Eliminating transfer errors: practical steps to reduce carelessness

Davis: Hey everybody, this is GRE Bites. My name is Davis, and I’m an educator with over ten years of experience.

Orion: And I’m Orion, the founder of StellarGRE.

Davis: We’re here to bring you your weekly bite-sized episode on GRE prep and grad school admissions. Check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. And don’t forget, you can use the code “BITES” for 10% off any membership.

Okay, so something we haven’t talked about before, which I’m excited to discuss, is transfer errors. Transfer errors refer to situations where, while taking the GRE with your scratch paper, you either mistakenly transfer the problem from the screen onto your scratch paper or you mistakenly transfer the answer you arrived at back onto the screen when clicking. Orion, do you have any suggestions on how to avoid these types of mistakes?

Orion: I sure do. That’s why we’re talking about it today. So, transfer errors are, in my opinion, the second most common type of careless error that students face, especially on the quantitative section. These are very frustrating because, all other things being equal, students generally solve the question correctly and then end up hitting the wrong button, which is infuriating. At the end of the day, the GRE is simply a button-pressing task. You get credit for pushing the right button, and that’s it. The problems are just hints as to which button to press. So, if you don’t press the right one, you won’t get the point that you deserve. At some point, students get so frustrated with their own repeated transfer errors that they decide, “I’m ready to do whatever it takes to never miss a point like this again.” And that’s when they make a real change in the direction of accuracy.

Davis: No, I appreciate that. That’s not even an analogy. It’s a button-pressing test. And there’s also something here. So, you’re speaking mostly of transfer errors: going from an accurately solved problem back to the page. But also, it’s a button-pressing test, and it’s within a time limit. If I mistakenly transfer the problem from the screen to my paper, solve it correctly, and then go back to find that my correct answer isn’t even among the answer choices, it’s devious. There’s no button for this one. So, it’s a waste of time. So, without further ado, how do we eliminate this type of error?

Orion: Yeah, there are three very simple, low-tech strategies for mitigating this type of error. First, with respect to transfer errors—where people incorrectly copy the information from the screen onto their paper—this generally happens because they switch their attention too much. They look at the screen, then look down at their page, then back at the screen, and again down at their page. Every time they break their visual focus, there’s an opportunity for them not to return to the exact same place. This distraction makes it possible for them to not see things as carefully and clearly as they might if they maintained a single visual focus. To eliminate this type of error, just look at the screen. Don’t shift your attention back and forth between the screen and your scratch paper. Instead, look at the screen and write with your hand. You can discern what you’re writing while you’re doing it.

So, you should maintain an unbroken visual focus on the screen while writing with your hand. You might even consider softly saying what you’re writing out loud to yourself. This provides an extra sub-vocal self-talk failsafe to ensure that the numbers you’re seeing are the numbers you’re writing.

Davis: So far, so good. Yeah, this is still hint number one: low tech. Use your eyes; you have them, so keep them trained. And for your mouth and speech, say it out loud sub-vocally so you’re not distracting anybody else. Doing so ensures you’re registering with multiple senses to verify the accuracy of what you’re writing down.

Orion: You listen, that’s great. Davis, you’re an excellent listener.

Davis: All right, here’s another low-tech solution to this problem. This one addresses the transfer error where you have the correct answer on your scratch paper but mistakenly hit the wrong button. This solution is low-tech; it’s entirely analog.

Orion: One thing I do if it’s a math problem is solve it all the way to the end, and then I put a box around the result. Let’s say the answer is eight. I’ll put a little box around the number eight. Then, I’ll take my left index finger and place it on the number eight, and I will use my right index finger to point to the answer choice on the screen that contains the number eight. It may sound silly, but by doing this, I’m creating an unbroken analog circuit with my body, from the paper to the screen. This method makes it much less likely that I’ll make a transfer error. I recognize that I might look odd when I take the test, but I’ve come to understand that the main reason I get questions wrong is due to my own carelessness. So, a significant portion of my strategy during the test is designed to combat my tendency toward mindlessness. While some of these tactics might seem unnecessary or odd, I think it’s equally silly to lose points that you’ve rightfully earned. Alright, that’s step number two: box the answer and create an unbroken circuit from the left index finger to the right index finger to ensure accuracy.

Davis: Right.

Orion: That’s also low tech.

Davis: Right? But you said there was three, what’s the third one?

Orion: Yeah, the third one has to do with the calculator, which is a source of transfer carelessness on the quantitative section. One thing that I do when using the calculator is say the digits out loud, digit by digit, not the entire number, as I input it into the calculator and as I transfer it out of the calculator. So, for example, if I want to multiply the number 8246 by 12, I wouldn’t say that as I’m putting it in. I would say, “eight, two, four, six, times one, two, equals whatever that is,” and then I would read that off digit by digit as I transfer it out of the calculator. This method also helps reduce the likelihood of making a careless error using the on-screen calculator.

Davis: That’s great; this is comprehensive. So, we’ve talked about getting it off the screen onto your page and transferring the correct answer from the page back onto the screen. But now, we’re discussing how, while you’re working on your page, there’s another screen, which is your calculator. And there can be transfer errors from one to the other.

Orion: Exactly. So, using the low-tech tool of subvocalization—saying it out loud as you watch the numbers being pressed into the mini screen of the calculator, digit by digit, not as an entire chunk—can be a really helpful tool.

Davis: Alright, any other closing thoughts about how to avoid transfer errors? I mean, you mentioned earlier that the test is really about regulating and addressing one’s own shortcomings with regard to carelessness, mindlessness, or endurance in paying attention.

Orion: And so, as we said, these are low-tech, meaning you don’t, you know, need some grand technique. It’s really just utilizing the resources we have – our senses – and bringing multiple senses to bear so that we maintain the continuity of attention on the given task at hand. These methods also shouldn’t take any additional time. We have to work with the resources we have in the testing facility, and we have to work within the time limits. So, no failsafe should detrimentally impact your efficiency, but it should significantly influence your performance.

Davis: Exactly. For example, I noticed that one of his three recommendations was not to double-check your work. If you do these three things, you can avoid the necessity to double-check your work and spend that extra time going over your answers, so to speak.

Thanks, everybody, for tuning in. We’ll be back next week with another bite-sized episode of GRE Bites. If you have a topic you’d like discussed on a future episode, let us know at stellargre@gmail.com. And if you’re ready to take your prep to the next level, check out our top-rated GRE self-study program at stellargre.com. You can use the code “BITES” for 10% off all memberships there. Talk to you soon.

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