Maths Problems: How to avoid ‘silly mistakes’


May 12, 2014

Maths Problems: How to avoid ‘silly mistakes’

“I don’t know why I keep making these stupid mistakes in maths. I never get over 90% on practice tests even on problems I am good at because of these mistakes.”

Does this sound familiar?

Many tutors find that concentration is one of the biggest issues for students, and one that tutors find a lot of time focusing on in their lessons.

Careless mistakes account for a huge number of lost marks in maths problems, where one mistake - doing a plus instead of multiply, for instance, or putting the decimal point in the wrong place - can lose all the marks in a question. These careless errors stem from the inability of the mind to concentrate. But how can we avoid them?

We recommend following the SHUV Strategy

Slow down . Hang On a Minute. Underline Stuff . Visualise with Vivid Images.

This strategy can be adopted by parents to support their children with their maths homework.

  1. Slow down

Practicing the skill of slowing down is quite challenging, especially in exam conditions where students know they have a limited amount of time. Ask your child to say this sentence before every question:

“I am just going to slow down for a bit here”.

Repeating this sentence exactly sends a signal to your brain to slow down and start thinking.

  1. Hang On a Minute

Besides slowing down, engaging your child’s curiosity reduces the chances of careless mistakes. Repeat the sentence:

“Hang on a Minute, something sounds fishy”

Even when your child doesn’t feel that way, this will help to shut off automatic guessing mechanisms.

  1. Underline Stuff

Besides the obvious benefit of underlining key points from questions, following the question with a pen fixes your gaze to one word at a time and reduces the ‘scatter brain’ syndrome where your mind just tries to look everywhere.

See for some examples of this.

  1. Visualise with Vivid Images

Daydreaming can be controlled by deliberately trying to visualise an image or picture that is partially relevant to the question. Whenever your child sees a question on gradients, he or she can visualise a playground with a slide and the formula of the function floating around this playground. The more strange the context the better.

It is important to remind your child that paying attention to detail is an art form that has to be practiced!

For private maths tuition tailored to your needs search in your area and for the level you want, e.g. GCSE maths tuition, A-level maths tuition, and boost your learning.