When you take a standardized test, you are your own worst enemy. From what I have observed, many test-takers score lower than they should simply because they second-guess themselves and change right answers to wrong ones. Believing that the answer they chose was too obvious and thus a trap, they talk themselves out of a perfect logical selection and go for something less obvious — and wrong — instead. Almost never do I see students change incorrect answers to correct ones when they go back over a section, only the other way around. So I’m going to propose something a little radical: don’t check your work.

I know this probably flies in the face of what you’ve always been been told: make sure you leave some time at the end of every section to go back and check….right? But for many students, working this way can do more harm than good. Please do not misunderstand me: I am not at all suggesting that you just whip through the questions without thinking twice about them and then stride blithely off, confidently assuming you’ve gotten everything right. This only works if you are willing to work very, very carefully the first time through; to go just a little bit slower than you think is necessary (assuming that time isn’t a problem); and to break down the questions piece by piece and reason your way through them meticulously.

True story: One of my students never scored as well as he should have on ACT English because every time he checked his work, he changed wrong answers to right ones. So finally I just told him to stop checking his work.

When he came home from the ACT, his mother asked him if he’d checked his work on the English section. He said he had. “Don’t lie to me,” his mother responded. “Ok, fine, I didn’t,” he admitted, “but only because Erica told me not to.”

When his mother called and told me that, my first thought was, “Oh s–t, if he blows it, his mother is going to be furious.” I won’t deny that it crossed my mind that perhaps I should have made him check his work after all.

But then got his score back.

And the English was a 35.