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Avoiding Common Math Study Mistakes

Avoid dumb mistakes. When we say to avoid dumb mistakes, we mean careless mistakes. For example, you knew that you were supposed to add; instead, you subtracted. Carelessness. You "eyeballed" a problem. You did it in your head and made a simple mistake -- a mistake you wouldn't have made if you had used paper and pencil or a calculator. Reduce the number of careless math mistakes and you will increase your competency and skill level.

If you rely heavily on a calculator, then use the calculator. Don't take shortcuts that can result in careless mistakes. Most of us have been brought up on calculators. We can't think mathematically unless our fingers are pushing buttons. So be it. Use the calculator, but be careful: You can still make a careless mistake by hitting the wrong button! Ask for help. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask for help. Einstein asked for help. So can you. Seek out a person who has filled up the math jug. This might be your own son or daughter. Don't be ashamed to ask.

Often, formal instruction may not be as effective as peer instruction. You and your math instructor may not be tuned in to each other. The instruction may be "over your head." You may not understand the full message. Often, a peer can take the same problem and explain it in easy-to-understand terminology and the fog is lifted.

I once observed a 15-year-old girl attempting to teach some soccer skills to a small group of 4-year-old boys. One of the 4-year-olds touched the soccer ball with his hands. The young instructor said, "That will cost you a lap." The 4-year-old violator replied, "What's a lap?" -- to which another 4-year-old answered, "You've gotta run around the gym once." Peer instruction often provides the missing meaning and understanding.