Is right answer important in math?

I want to discuss this topic because of a possible confusion. Recently in a blogpost I linked to the article Math anxiety, which mentions this math-related myth:

MYTH #4: IN MATH, WHAT'S IMPORTANT IS GETTING THE RIGHT ANSWER.

Then, in another recent post I linked to an article Things not to learn in school where the author strongly convinces us that getting 70% in a test is not enough since in real life you need to get it 100% right.

So is it important to get the right answer when doing a mathematics problem?

Well, yes but it depends. This is not a simple cut-and-dried question.

It IS important if you're drilling multiplication facts.

But many times it's not your focus. For example, when a student is learning to do long division or multiplying 4-digit numbers, the emphasis should be in learning the procedure and why it works. Calculation mistakes might yield a wrong answer, but if the way the division was done is right, then some credit should be given.

And obviously all children need encouragement while they're learning - they need partial credit or acknowledgment of things they did do right, even if the final answer was wrong.

Often times, you can use a wrong answer as a springboard and delve into the WHY the calculation went wrong. There's lots of learning one can do from wrong answers.

See, in my mind kids should be taught from early on to check their answer, always be CRITICAL of their answer, "suspicion" it until they themselves can "prove" to themselves that their answer is indeed right.

They need to learn to think twice before they do things in life. Well, in mathematics we can teach them to do something similar: when the problem is done, go back and check. Think it thru again. Does the answer make sense? Can you check it? If you estimate, is your final answer in agreement with your estimation?

So a wrong answer just means your student hasn't yet perfected this "checking and criticizing your own work" process - you know, learning to think critically about your own thought processes.

Encourage your students to point it out in their exam paper, if they know they got a wrong answer but can't find their mistake. You should give more credit to that answer than to the same wrong answer without that explanation (though not full credit of course).

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