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Succeed at Exams

What is error analysis?

A strategy that involves reviewing past tests and exams to see where you made errors or lost marks, and using this information to change and improve your future studying.

How do I analyze errors?

  • Use a recent test or exam.
  • Ask your instructor if you can see your paper if it’s not returned.
  • Look for patterns in the questions you got wrong.
  • Check if your errors are similar to any of the types below.

Error type #1: Omission errors

  • These typically occur when you’re not keeping up with classes and/or readings, and have missed important content.
  • To improve this type of error, try to attend all classes and seminars, and get notes from someone if you will be away. 
  • Find new methods to manage the workload in your courses and/or control procrastination.
  • Try studying in a group.
  • Attend your instructor’s office hours for clarification of difficult content.

Error type #2: Careless errors or running out of time

  • Careless errors occur when you misread a question, make a mistake in a math calculation, exclude a negative sign, don’t use proper grammar or spelling, or skip a question.
  • Try slowing down while writing your exam. Read questions carefully, one at a time.
  • Take a few minutes before you start to get an overview of the questions and plan your time.
  • Cover up everything but the one question you’re working on to eliminate distractions.
  • Give yourself a few minutes at the end to check your answers.
  • Before you start writing, allocate how much time you’ll spend on each section depending on how many marks it’s worth. 
  • Try to stick to your time limits – it’s usually better to have several incomplete answers than one totally complete answer. 

Error type #3: Prioritization errors

  • These typically occur when you decide that material will likely not be included on the test/exam, and don’t study it.
  • Review your course outline before starting to study to determine what topics are most important.
  • Find out from other students what they think will be emphasized by forming a study group or attending review sessions.
  • Study your your textbook and lecture notes by integrating them to discover where they overlap, which may indicate an area of emphasis or importance.
  • Review old exams if you can find some.

Error type #4: Application errors

  • These typically occur when you have difficulty with questions which require applying apply course material to a new situation, or analyzing it in a new way.  Your studying may have focused on understanding facts and details when the question required an understanding of the “big picture” underneath the facts.
  • Get a study group together to brainstorm ideas for the types of questions that might be asked. Review the course’s objectives in your course outline.
  • Make doing practice questions and checking the answers a key part of your preparation strategy for the next exam.
  • If you normally study by memorizing your notes, use concept maps or charts to help you see relationships and connections in a different visual format.

Error type #5: Mastery errors

  • These typically occur when you don’t fully remember or understand the content, and sometimes emerge when you can’t integrate concepts from the lectures and readings.
  • Mastery errors may also occur when you don’t provide the level of detail the instructor is expecting in your answers.
  • Try using active study strategies, like making your own test questions, doing practice exams, creating concept maps, or studying in a group.
  • Keep up with your day-to-day coursework and reading to avoid cramming.
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with the level of detail you’ll be required to know by testing yourself with practice exams or problem sets.
  • If you don’t understand why your response on a midterm wasn’t detailed enough, speak to a TA or your instructor to ensure that you understand the level of detail they’ll want to see on the final exam.

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