Many people must take certain exams in order to achieve the next stage in their professional career. For example, premed students who want to become physicians must do well on the MCAT to enter medical school. Because the MCAT and other exams can significantly determine your career path, it often seems like your whole life depends on that one test.
This is a lot of pressure for any student, but for people with test anxiety it can be downright disabling. Here’s what you need to know:
Understand the symptoms. Test anxiety manifests in symptoms like insomnia, rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, lack of concentration, and digestive problems. These symptoms interfere with the ability to perform well on the exam, which further aggravates the anxiety in a frustrating cycle. Don’t try to fight the anxiety -recognize it as a red flag and use it to your advantage.
Recognize the crossroads. Test anxiety provides a good reason to examine your motives for certain life goals. Why do you want to become a doctor, lawyer, or whatever the profession may be? Do you really want that job or certification? Being confident in your path will help you better cope with the anxiety. Not being sure of your real goals may be a good sign that you should pursue something else or at least develop a better idea of your life plan.
Believe in purpose. With so much riding on that one big test, it may seem like your whole life hangs in the balance. But if you are meant to become a doctor (or whatever your goal may be), one bad test score cannot keep you from your destiny -- you just might need to persist in your goals by studying harder for the retake or giving yourself more time to meet your goals.
Don’t let fear hold you back. Overcoming test anxiety is hard work. Test anxiety is often rooted in perfectionism, low self-esteem, lack of confidence, negative self-talk, and previous bad experiences perhaps going back to early childhood. Spend some time in reflection to locate the root of your anxiety. If test anxiety persists, you may want to seek out a trusted counselor, minister, or advisor to help you wade through some of the issues involved.
Test Anxiety and Your Job
If you work at a full-time or part-time job, you may find it more difficult to concentrate as the test date draws closer. For some people, their job keeps them from studying well enough for the exam. For others, test anxiety may interfere with their job performance. If either of these describes you, check out the following tips:
Schedule time to study. If you haven’t yet come up with a solid study plan, then pull out your calendar and do it now! Knowing when you will study can help you to let go of that burden during the rest of your day, so you can focus on other important things like your job.
Practice coping with anxiety during your workday. If you often experience test anxiety, then it’s likely that other performance-based events at work may also trigger an anxiety response. So the next time you have to make a presentation, use that as practice for test taking. Do some deep breathing, go for a walk around the building before your presentation, and use muscle-relaxation techniques.
Compartmentalize. If test anxiety interferes with your job performance, then try to avoid thinking about the test while you’re at work. Make work a “no-test zone,” and designate another time of your day to focus on the test.
Work smarter, not harder. If your job commitments interfere with studying, you may need to cut back some hours on the job to free up more time to study. However, you don’t want this to interfere with your job performance. If cutting hours isn’t an option, find ways to work more efficiently during your shift so that you can leave on time.
Enlist help if possible. If you will be taking a certification or continuing-education exam designed to increase your knowledge in the field, your supervisor may fully support your studying efforts and even encourage you to leave early so you can hit the books. Most managers value professional development because it strengthens their department. It probably wouldn’t hurt to ask for some extra understanding and leeway, especially in the days before the exam. But don’t push it -- if your boss isn’t receptive, then just focus on working efficiently so you can leave on time and study after hours.
Time Management Tips
Are you prone to test anxiety? Here are some ideas to ease your stress:
Don’t procrastinate. You’ve heard it a thousand times -- waiting until the last minute will make you crazy! If you have an exam coming up, start studying today!
Try the 15-minute club. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to consider all the material you need to study so that you can do well on the exam. One way to lessen this overwhelmed feeling is to set a timer for 15 minutes and study for that length of time without interruptions. Then go do something else for a while, before setting the timer for another 15-minute study session.
Get enough rest. Sometimes as test takers we think that staying up late to study is a good idea. But the next day, fatigue will damage your ability to concentrate and retain information, which hurts your studying efforts in the long run. Lack of rest also contributes to the inability to handle stress, which increases your feelings of anxiety.
Schedule time to study. If you keep a calendar, pull it out and decide how much time you have to study each day and use some basic time mangement techniques. If there isn’t any time, you may need to cut out some activities until the exam date is over. Write in your planner when you will study and for how long, and then make yourself keep to the schedule!
Plan to relax and enjoy life. As the test date gets closer, you may find that there’s not enough time to study, and that familiar anxious feeling might well up. This is a signal to reprioritize for a minute. It doesn’t mean that you should procrastinate or avoid studying. But anxious test takers may need some time to unwind before the test. It has been said that when time is short and stress is high, successful people take a short break to keep everything in perspective. So go play with your kids at the park, do some aerobic exercise, have dinner with a friend or your spouse, or call someone who is important to you. Then hit the books again at your next scheduled study time, and you’ll be more refreshed and relaxed than before.
Achievement or Potential
Most tests of reasoning, writing, logic, or analytical skills are not meant to be the sole basis for acceptance or rejection from a particular program or discipline. Tests are designed to measure aptitudes in particular areas, but they are basically considered to be predictors of success rather than a final verdict on admission. Most educational facilities look at the whole picture; they are more interested in potential than product. The HSPT (High School Placement Test) provides an example of this concept. The HSPT is designed to place students in academic programs where a high degree of success can be predicted. The HSPT is used in conjunction with other methods to evaluate potential. Certainly, eighth-grade students are not at the end stage of academic development. It is the same in other disciplines and pathways of education.
The LSAT (Law School Admission Test) doesn’t require that a student be entirely familiar with the laws of the state where the test is administered. It predicts success based on whether a student can articulate a point of view or evaluate a situation in which the evidence conflicts. The LSAT is designed to predict success in the legal field.
The CPAT, or Candidate Physical Ability Test, is a test of physical potential. A person cannot be a firefighter without the physical potential to take on various heavy tasks requiring muscular and cardiovascular endurance. The physical aptitudes required of a firefighter are mere predictors of success, not guarantees of it.
So it is in the medical fields, among others. The HOBET, or Health Occupations Basic Entrance Test, evaluates the basic skills necessary to succeed not only in college but in clinical practice afterward. A poor academic record in the past may not, in itself, be as good a predictor of success as a high score on the HOBET. Many external factors could have played a part in past academic performance. The HOBET is therefore aimed at determining whether an individual has the aptitudes that are suitable to the health occupations field.
All testing methodologies recognize that people are not born with the skills required for a profession. For this reason, past academic performance should never be the reason for abandoning a career launch. A successful test performance constitutes a strong argument of your chances for success in teaching, firefighting, law, medicine, or any other field of endeavor.