We often focus on test-taking skills for before and during a test, but neglect the “after.” Students would benefit from some help understanding how they can learn from their mistakes.  The first key skill is identifying the types of mistakes they make, only then can they work to correct them moving forward. In math there are four basic types of mistakes:

  1. SECRETARIAL: copying the problem down wrong, misreading sloppy handwriting between steps
  2. COMPUTATIONAL: arithmetic mistakes
  3. PROCEDURAL: generally understanding the problem but mixing up or missing a step, (as an example, not completely simplifying an otherwise correct answer)
  4. CONCEPTUAL: wrong procedure or left blank

The first two are typically “in test” fixes. A student may be working too fast, not checking their work, or suffering from anxiety. The third and fourth are preparation issues. A student making these mistakes at exam time is just not fluent enough with the material.

After a test, students can check to see what type of mistakes they have made and see if there are any patterns, then they can implement those great “before” and “during” strategies.

Another strategy from reader Virgil Gibson at Harrisburg Area Community College:  “One practice I’ve implemented in my classes is dividing the class into working groups of about four students and have them collaboratively identify the reasons for any incorrect or incomplete responses to problems on each others’ papers. They learn while teaching each other.”