7 KEYS TO DEALING WITH EXAM PERFORMANCE ANXIETY
Anxiety is a natural part of taking any examination. Everyone who has ever passed an important exam has experienced some degree of performance anxiety. Anxiety is a state of arousal. It can keep us alert, focused and motivated. It's when anxiety levels become so high that they are distracting or lead to confusion and exhaustion that we need to do something to bring it down into the middle range.
The goal is not to eliminate anxiety. Anxiety can't be completely eliminated while taking an important examination. If you believe that you need to eliminate anxiety in order to perform well on your license exam you are likely to become even more anxious as you attempt to do something that can't possibly be done. Remember that the goal is to bring anxiety down to a middle range....to avoid a disabling level anxiety.
1. Effective Exam Preparation
Effective exam preparation is the best way to manage exam performance anxiety. Not only does this provide an active outlet for anxious energy prior to the exam, but it is also the best anxiety reduction technique for actually improving exam performance. The confidence that you can bring with you into the exam is also a great defense against anxiety. The effectiveness of your exam preparation results from...
- preparing with BTA home study materials, highly rated by successful exam candidates as being clearly written, well organized, well focused, easy to use, and thorough
- participating in BTA license exam preparation workshops
- reviewing the BTA customer feedback on the testimonials page of this website and seeing what has led to success for thousands of other BTA customers
- beginning your preparation well in advance....customers who begin their preparation 6 to 12 months in advance always tell us that they're glad they did
- developing a scheduled study plan....don't leave your exam study to whims
- preparing with study partners....discussing what you are learning is much more effective than simply reading and thinking about it. If you need help finding study partners near you give us a call and we'll help you find them.
- taking advantage of BTA's complementary phone consultation, available 7 days a week. We'll help you develop a study plan, set up homework assignments, review Practice Exam questions, and clarify any information about exam content that you might have
- having respect for the license exam and its purpose. The licensing board is a consumer protection agency which shares many of your own client oriented values. By working with BTA exam preparation resources you will strengthen your sense of pride as a clinical practitioner, and strengthen the kinds of knowledge and skill that are valued by the Board and its question writers.
Remember, each of our associates at BTA has passed every one of our license examinations on the first attempt, and we did it in just these ways. And so have thousands of our customers. Knowing that you can too goes a long way in building confidence and reducing exam anxiety. *** Meditation ***
2. Maintain Balance
It's important that you prepare for your license exam in a way that enhances, not detracts, from the other important aspects of your life. Maintain and strengthen your relationships with friends and loved ones, participate in recreation and hobbies, do what you can to maintain your health, physical fitness, and quality of sleep, and nurture your sense of spirituality. All of these life resources will be just as important to your exam success as the information you're studying for the exam.
3. Have a Back-up Plan
Since you can't control the outcome of the exam, you can reduce anxiety and improve your chances of passing the exam by having a back-up plan. If you have a specific back-up plan in mind you can avoid the anxiety arousing prospect of "I'll be a total failure and it will be a total disaster."
Consider what you will do if you don't pass the exam the next time you take it. What will you say to your friends and colleagues? Especially visualize the friends and colleagues who appreciate you and what you have to offer, regardless of an exam outcome. How will you determine what to differently in order to improve your chances when you take the exam again? What will you be able to do to remind yourself of the important friendship, family and spiritual values that still enrich your life?
4. Take Inventory of Your Professional Development
Nobody knows everything about clinical practice, but you don't need to know everything in order to pass the exam. Although it's important to take inventory of your weaker content areas in order to know what to focus on in your exam preparation studies, don't just leave it at that.
Rather than dwelling on what you haven't learned, take time to review what you have learned. Parse it out. Ask yourself...what is it about the content of this clinical exam that you have learned over the past several years in your classes, in each field placement, in each job you've had since graduating, at each conference or continuing education class that you've attended. Most people are surprised at how much they've learned when they take the time to take inventory like this...and that reduces anxiety and builds confidence.
