People make mistakes. It is part, in a way, of the human condition. However, one type of mistake you really want to avoid is exam mistakes – because an examination is not the place for a sloppy error, regardless of how inevitable these things are.

People, however, do make exam mistakes too. And that’s okay. The important thing is to keep those daft slip-ups to a minimum – or at least to keep them to the practice tests, exam prep, and practice questions. These are good opportunities for mistake-making. In fact, that’s precisely what they are for.

However, if you don’t feel like you can get all of your mistakes out of the way during your exam preparation, you need to find another strategy. That’s knowing what the most common mistakes are and knowing how to avoid them. This way, you have an extra layer of anti-mistake protection when you need it.

In this series of articles, we are going to be looking at the ways that you can start thinking about how to avoid mistakes effectively. This is anything but a waste of time; rather, it is an essential part of exam strategy that you would be daft to neglect.

Let’s talk about what we mean by this. By the end of this article, you’ll know how to conquer all your errors – and you’ll have had a laugh at other people’s errors too.

Common Mistakes that Students Make in Exams

The strange thing about student performance in examinations is that everyone makes the same mistakes. Everyone slips up over the same exam questions. And everyone has the tendency to lose attention, stumble over this or that, and confuse x with y.

The reason that students come out of their exams with different exam results is due to the number of these mistakes that they have made. If you can keep them to a minimum, you’re onto a winner.

Because test preparation is not all about studying and revising the content of the course or the factual details you need to know. Rather, it is about the way that you answer particular test questions, the way that you ensure your time management is top notch, the way that you consider your test-taking strategies.

Besides the pure content – which we can do nothing about here – the most common mistakes in exams are about these things.

Whilst you can find our list of the ten most common mistakes students make here, let’s give you a taster. These are some of the mistakes your fellow students will make. Try not to make them yourself.

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how to avoid silly mistakes
Take care and you'll avoid the silliest exam mistakes!

Running out of time

What do you think you are going to achieve in your final exams if you can’t even finish a paper? It sounds harsh, but it is the silliest way that exists to throw away marks – and examiners complain about how students can’t finish every single year.

Whether from stress, struggles, or over-enthusiasm in early questions, students often don’t finish their paper. However, something to help you prepare for this must be integrated into your test prep – otherwise, wave goodbye to those top marks.

Not answering the question

It always seems a daft thing to say, but one of the main causes of lost marks in the exams is not answering the questions properly.

This usually comes in two forms. Those who confuse what the question is asking, and so provide an answer that doesn’t correspond to the question. Or those who try to squeeze a pre-prepared answer into a question that isn’t really asking what they are hoping.

Both are common – and both will lose you marks.


Arriving into the exam room at the right day listed on your timetable, you might find that you are just a little bit stressed. Or you may well find that your stress is totally out of control and you can’t think about anything other than how stressed you are.

A little bit of stress is good: it gives you a bit of adrenaline. Anything more and you’ll start seeing its effect on your marks. During the exam, stress is one of the worst things for your performance.

How to Avoid Silly Mistakes

Well, you now know the most common mistakes. However, what’s next is to know how to deal with them. We’re guessing that you won’t be hugely surprised by the answers – but putting these steps in place is much less easy than knowing them instinctively.

Again, revising effectively is not about just being able to recite your study guide or subject textbook by heart. Rather, it is much more important to know what you are doing with that knowledge and why.

Only this way will you avoid the mistakes.

Hone Your Exam Technique

People rarely make mistakes because of their knowledge. Rather, they make mistakes because they don’t know how to use their knowledge in the context of the exam. Being totally familiar with the layout, set-up, and process of the exam is crucial to avoid being confused in the moment.

That’s what we call exam technique – and there’s only one way to improve that. That’s getting your hands on every practice test, practice exam, past paper, exam review, and examiners’ report that you possibly can.

Don’t just revise the content of your GCSEs or A Levels; revise how.

exam mistakes
Revise and avoid those mistakes

Be Rested and Relax

We said above that excessive stress can get in the way of your performance. That counts as much for multiple-choice questions as it does for long-form questions. So, before the exam, practise some procedures that will help you to relax.

We mean deep breaths. We mean meditation. We mean listening to some music to take your mind off things. All of these are much more helpful than cramming and looking over your flashcards. In the last ten minutes of your GCSE course, you don’t want to be stressing out about what you don’t know.

Read the Question, Plan, Check Your Answers

When you are in the exam hall, remember what it was like during your practice exams. You were told to ensure that, for every question, you know what the question is asking. And you were told that, once you have finished the paper, you should go back and check for errors.

All of this rings true, for GCSE maths or A-Level English literature, there is no difference. Don’t rush through it all: taking your time is better than running into stupid mistakes.

You can find more study tips like these in our article on how to avoid exam mistakes.

The Daftest Exam Answers Ever

You may well be aware already: the internet is littered with exam mistakes. And coming from every single different exam type and qualification, some of them are really worth seeing.

Whether from sixth form history, geography, and biology, or GCSE mathematics, for every subject and for every possible question someone has made a terrible error. We just hope that they don’t feel too bad that everyone is still laughing at them, in some cases over ten years on.

You can find more of these over in our article on actual examples of the silliest exam mistakes, however, here are just a few to whet your appetite.

One student, in a philosophy exam, supposed that Socrates killed himself with an “overdose of wedlock”. Whoever this student was, he meant “hemlock”, the poison which Socrates used to commit suicide. Unless, the student knew of a different famous quote from Socrates: “By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you will be happy. If you get a bad one, you will be a philosopher.” There’s not suggestion that he died from it, however.

Meanwhile, in a history exam, one poor chap described the exploits of Sir Francis Drake: he “circumcised the world with 100 foot clipper”. Ouch, no he didn’t: “circumnavigated” is the word you’re looking for, we hope!

common exam mistakes
Don't drop the ball in your exam. Learn how to avoid your mistakes.

Even Your Exam Boards Make Mistakes, by the Way

But in all this, it is important not to lose sight of reality. It is not only you that makes mistakes: it’s not only students in exams.

When we said at the beginning that humans make mistakes, that’s something for everyone. It’s just that, for some reason, we give your mistakes more importance than everyone else’s. Sorry guys.

You might be pleased – or you might be appalled – to know, however, that not even your exam boards make mistakes. Yes, even OCR, even Edexcel, even AQA. And you know what? They have armies of proofreaders to help them not to.

That’s more than any of us have.

Check out our article on exam board mistakes to see the damage. If you dare.

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