5 Common mistakes students make

by Anita Naik

Tutors, examiners and teachers often see the same student mistakes over and over again. Mistakes that hinder learning and lower your marks. Yet, it's not a lack of revision or understanding that they reference here, but the small things all students can work on. From procrastination to not checking your work, here are five areas to pay attention to this year.


People procrastinate for all kinds of reasons. Not knowing where to start, not understanding how to prioritise what they need to do, and even a fear of failing. These then contribute to not getting tasks done and have a knock-on effect with time management, homework, revision and anxiety.

If you struggle with procrastination, you need to get to the root of the issue. If it's terrible organisational skills, then ask for help. You can learn to become more organised with systems and processes such as a revision or homework timetable and clear outcomes and goals to your work.

If you feel overwhelmed by your workload, work out what will make your work more manageable. Do you need help understanding what teachers want from you and when, have you chosen the proper subjects, or do you need extra help?

It also pays to be honest with yourself - are you procrastinating because you don't want to do the work and are easily distracted? What can help here is to set up a designated work area free of distractions.

Not reading the question properly

We are all guilty of speed reading and making assumptions around what questions we want, especially in exam situations. It's why examiners cite not answering the question correctly as one of the main reasons marks are deducted.

One technique that will help whether you are doing a class assignment, a practice question, or an exam is to rephrase the question in your head to understand what's being asked. Then read the question several times to get a clear understanding before you answer.

Highlighting keywords will also help focus your mind. For example, a History GCSE question: "Describe two features of weapons used on the Western Front? The key points here are to describe two features and ensure they were used on the Western Front.

Another example from an English Literature GCSE paper, "Starting with this speech, show how Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as a powerful person."

Keywords here are 'starting with', 'show' and 'powerful'.

Plagiarising by accident

Plagiarising is the number one way to fail an assignment or lose marks. While direct copying - where you copy and paste into your work - is easy to identify but it's also easy to plagiarise by mistake when you don't understand what needs a citation and what doesn't.

Data and information from other sources always need to be attributed, while facts don't. Beyond that, taking the ideas from another author's work and adding them to your argument even if you change the words is plagiarism.

Plagiarising is easy to do when looking at lots of different texts, so always check your work and notes to see what needs to be attributed and what doesn't. If you're unsure, don't be afraid to ask in class and check that you are doing the right thing.

Never reading handouts

Sometimes it is frustrating that you are given so many handouts in class, and it's easy to forget to read them or throw them in your bag.

Yet, handouts back up the topics discussed in class, sometimes explaining them further or giving you summarised notes for revision. You are missing out on information that can help your understanding and your practice of a subject by ignoring them.

Help yourself by annotating handout notes when given them so you can see where they slot into your class notes. Then use a highlighter to cover important points and file away for revision. This habit ensures that you take in the information and also keep the handout for your revision notes.

Not asking for help

Too many students wait too long to ask for help when they need it. Either being unsure of who to turn to for help or feel they are failing if they admit they don't understand something.

Your first port of call if you don't understand something is your subject teacher - ask for extra help, resources, and advice.

If that doesn't help, then consider a subject tutor. Tutors are best placed to help you with confidence, bespoke exam techniques, and understanding and knowledge gaps within a subject.