ACT Test: How to Overcome Anxiety and "Bombing" on Tests

If you want to overcome test anxiety and bombing on important tests like the ACT test, you have to first realize what causes test anxiety in the first place. There are three main causes of test anxiety. Understanding them will help you do much better on the any test.

  • Psychological causes are the first problem leading to test anxiety. Whether it is being unprepared or past bad experiences, students go into the test defeated before they start. One key to defeating the tendency to bomb on tests is to understand that even if you guess on every single question, you’d still get a score of 14. Further understanding the key to having enough time to answer every single question, even with a guess, also goes a long way to defeat the psychological causes of test anxiety.
  • Physiological causes are the second culprit that contribute to test anxiety. The fact is that as we fear the test we tense up and breathe less. Both of these things hurt the brain’s ability to be operating at peak efficiency. The fact is that the brain can use up to half the oxygen that we breathe in when we concentrate, and shallow breathing from being nervous starves our brain.
  • Poor study methods also contribute to test problems. When a student is primarily an auditory learner, who learns by listening, and has spent all his time studying like a visual learner, by just reading books, he has good reason to be nervous! Learning to study according to the style of learner you are is critical to having confidence going into the ACT test.

So if you want to overcome test anxiety that might cause you to bomb on the ACT test, keep in mind these three causes of bombing on tests and learn more by taking a good ACT test prep course that will teach you how to score your best on the ACT.

ACT Test Prep: Free Practice Tests to Study For the ACT

Finding free ACT practice tests is a lot easier than most people realize. Instead of spending $25 for a book that has practice tests or paying a membership to an online site, you can get official ACT version for free. But the fact that they are free is only part of the benefit of getting these tests.

Why All ACT Practice Tests Are Not Equal

There are a lot of books that you can buy that feature multiple ACT tests. But most of these are nowhere near as valuable as the free, official versions. The first reason is that the official versions give you a breakdown of your score once you grade it. Without breaking your Math and English results into sub-scores, you won’t know exactly what you need to study to improve.

The second reason is that unless the test is an official version, you can’t be sure how true to the real test is. The last thing you want to do is waste your time studying based upon a test result that is not true to the real thing.

Where To Find Free ACT Practice Tests

The two places that you can get free tests are online, at the official ACT website, which is

The second place you can get free ACT practice tests is from your high school counselor. They will have old copies of the practice booklet from previous years. Since the test has not changed, these are just as valuable as the current test.

Keys To Doing Well On Standardized Tests

If you’re like most people, you probably dread the idea of taking standardized tests or even preparing for them. Whether it is the SAT’s, or a test you take to get into graduate school, it is no fun preparing for those tests. You’ve probably enrolled into a test prep course, which is obviously a good idea. There are a few other things you can do as well which will make the test prep process much easier.

#1: Spend Some Time Each Day Preparing

What I mean by this is to spend time even before your prep course starts. This might involve taking a practice section of the test once each day or learning a new vocabulary word each day. This will help you stay sharp during the test prep course as you will become more conditioned to taking practice tests and studying each day. Effective mental conditioning will be key if you want to do well on standardized tests. It is very easy to get lazy, especially toward the end of the test prep course. Thus, preparing in advance by spending a little time each day will go a long way in building your conditioning so you can pace yourself accordingly.

#2: Be Realistic In Your Expectations And Do Your Best

This is a point that is mentioned in a lot of articles, but it bears mentioning here as well. It’s always important to be realistic whenever you approach a task like this. If you feel like you need a day off because you are tired or exhausted, give yourself the day off and recharge your batteries. It is not mandatory that you memorize every word or that you score a perfect or near perfect result on every practice test. What is important is that you are able to step back, analyze what you did wrong in the process, and be able to think of what you can do to fix the problem. Once you do this, you will be able to relax and do your best.

Three Keys to Preparing for Standardized Tests

The recent SAT cheating scandal involving Long Island high schoolers and college students has raised alarm bells across higher education. How could students from top notch Long Island schools pay college students to take their SATs for them? How wide spread is this practice, and how long has it been going on for?

