16 August 2023

Seeing their children understand the math concepts taught at school and score well on their regular assessment practice drills is sure to instill great confidence in any parent.

Despite that, some may bring home exam results that are less than stellar. More often than not, this might be because your child has been making careless mistakes. This leads them to score less than ideal marks even when they have a good grasp of the content knowledge at the back of their head and may be the one obstacle that trips them from getting good grades. Parents must understand that even when their child is able to perform well in their usual math assignments independently, the high-stress atmosphere of an exam situation makes them more prone to making mistakes.

Thankfully, there are ways to correct this issue, and it starts with pinpointing the common careless mistakes children make during math exams.

Due to time pressure and usually when the question is lengthy, many students skim through the math questions and start working on the solution despite not understanding the question fully, which eventually leads to them getting the incorrect answer.

Furthermore, careless mistakes are more likely to occur in questions that involve multiple aspects, meaning that getting to the final answer requires several steps.

Although speed is of the essence in exams, it is always better to get as many questions right while missing out on a few questions than to complete every question yet answer most of them incorrectly. Simulating a test environment at home can help to train your child to read each question carefully.

You can also help your child by giving them drills that focus more on the comprehension of given questions than on the actual work. This means prompting them to explain what each question is asking them and the steps they should take.

Besides testing a student’s mathematical ability, math exams also assess their time management skills. However, some students tend to hyperfocus on one question and briefly forget that there are others to be answered.

Most students typically try to complete the questions in order. When they get stuck on a question, they tend to ponder over it instead of skipping it for the meantime and attempt the others first to secure as many marks as possible.

To break this bad habit, consider watching over them when they do practice drills and point out this problem when it happens. Sometimes, children do not recognise these issues by themselves, so having parental guidance is ideal for quick corrective actions.

In time, they will learn that skipping one or two tricky questions for later to secure marks for the easy ones first is the best way to ensure a higher grade in the limited time given during exams.

For young students, multiplication can be a complex topic to grasp fully, especially if they have not memorised the multiplication table, which is commonly known as the times table.

After mastering the multiplication table, your child should not have much problems with single-digit multiplications. However, that does not necessarily translate to multiplying two-digit numbers. For instance, they may have difficulty applying the numbers in the proper tens and ones place, dealing with zeros, and more.

Go through the working carefully, step-by-step, together with your child and pause when you notice a mistake was made. Your child will eventually become more comfortable with these questions and eliminate their errors through constant practice.

Young students also have difficulty understanding long division, and more so when it involves a remainder in the question. You can help your child by presenting division as a way to share. It is easier for kids to understand division if they can imagine a set of items being divided equally amongst a group.

You can also explain that division is the opposite of multiplication if your child is already progressing well on multiplication. Grab a multiplication chart and show them how the multiplication table can be worked backwards using division. Similarly, go through the working with your child on a step-by-step basis to enhance their understanding.

Computational errors mean that your child may have added, subtracted, multiplied or divided incorrectly somewhere in the process. Regarding multi-step problems, just a single computational mistake will result in the rest of the work being wrong, along with the final answer.

The two main ways to solve this problem are to teach your child to slow down and check their work. Simply taking more time to work on a problem carefully is often enough for them to realise their mistakes and cut down on computational errors.

After completing long computations or multiple steps, children are often reluctant to check their work. However, spending time to look over one’s work to verify its accuracy quickly can show whether the computations done are correct or not, which is why parents should instill this habit through drills at home.

The mathematical order of operations concept is difficult to understand, even for adults. There are usually two issues with the order of operation. Students sometimes get the equation wrong due to confusing one mathematical operator or symbol for another. For instance, your child may misread the “X” in 2 X 4 as “+”, leading them to answer 6 instead of 8. Other times, they may misremember the actual order of solving equations with multiple operators.

For the order of operation, a common mnemonic that teachers use is PEMDAS or “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”, which outlines the mathematical operations to solve in order:

Equations in parentheses (“Please”) are the first to solve, followed by exponents (“Excuse”), multiplication (“My”) and division (“Dear”) from left to right, then finally, addition and subtraction (“Aunt Sally”) from left to right.

Mastering the art of avoiding careless mistakes cannot be achieved overnight. As such, parents need to work with their children on a regular basis and put in the time to practice the tips we’ve shared to spot and correct avoidable mistakes until it becomes second nature to them.

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