The "Categorize Your Mistakes" Exercise

When students come across mistakes in practicing for standardized tests (and there will be mistakes!), it's common for both students and teachers to attempt a 'diagnosis' in order to determine just what went wrong. This process is essential for all types of learners, for example:

  • Students whose homework or practice test results are "lower than expected"

  • High-achieving students whose “random” mistakes are holding them back

  • Students who blame the question/test instead of their own deficiencies

When students are attempting to self-diagnose their own mistakes, the first important thing to keep in mind is to include the test material across all sections. Rather than just math or just reading, etc., we need to ensure that they are considering errors across the board so that are more likely to find meaningful or useful patterns.

So - what kinds of mistakes are most common on standardized tests? In general, they tend to fall into one of four categories:

  • Content: You simply didn’t know the stuff involved - e.g., grammar rules, math equations necessary to choose the correct response.

  • Process: You knew the content involved but didn't execute the process correctly. Perhaps you didn't read back far enough to get a necessary contextual cue or tried to find an angle in your head rather than dra