Get the Most from Your Error Log

If you are ready to get serious about improving your score, an Error Log is a great way to analyze your performance on practice questions and exams. You can create your own spreadsheet to track the mistakes you make on sample questions, or find inspiration from templates posted online. 

An Error Log isn’t just a tracking device; it’s a way to streamline your thinking process and optimize your study time. It asks you to consider:

  • What went wrong – specifically?
  • How can I do better next time?

The more precise you are with your input, the more benefit you can expect to get out of it.

Icon KnowledgeBright Tip: Create a Word or PowerPoint document that includes screenshots or the text of each actual incorrect question so that you can test yourself on it later. Include questions that you got wrong PLUS any questions that you guessed (even if your guess was right.)

Categorize Problem Questions

For Quant/Math questions, you might use categories such as:

  • Had no strategy/ could not recognize problem type
  • Recognized problem type but could not remember strategy
  • Applied strategy but made a calculation or algebra mistake (in another column, specify the calculation or algebra mistake)
  • Misread the question and thus wrote incorrect algebra or solved for wrong variable

For Sentence Correction (GMAT) or Writing (SAT), you might use categories such as:

  • Did not know the rule (in another column, specify the rule)
  • Know the rules involved but did not notice them here (in another column, say why)
  • Misread sentence
  • Did not correctly understand meaning of sentence

There is No Category for “Silly Mistake”

Some mistakes feel silly in retrospect, but an exam does not know or care if you missed the question for a good reason or a “silly” one. “Silly” mistakes are often calculation mistakes.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t know how to calculate this type of problem, but it does mean that for some reason, you failed to calculate correctly in this instance. When going over your errors, be specific in thinking about why.

No matter how silly the mistake, it belongs in your Error Log. This way you are achieving accuracy and honesty, so that you can focus on where and how to improve.

Between Two Choices

If you say, “I don’t know, it was just down to the last two and I picked the wrong one,” you need to go deeper:

  • What was wrong with your answer choice – specifically?
  • Was there something about the correct answer that made you think it was wrong?
  • What can you learn from this?

Key Takeaways

For each incorrect response, think about what the question has taught you. We encourage students to have a “Key Takeaway” column in their Error Logs. In this column, write a note about what you want to do differently next time.

What is the advice you want to give yourself?

Before your next set of practice problems, review the Key Takeaways from your Error Log. Get these things fresh in your mind and see if that helps you improve your focus and ultimately improve your performance.

Icon KnowledgeBright Tip: Re-try the problems from your Error Log about 3 days after the error, and then again about 7 days later. Scientific research shows that reviewing using the distributed practice technique can significantly boost your learning!


An Error Log is just a document. A document won’t change your exam performance. The only thing that can change your performance is you – by doing the work, putting in the review time, and being accurate in your self-assessments.

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