In high school, I took the ACT three different times. I believe that puts me directly into the “nerd” category—with a capital “N.”

When I took the test the first time, I scored a 26. However, my goal was a 27 because of a scholarship being offered by the college I wanted to attend. So naturally, I took the test again, hoping to get just one more point.

I scored a 26.

After that second attempt, my mom suggested I study. I didn’t even know studying for the ACT was a “thing.” I just assumed the test was written to measure what you know, and if you don’t know it, you’re out of luck.

But I was determined to earn that scholarship, so I ordered the test prep course and spent part of my summer studying. (Again, I’m a Nerd. I know.) Not only did the prep course help refresh my math skills (my lowest score, much to the dismay of my parents, who were both math teachers—this fact might help explain my Nerd status), but it also taught me actual test-taking strategies.

For example, there were suggestions like what to eat the night before and how to sit while completing the exam.

One of the strategies I specifically remember didn’t relate to the act of taking the test; it dealt with the anxiety one might feel after the test.

The authors of the prep course had conducted a study, and they found that after completing the ACT, most students could only recall the questions they were unable to answer. They may have answered eight of the math questions easily, but the two that stumped them were the questions they remembered later.

The ACT study course suggested that students usually perform much better than they perceive they did, because the easy questions—the questions they completed quickly and correctly—are soon forgotten.

After taking the ACT for the third time that summer, I was positive my score had actually gone down. I was afraid all my time in the sun and late nights with friends had clouded my academic skills. After the test, I predicted I would score a 24 or 25. I just knew I had missed so many of the math questions that it had been a waste of my time to even try to study. I kept recalling all the math problems that stumped me.

A few weeks later, I received my scores. I had earned a 28—and my highest score was in math! Just like those who prepared the study course had predicted, I had only focused on the difficult questions, and I had quickly forgotten the easy ones.

I recently recalled this story as my husband and I were talking before bed one night. We’d had a frustrating day with our oldest son, Nasko. His behavior had been wild, and the day had not gone at all as planned. After the kids were tucked into bed, my husband started naming all the times throughout the day that he had failed as a father.

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