For those of us in the field of education, and in particular test prep, the New York incident comes as no surprise – it is the natural evolution of a system which has placed an extremely high value on the results of a single test. It has created an arms race among students who are driven to exploit any means (both legal and illegal) to increase their odds of admission to their college of choice. For better or worse, this is the current environment which students (and their parents) have to deal with – and the reality is that standardized tests are one of the most important factors in college admissions.

While the importance of standardized tests may change over the long term – for now, the idealistic idea pioneered by Harvard University to liberalize the admissions process is the most serious hurdle high school seniors will face.

Given these conditions, what are students to do? What priorities should students set, and how should parents help them get there with their integrity intact? There are three simple rules for navigating the college admissions process and the SAT/ACT – and this applies to the GMAT, LSAT, MCAT and GRE as well. These rules are designed to take the stress out of the college admissions process, and make it possible for anyone to achieve a higher score on the SAT/ACT.

1) Think Long Term

2) Maximize Repetitions

3) Tailor Your Learning

Think Long Term – Begin your formal test prep activities one year before the exam date. Every good test prep process begins with learning the ins and outs of the SAT or ACT. This requires a thorough review of each of the question types, the scoring method, and the format of the exam BEFORE ever doing a practice question. This is a relatively low pressure, low stakes way to prep and feel comfortable with the exam.

Maximize Repetitions – Do as many test prep questions as you can in order to get familiar with the patterns and habits of the question writers. This doesn’t require you to buy a ton of books or download massive databases of questions. As long as you get coverage across all the common question types, doing the same questions over will build the confidence and pattern recognition necessary to succeed.

Tailor Your Learning – You should avoid the cookie cutter approach at all costs. If you are testing at a high level on the math, but struggle with the verbal – attack the low hanging fruit! For you, an hour’s worth of verbal prep will yield more of a score improvement than an hour of math prep – so focus on the right things. Don’t waste your time (and money!) learning skills that will not help you improve your score. Do spend time practicing question types where you don’t feel as comfortable, and always look for new ways to relate to the material.

Above all, stay focused – don’t spend time practicing concepts you already know or which won’t be on the test. Once you’re done studying, relax and be confident that you’ve done your best and that is all you can ask.

The Bell Curve and Standardized Tests

I have long been a proponent of finding alternatives to standardized tests, including the use of portfolio assessment and other authentic assessments that measure real learning and not the ability to choose the correct answer. Along this line, I had a conversation a few days ago with another educator about the concept of the bell curve and how intelligence, as it is viewed, can be a more accurate determiner of achieving proficiency.

While I do not believe that the current view of proficiency being propelled by many educational “leaders” is an accurate view of what learning has actually occurred, I thought I would delve a little deeper into this other educator’s viewpoint that if the bell curve is a sound theory, and if students are spread along that curve, how will all students achieve the numerical score that indicates they are proficient? In 1968, sociologists Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobsen decided to test the theory that perceived intelligence is in actuality a self-fulfilling prophecy. To put it concisely, Rosenthal and Jacobsen convinced several teachers to give a test they called “The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition.” Rosenthal and Jacobsen randomly picked students who had been given this test, but told their teachers they had been identified as students who were expected to do very well academically. Test scores from the teachers, behavioral observations, and even a second administration of the test showed that these randomly chosen students did much better than the rest of the class. The reality was, however, that these students were more academically gifted only in the mind of the teachers, and the results were revealing.

This study may not have abolished the idea of intelligence as based upon a “standardized test” but it does go a long way to invoke questions about how reliable a measure any standardized test may be.

As for the bell curve, there is still ongoing discussion about the legitimacy of that particular statistical concept, mainly due to a noticeable rise in IQ over time, making the initial view that the mean IQ score should fall somewhere around 100 (the Flynn effect).

According to J. Atherton, there may be other, more compelling factors that influence educational growth, including motivation, opportunity, background, and teaching.

This debate I had may not be solved in so short a piece as this, and it may raise more questions. What is the next step? Perhaps, these questions need further study. In any event, however, these questions do tend, at least in my professional opinion, to shed doubt upon the real benefits of standardized testing.


Atherton J S (2011) Learning and Teaching; Intelligence [On-line] retrieved 1 April 2011 from Rosenthal, R., & Jacobson, L. (1968). Pygmalion in the classroom. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston