you spent, and the current date.
- The error: describe the error in specific detail; if applicable, actually copy into your file the part of the work where you made the error.
- The reason: figure out WHY you made this error and write that down; if there are multiple reasons, note them all. This is a very important step and everything counts on this, so make sure you honestly write this down.
- To Do: figure out what habits you need to make or break in order to minimize the chances of making that particular mistake again. For example, you might:
- Create flashcards to help you memorize some content or technique that you didn’t know or messed up
- Re-write your work for this problem in its entirety and try the problem again in a week
- Do several problems of the same type, or drill certain skills, in order to build a new, good habit.
- Review and reinforce: at least once a week, review your log. Are there certain types of mistakes you tend to make repeatedly? Are you continuing to make mistakes that you’ve made in the past and already tried to fix? Go back to steps 3 and 4 again.
I understand that this might seem to be a mundane and time-taking task, but trust me, it will help you in the long run. One sure outcome is that you will become aware of your tendencies and you will start to notice when certain types of problems will pop up in the test. Since you will already be aware, you would know what you are supposed to do with that question – even let it go, if necessary.