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I've always been having some silly mistakes in homeworks/tests/exams etc, as well as programming. I very often seem to be 1-2 silly mistakes away from a perfect score, despite having done a draft and being really confident at my work. Sometimes it's the catchy questions, but most of the time it's the easy questions and me over-complicating the questions which almost everyone else gets right.

This has been a "thing" for me for years. I'll graduate college in less than a year.

I have the feeling that this is not a coincidence. I know of other students who seem to get perfect scores all around. And having talked with them it seems they don't put in more work than me.

It's not really bothering me because of the grades. They have always been good, and have always represented my understanding rather well. I'm just generally curious. My guesses are, it's either psychological, or I am simply not as smart (or talented) as other people think. I don't consider myself smart or talented, I'd say it's 100% work and 0% talent for me. Or maybe I am more error-prone by default (genetically?), and I should just accept this as part of me.

Question has a "how" in it, so I'm expecting some advice or tips and tricks :) And I hope it fits Personal Productivity.

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What's your emotional state during tests/exams? –  Christian Nov 24 '11 at 12:37
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up vote 6 down vote accepted

I my case, my method during an exam is to start doing the problems and every time I get stuck for enough much time (it depends in the overall duration of the exam), I start thinking about the next question (or the previous one).

This gives me the chance to re-think the solutions/answers I'm giving, and it helps to hunt down mistakes and errors. I don't have any objective data that backs me up, but what I can say is that I'm more confident when time's up.

Same applies to programming, I go over different sections of code, doing basic implementations, not over-thinking them, and going back to them when the need appears. I think this is pure common sense, but a few years ago this wasn't the way I did things, so, that's my little piece of advice.

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We most vulnerable to careless mistakes on the medium difficulty problems.

They're not so easy that we really can't make a stupid mistake, but easy enough that we may come to a quick, but wrong solution.

We're devoting lots more time to the hard part of the problem, so we're less likely to be careless there.

So if we're in the middle part of the problem and fond solution very quickly, just be sure to double check those!

There is way to automate check for programmer :unit tests, TDD.

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Two things come to my mind.

First, when you sit for test and exams, do you have the confidence in yourself that you can ace the test? Most students, me included, never thought that we could ace the test. Subconsciously we have told our brain that we wont ace the test and our subconscious mind does exactly that by making us fumble during our exam.

Please dont think the above is nonsence, its really how our brain works. I found this out myself only after going through university.

The solution to this is to always tell yourself that you will ace the test. Keep believing that you will, never doubt. It took me sometime before I couldnt convince myself that I could ace my tests and when I took my Masters programme in Engineering a couple of years later, that is exactly what I did and I got the results that I wanted. It was then I realised how powerful our minds are.

Second, practise makes perfect. Some subjects just require lots and lots of practise until your fingers are sore from writing.

But I sincerely think your problem is in your mind and you're subconsciouly blocking your own success.

I could be wrong in my assessment and if I am, I am sincerely sorry.

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I just go "Oh, we have an exam today? Whatever." and rarely make 'stupid mistakes'. I suppose you could call me 'overconfident'... not that that has ever failed me. :) –  muntoo Dec 9 '11 at 7:08
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