Learning from your “Mocks”

exam paperI mentioned in my last post that if you have corrected papers from your mocks in school, you should go over and analyse them. It can be a good idea to get a teacher to look at your work and explain how you can improve it. The whole idea of doing a mock exam is to simulate as close as practical what you have to do in the real exam, but without the risks associated with doing poorly in the real thing. The same approach is used in many situations. Airline pilots practice in flight simulators to be able to deal with situations they might have to deal with for real. A company putting on a show will have a dress rehearsal before the opening night. A production team in a factory will do a pilot run of a new product before it is released to mass production. The problems are found when in a safe environment, and the necessary tweaks and adjustments made so that everything runs smoothly when it really counts.

You do the same for exams. You train to be able to do something under expected or likely conditions, simulate these conditions and test yourself against them, compare how you get on with the desired outcome, and then make any needed adjustments to achieve your goal. Do not worry about the actual grade you got in the mocks, it does not count for anything. Instead concentrate on discovering how you lost marks. Was it because you got the correct numerical answer but left out the units? Did you do the conversion from one unit to another incorrectly? Was it because of the way you used your calculator? Once you identify a problem you can work on fixing it.

Over the last few weeks students of Galway Maths Grinds have been bringing me their scripts from their mock exams. Certain errors keep cropping up. What’s more, those who consider themselves very good at maths and aiming for an A grade in their June exam make similar errors to those who are not as confident and competent. They make similar errors but not as often. The errors by and large are for simple things and so one would expect that they can easily be corrected. And they can if a student is disciplined, careful, practices answering questions in way they plan to do in the exam, and on the day rechecks their work towards the end of the exam.

You should also take account of the new answer sheets for project maths. I personally do not like them nor do any of my students. However they are what you will have to work with. Do not use pencil to write your answers, apart from drawing graphs or sketches to illustrate an answer.  Unless it is a dark pencil it will be hard to see against the grey grid of the boxes where you will be expected to put your answers. When using a pencil for graphs it should be a hard black (HB) pencil with a good point. Many students find that there is insufficient space for their answers either because they provided answers that were longer than necessary but were perfectly valid, or because they have large hand writing and so needed more space than was provided. You can use extra answer sheets but then your work is all over the place and in an exam situation you may loose track of some of it. Other students had correct answers on additional sheets but were given no marks for it because apparently it was the mocks examiners who lost track of it. You should decide on some way of highlighting that additional work for a question is on additional answer sheets. Indeed you should decide on how you intent to write in these designated boxes. Are you going to put one letter or figure in each small square or will you ignore them and treat the answer section as if it were a blank page.

Some students had very poor handwriting and it was very difficult to make out what they had written. There is not much point in having the answer off to perfection if the examiner can not read it. If you have this problem, you need to start correcting it now. Just because you can make out what you have written does not mean that someone else can. It you can not make out your own writing then you can safely assume that an examiner will not be able to either and so they will not be able to give you a mark.

Read the question. I repeat, read the question. Then answer that exact question. The question asked is the only one for which marks are going. If you answer some other question you get no marks no matter how brilliantly you answered it. If it asks for the volume of a cylinder in terms of π,  then the correct answer will be something like 6π cubic metres and not  18.9 cubic units. If it asks for it to one decimal place then the answer is 18.9 cubic units.   18.857 is not more accurate. It is wrong because it is not what was asked for. When doing calculations we often do not write the units explicitly in the intervening steps. This is just for convenience and to avoid confusion where the letters used to represent the units of measure may also be used as variables. But you must write them explicitly in your final answer.

Another common source of errors is the conversion from one set of units to another. If a questions gives some units of length in metres say, and others in centimetres, then all should be converted to the same unit for a given calculation. Particular care is required where converting units that have more than one dimension, such as area or volume. To change meters to centimetres you multiply by 100, to change square metres to square centimetres you multiply by 1,000, and to change cubic metres to cubic centimetres you multiply by 1,000,000.  When dealing with hours and minutes 3.5 hours is 3 hours and thirty minutes not 3.3 hours. Every minute is 1/60 hours and every second is 1/(60×60) hours.  The same calculations apply to degrees, minutes and seconds when looking at the measure of angles. Remember that in converting volumes of liquids (the word capacity is sometimes used) to volumes occupied in some sort of tank (cubic metres or centimetres) that 1 millilitre is equivalent to 1 cubic centimetre.

Another very common mistake is giving the wrong sign when multiplying with negative numbers, or when rearranging equalities.

calculatorKeying errors are so easy to make on a calculator. You can press a key twice instead of once or not press it enough without realising it. So double check calculations again at the end of the exam. Very many students do not fully know how to use their calculators properly, particularly when the shift or second function key is involved.  This can lead to such mistakes as getting the value of an angle in radians when the student thinks it is in degrees and vice versa.

Every now and again students will make a mistake in simple arithmetic. If you write down that 3 x 4 = 13, its not the end of the world but it is a pity to lose a mark for something like this. This type of error occurs more often that students generally realise, and is another example of why it is so important to spent any spare time towards the end of your exam rechecking and correcting your work.

All of the above are common errors that pretty much everyone makes at some time or other. You do not want this time to be during an important exam. Analyse your mocks papers and the other revision work you do throughout the year so that you can identify any particular errors that you have a tendency to make. It can be helpful to get a teacher or friend to help you with this.

Everyone makes mistakes but you should take any available time to find and correct them before handing up your paper.  Do not leave an exam early.

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