It's OK to Make Mistakes
Scared of making mistakes? Well don’t be! Making mistakes is an inevitable part of life and we all do it. We are not made to be perfect - making mistakes is a part of what makes us human. So, instead of seeing mistakes as ‘bad’ and being scared of making them, we should embrace our errors and accept them as learning experiences. They are an important part of the learning process as they help us to grow stronger, build on our knowledge, improve our skills and fuel our ambition to do better next time.
The Science behind it
The fear or making mistakes and being negatively evaluated is argued to be one of the greatest causes of stress in a learning environment (Willis, 2010). This fear decreases student participation and affects the filtering and consolidation of input into memory. The construction and strengthening of memory patterns within our neural networks require engagement and active participation. When you actively participate in class and give a response, you receive feedback as to whether this response was accurate or not. If the response was correct, the neural network storing the information is strengthened and if the response was incorrect, the neural network is altered (McTighe and Willis, 2010). Without active participation and making mistakes, your brain is unable to revise and change the faulty neural networks created due to misunderstandings or misinformation, which can limit future learning.
Dealing with mistakes
Studying at University level is no easy feat. It requires great courage, skill and determination and can be a very stressful experience. This is even more true for those of you who are a) studying in a language that is not your mother tongue or b) not confident expressing yourself academically in English.
Not only do you have to deal with the demands and pressures of juggling all your coursework, you also have to deal with the demands and pressures that come with language acquisition and becoming more skilled at expressing yourself clearly and accurately in an academic environment. Learning how to express yourself coherently and effectively in an academic context can be extremely frustrating and stressful and you may find yourself in situations that put you in a vulnerable position and subject you to negative evaluations (Tsui, 1996). This can cause feelings of anxiety and uneasiness and may cause you to shy away from active participation. However, it is important not to safeguard yourself from negative evaluation. Rather, we should learn to tolerate mistakes and address them in a positive way. Both correct and incorrect answers have value and should be respected (McTighe and Willis, 2010).
So, don’t let the fear of making a mistake stop you from expressing yourself and sharing your thoughts and ideas. Consider them learning opportunities. Be confident, allow yourself to make mistakes, learn from them and rock it next time!
Caroline Thornton, English Language and Academic Skills Coordinator
McTighe, J. and Willis, J. 2010, ‘UbD Meets Neuroscience: Applying What We Know’. Accessed 4 April 2016,
Tsui, A. B. M. 1996, ‘Reticence and anxiety in second language learning’, in Bailey and Nunan (Eds.) Voices from the Language Classroom: Qualitative Research in Second Language Education. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp.145-167.
Willis, J. 2010, ‘Current Impact of Neuroscience in Teaching and Learning’, in: Sousa, D. (Ed.) Mind, Brain, Education. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN, pp. 45-65.