We all make mistakes. And whilst it’s tests and examinations that are really the worst places to make them, they are probably where we make the most.

Here we’re going to be talking about silly mistakes. So, those mistakes that are pretty much unpredictable, that you don’t really foresee in your test preparation, or that are not necessarily down to insufficient knowledge of the subject. They are mistakes that everyone makes and that everyone will inevitably make.

However, some people make them less than others. And if you are a silly mistake-maker, you will probably be quite interested in how these people do it. Is it better exam preparation? Is it sitting lots of practice exams and practice test questions? Is it just less test anxiety – or an ability to keep a straight head throughout all different sorts of exam questions?

Honestly, it is probably a bit of all of these things – from the exam prep to their ability to chill. Because, before exams, it is important to have undergone the best preparation that you possibly can, and that doesn’t just mean revising.

Let’s take a look at the best ways to avoid those silly mistakes in your exams – and save yourself some all-important marks in the process.

You can find more information in our article on common exam mistakes and avoiding them!

avoid silly mistakes
Good exam prep makes fewer mistakes

Why Do I Keep Making Mistakes in Exams?

But, firstly, let’s think about the main reasons that people make mistakes. We’ve already referred to some of the most important ones, but let’s take it a little more systematically.

We reckon there are three main reasons that students make mistakes whilst test-taking. And these are the things that you will need to tackle when you are targeting your silly mistakes. It’s important to know your enemy when you are preparing for exams – as this is precisely how you weed out the errors that are holding you back.

Whilst the first reason here is quite obvious, the other two are things that people neglect – and that they don’t take into account in their preparatory work.

Inadequate knowledge of the subject

The first is the obvious one. You are going to make more silly mistakes in your exams if you don’t have a full and sufficiently deep knowledge of your subject.

This applies to all subjects. If you are in a maths exam, you are going to mistake a formula for another or incorrectly recall an equation, if you don’t know your subject properly. If you haven’t spent enough time going over your dates in history or your quotes in English literature, you are going to mistake those too. This is probably a given.

However, knowing what knowledge is actually essential to know comes less from the study guide and more from the practice tests and practice questions. These show you, in a real context, what knowledge is required from you.

Poor exam technique

Another thing that often causes students mistakes is their exam technique. This means all those things surrounding how you answer different types of questions, how you practice proper exam time management, and how you give your examiners or tutors the answers that they are actually looking for.

This actually becomes one of the most important ways to score the highest marks in your exams – and to score the lowest, if neglected – so pay attention to it when your teacher or study guides talk about it.


Finally, another important reason for making daft mistakes in exams is stress. This can affect your ability to read the question and answer it correctly. It can affect your time management skills. And it can affect your logical reasoning. All in all, those who are opening their exam papers with a high level of stress – although a medium level of stress is okay – are more likely to make mistakes.

Literally, anxiety compromises your ability to concentrate. So, stress management should make up a part of your test prep regime.

exam hall mistakes
Exams are the worst places to make mistakes!

Top Exam Strategies for Avoiding Stupid Mistakes

So, how can we prevent ourselves from making all these different mistakes? The answer is to integrate different test-taking strategies into your revision routine or study plan.

Because revision should not just be about going over and over the same material. No – to help you prepare for your actual test, you need a more holistic view of your revision that brings into play more than just the academic skills.

Use all the Resources for Studying and Revising You Can

As we said, don’t just limit yourself to your study guides or your revision book – and don’t just continually go over the same material on your flashcards. Unless they are the most comprehensive flashcards in the world, these will not give you the full knowledge that you will need to properly rock the exam.

Rather, familiarize yourself with a wide variety of different resources – from textbooks to newspaper articles (if they are relevant) to online study materials to your notes from your teacher. Keep things broad.

And Know Your Material Inside Out

This is because the fundamental necessity – like, the baseline for success in exams – is to know your stuff really well. This is the starting point, honestly: if you don’t know what you need to know, of course you are going to be making mistakes.

So, rather than cramming the night before the exam, drip feed all this material into your brain over time. That way it is going to stick – and there’s no chance you will forget it on the day.

See What Mistakes Others Have Made in the Past

A helpful way to avoid exam mistakes is to know what common mistakes to expect – and that’s why seeing what mistakes others have made is handy. You can see common silly exam mistakes in our own article, or you can go straight to the source and check out past papers and examiners’ reports from previous years.

Whether for GCSE or A Level, there are going to be sample questions all over the shop. Getting familiar with these and with their mark schemes is perhaps the best way to beat silly exam mistakes.

Nail Your Exam Technique

Exactly the same resources will help you with another part of your exam preparation too: honing your exam technique.

If you are looking to get your time management down, your planning, your ability to read and answer questions properly, and all the rest that makes up an exam beyond the sheer knowledge, using mock exams and mark schemes are the best way to do this.

When you are revising, a good amount of your time should be dedicated to your mock tests. If you neglect these, you are asking for mistakes.

Be Rested before Your Exam

We talked about stress above – and one of the best ways to reduce your stress levels is to make sure you are sufficiently well-rested. If you are weary or running on coffee alone, you are not going to do successfully what you need to.

Sleep helps your brain work. It helps your memory. It helps your problem-solving skills. All of these things are necessary for your exams. So, put the notes away and sleep before your exams.

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Prepare Some Techniques to Keep You Calm

And if rest doesn’t do the job sufficiently, try to develop some ways to keep a lid on the stress and anxiety before the exam. Think about breathing techniques, mindfulness, or meditation the morning of your exam. Or remember that, no matter how it might feel, it is not the end of the world if you don’t get full marks.

Whatever might keep you thinking clearly, do it. Because that’s what you want in your exam, not a cloud of stress.

Take some light relief with our collection of funny exam mistakes - that actually happened!

silly exam mistakes
It's not the end of the world!

Underline the Key Words – to Read the Question Properly

It’s probably the oldest trick in the book – and the most frequent piece of advice from your teachers in the run up to exams. However, it should go without saying: if you do not read the question properly, you are doomed.

So, write all over your question paper and answer sheet. Underline the key words in the questions or write them out again. The aim here is to understand fully what you are going to be answering – because not reading the question is potentially the silliest mistake of all.

For Longer Answers, Plan before You Start Writing

Another thing that you will no doubt have heard from your teachers a lot when exams are approaching. If you are completing an essay-based subject, plan your answers first. Believe it or not, it is not a waste of time.

Too many people start writing and forget – or never knew – where they were ending up. Don’t do this. It is a disaster for your marks.

Check over Your Answers at the End

Finally, actually leave yourself time to read the answers again at the end. Just do it. That’s how you spot the silly mistakes you’ve inevitably made.

And guys, it's not only you that make mistakes. Check out mistakes exam boards have made too.

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