The ACT. The make or break test that will determine your entire future. The exam that every high school student agonizes over, taking prep classes and sometimes even submitting to the test three, four times in a bid to up their score.
Timeout. Before you psych yourself out, step back from the situation and take a couple deep breaths. The ACT is important for getting into college and securing scholarships, sure, but you also do yourself no good getting overly anxious about it.
Our Dean of Students, Molly Atherton, has been helping high school and college students overcome their test anxiety for years. And if the ACT test has you anxious, you should try the NCLEX (nurse licensure exam) on for size: nursing students have to take a licensure test made up of hundreds of highly complex questions, and the test itself adapts its difficulty and length based on how well you’re doing on it.
Molly does an exceptional job working with our graduating seniors to help them overcome their anxiety toward the NCLEX, so in comparison, the ACT is really a piece of cake. A member of local ACT prep organization 3 Moms and a Test, Molly’s specialty is testing techniques. She focuses on preventing anxiety by showing high school students what they can do to get themselves to testing nirvana.
Today, she’s agreed to pull back the curtain and reveal tips and techniques that you can put into practice the next time you’re pulling out your hair over an upcoming ACT. Be warned: following these ACT test tips may result in such side effects as increased scores and a reduction in Number 2 Pencil chewing.
Two Wrongs Don’t Make A Right
It’s those tougher questions that kill us, right? You find a question that has you completely at a loss, so you stare at it for two minutes, five minutes, ten minutes and before you know it too much time has gone by and you spiral down and down and down and your future is ruined…
Deep breaths. It’s not that bad, even though it seems like it at the moment. Once you bomb a question, the most important thing you can do is make like Elsa and let it go.
“Have you ever seen someone choke when they’re shooting a free throw?” asked Molly. “What do you think causes them to choke?”
“A lot of people who have test anxiety step out on a hard question and they don’t know how to come back in. So it’s kind of like an athlete who gets the yips…you struck out and you don’t know how to get back into the zone."
“If you have two strikes and three balls, you’ve got to say, ‘what’s going to be the next pitch?’ And that’s going to be your next question because whatever happened before doesn’t matter and whatever’s coming next doesn’t matter.”
Don’t let one tough question break you. Each one is a blank slate you’re given the opportunity to knock out of the park.
You Control Your Actions
When you feel anxious, the trick is to replace that negativity with something positive. Molly explains it well:
“Your problem thought might be, if I don’t get a 32, I can’t go to Stanford. Well, that’s not going to help you do better on your ACT. It’s going to cause you anxiety. So how can you refute that with a true statement? ‘I can’t control my score, but I can control how much effort I put into it.’”
What you know is what you know. That doesn’t change on the test day. But you can shut out that anxiety by telling yourself you did the legwork on the material and pushing forward.
Skip to the Point
The ACT is a numbers game. Molly explains how, if a question is particularly tough, you should just skip right past it.
The easy questions count for exactly as much weight as the harder questions. You’re not going to get more credit because you answered a tougher question but didn’t finish in time to complete one of the easy questions near the tail-end of the testing section.
If something has you stumped, move on and get through the questions you know you have in the bag. That way, you also won’t find yourself checking out completely just because you’re hung up on one brutal question.
You’re unique. You won’t approach the ACT in the same way that the people sitting all around you will. And that’s OK.
Embrace your own idiosyncrasies. If you have to go to bed at precisely 9 pm the evening before the test, wake up, listen to an entire One Direction album, and then only fill out answers using the same pencil you’ve used for every test you’ve ever taken, then go nuts. If it works for you and will help you feel confident, then do it.
Molly admits that, while she can give overall tips on visualization and getting into a testing zone, every student has unique dilemmas he or she must overcome. It takes time and practice to pick up on your pattern for success, but once you find it, you can repeat those steps over and over to conquer testing and whatever other challenges life might throw at you.
The Only Thing We Have To Fear
Before we conclude our interview, I made sure to ask Molly what her number one tip is for students. She had the answer right away.
“You can do it. Seriously, that’s my thing. Not everybody can do everything. But don’t let your anxiety stand in your way if you’ve got all the other pieces."
“Most of the students I see here, they’re dedicated, they’re smart enough, they’ve done the work. So whatever you do, don’t let that fear get in the way of achieving your goal.”
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