5. Take the Role of the Question Writer
Remember that the question writers for your license exam are a cross section of your profession. They are not selected for any exceptional degree of achievement. They probably have the same academic degree that you have and they. At least some of them probably work in the same kind of practice setting as you do. With that perspective in mind, when you review your home study materials ask yourself which of this information would you consider to be most important if you were writing questions for the exam. When taking Practice Exams ask yourself which answer would you and your colleagues consider to be the best answer in actual practice....not which answer would your professors or members of the BBS consider to be the best answer.
6. Develop Relaxation Skills
Remember that relaxation is a skill. To be effective, relaxation skills require regular practice. Below you will find two relaxations techniques that have been developed in clinical practice and used by other successful exam candidates.....Integral Breathing and Accepting Awareness. If you are going to take this approach, be sure to begin practicing the skill weeks or months before you take your exam. If you do, then the skill will be second nature to you during the exam....not something you have to think about and manage. Here are some other effective techniques for reducing anxiety.
Most anxiety reduction techniques are based, in part, on the anxiety reducing effect of focusing on the here and now moment...and meditation is an excellent method for learning to be in the here and now moment. Anxiety is always about the future. When we're feeling anxious we are worried about something that will happen. The anxiety that's felt while taking the exam is actually anxiety about what might be the outcome of the exam, and one's inability to handle that outcome. If you can learn to take a here and now stance when taking your exam you will be better able to think clearly about the case scenarios presented to you, the questions you are being asked, and your answers to those questions. Such a here and now focus will strengthen your performance. *** Positive Visualization ***
Before you take a Practice Examination, before each study session, and just before you take the actual exam, do this. Close your eyes. Count to ten, and then take a few slow, deep breaths. Become even more relaxed as you repeat this simple process two or three more times. Now visualize yourself taking the exam. Visualize yourself calmly sitting down in front of the computer screen. Visualize yourself as feeling confident, alert, and focused. Visualize yourself enjoying the exam because the subject of clinical practice is so interesting to you, and because you want to be able to show how much you've learned about it through your education, experience, and exam preparation studies. *** Relaxed Breathing ***
You have just developed a kind of personal movie that you can refer to now and then throughout the exam. Notice how your muscles relax and how you feel more calm whenever you reflect on it.
This is an effective, time tested relaxation technique. Simply close your eyes. Visualize a favorite fragrant flower. Inhale through your nose deeply and slowly, as if you were smelling the flower. Then exhale slowly through your mouth, as if you were calmly blowing out a candle. Use this simple technique repeatedly whenever you feel anxiety building up throughout the day over the days, weeks and months before your actual exam. Then, when you use this technique during the exam it will be second nature to you....not something you have to think about and manage. *** Progressive Relaxation Exercises ***
Practice progressive muscle relaxation regularly and well in advance of taking your actual exam. Begin by closing your eyes. Then work your way up your body by tensing your foot muscles for 5 or 6 seconds. Release, then take a couple of deep breaths. Next, tense your calve muscles for 5 or 6 seconds. Release as you take a couple of deep breaths. Repeat this process with other muscle groups as you move up your body....from upper legs to abdomen to arms and hands, to shoulders, and finally to face and jaw. Next, tense your whole body and release.
After this process has become familiar to you through regular practice, while taking the exam, even if you don't feel you have time to go through the whole process, simply going through this process with a single body part will effective help to release tension and reduce anxiety.
7. Be Your Own Best Client
If your anxiety is due to a clinically significant condition such as generalized anxiety disorder, hyperthyroid, stimulant abuse, or any other condition that a client might bring to you for help, then do what you know needs to be done. Don't stigmatize your condition any more than you would stigmatize a client. Consider the same kinds of referrals and treatment approaches for yourself that you would recommend to a client whom you cared about.
If you found this information helpful, more Anxiety Management Tips as well as Study Strategies, Test-Taking Strategies, BTA Myth Buster and Ask the Expert Q&A is available exclusively to BTA customers at the all new web-based Customer VIP Lounge.