What do you have in common with a Tony Award-winning actor? NERVES! It doesn't matter how many times an actor has played the part on stage, or how much she's rehearsed, actors always feel the adrenaline rush right before the curtain goes up. The same is true of someone sitting for a licensing exam — no matter how much studying you've done or how many practice exams you've aced, you're going to be a bit nervous when you sit down for your exam. It's good to be a little nervous —your body and brain are prepared to take on anything — just don't let it get the best of you.
Below are some tips for staying calm during the weeks leading up to your exam and during the exam itself.
Weeks Leading Up to the Exam
- Get Plenty of Sleep — it goes without saying that a well-rested body is calmer and more focused.
- Stay Hydrated — we often forget to drink water because we're so busy drinking coffee, soda, and energy drinks. Plain old water is what the body needs, and staying hydrated allows you to function more efficiently and with less confusion.
- Stretch/Exercise — if you sit at a desk all day while studying, your body gets antsy. Give it what it wants — time away from a computer screen. Walk, bowl, work out, swing or teeter-totter at a local playground . . . just get up and move! You can also elevate your computer with a small stool or box, or better yet, a desktop made just for that purpose. Standing while studying or working keeps your energy levels up.
- Do Yoga — for many, yoga is a calming form of meditation in motion. It helps you focus and breathe deeply.
- Remember to Breathe — although this sounds silly since breathing is an automatic function, many of us are surviving on shallow intakes of air. Try taking long, deep breaths from your diaphragm. Check in with yourself periodically during the day, and remind yourself to stop, close your eyes, and take three or four deep breaths. Inhale through the nose; exhale through the mouth. Remember this when you're in the testing center, too — take little “breaks” away from the exam by closing your eyes and breathing deeply every 30 minutes or so without leaving your chair.
- Eat Right — this is important while you’re studying and on your testing day. Sugary snacks spike your blood glucose level, making you feel jittery, and the “crash” that comes when the sugar wears off leaves you feeling lethargic. Instead, eat foods that release their sugars slowly into your bloodstream, such as good fats, quality protein, whole grains, and plain, whole fat yogurt.
- Spend Time with Friends and Family — don't get so caught up in studying that your life revolves around it and nothing else. Your friends and family are supportive of your goals, and by being around them, you'll be reminded of their support. And don't forget the benefits of hugs — a hug releases the hormone oxytocin in our bodies, resulting in lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone).
- Keep the Books Out of the Bedroom — as tempting as it may be to do "just a little more studying" at the end of the day, put the books down as your day winds down. Your bedroom is one of the few sanctuaries available to you; don't spoil it by making it yet another place to study.
- Take Time Away from Studying — it's tempting to cram, cram, cram as you approach your test date, but just as a professional athlete doesn't train every day and gives her muscles a chance to rejuvenate, your brain needs a rest from the materials as well. Take at least one day a week (and a few hours each day) without thinking about the exam.
During the Exam
- Calm Yourself and Envision a Successful Outcome — eat a healthy breakfast (no donuts!) and make sure you arrive at the testing site in plenty of time to get situated. Take some deep breaths and mentally focus on a passing score!
- Don't Let the Bell Curve Scare You — during the exam, the questions are presented to you in a bell curve with the toughest questions in the middle of the exam, and the easiest at the beginning and end. Just when you think you can't handle yet another difficult question, you're likely through with the hardest part and easier questions are just around the corner.
- Stretch During the Exam — while you don't want to be disruptive to the other test-takers in the room, you can stretch your legs under your desk, wiggle your toes, roll your shoulders, and stretch your arms while sitting in the testing center. You're also allowed to take restroom breaks — consider taking one just to get up and move around, and to allow your eyes to focus on something other than a computer screen for a couple of minutes. If you're taking an exam that is conducted in two parts, take advantage of the break between sessions and go for a 10-minute walk. Studies have shown that a 10-minute walk can improve brain function and reduce depression and stress.
By the time you sit down to take your exam, you will have spent countless hours studying, and your head will be full of the knowledge you need to pass your test. If you follow these healthy practices, you will be in better shape mentally and physically to handle the demands of the exam.