Think You Made a Mistake? Part II: Bad Errors on the GMAT

Today’s post comes from New England-based instructor, David Newland. Before reading, be sure to check out Part I from last week!

Last week, we mentioned a couple of good errors and explored how making mistakes can turn into opportunities for learning. This week, we’ll explore bad errors and how we can avoid them on test day.

The Bad Errors

Unlike the first two errors, which were really opportunities, this type of error can undermine your practice, sap your confidence, and eventually severely limit your score.

  • “Silly Mistakes” – Silly mistakes are those avoidable sorts of errors that result from hurrying or lack of concentration or improper techniques. Examples from the Quantitative section include answering the wrong question, stopping too soon on a problem solving question, calculation errors, and making assumptions on data sufficiency. Verbal “avoidable errors” include answering with a weaken answer on a strengthen question, losing concentration when reading a passage, and using outside knowledge.

You know that making silly mistakes on test day can be a problem, but did you know what these errors do to the quality of your practice? Missing questions for this reason can lead to frustration as you miss practice questions that you should get right. These “silly mistakes” can result in your not taking your practice as seriously since it is painful to keep seeing these types of errors come up. These bad errors can prevent you from learning from your mistakes.

“Silly” Mistakes and Practice Tests

These avoidable errors can have a particular effect on your practice tests. When you make “silly mistakes” the Computer Adaptive Test adapts to those errors by presenting you with less difficult questions. Meaning that the limits of your concept knowledge and your ability to recognize and apply skills and strategies may never be tested. For example, if you are really up to the 650-level in terms of your knowledge base and your ability to recognize and apply particular strategies, but you make so many silly mistakes that you are always below this level, then you will never get the opportunity for a legitimate test of your abilities. You may end the practice test thinking that you do not have any holes in your content knowledge and that if you can just focus on test day that you can go over 700.

However, if you can minimize the number of silly mistakes that you make, then you can get the most out of your practice in general, and your practice tests in particular! By limiting these avoidable errors on practice tests you will rise to the level of your knowledge and abilities so that the concept and strategy areas that you need to work on will be quite clear. If you are that 650-level test taker then you will consistently be working on problems at or above this level: problems that challenge and excite you.

Limiting the Bad Errors

Everyone makes some silly mistakes in practice, and most people make at least a couple of these mistakes on the test. After all, the GMAT is in part designed to test your ability to avoid these mistakes. However, when you see that you have made a silly mistake in practice take it at least as seriously as you would a lack of concept knowledge. If you missed a problem for lack of understanding of grammar you would find that grammar knowledge and try not to make the same mistake again. When you miss a question because you got confused as to whether you should strengthen or weaken the conclusion, or because you did not make a note that statement 1 was sufficient do not brush off these errors. Instead, adjust your techniques so as to prevent making those mistakes in the future. You know that minimizing silly errors is crucial to your score but it also crucial to getting the most out of your practice!

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