How do I study for these #$@! exams? 8 Lessons we can learn about the anxiety associated with licensing exams.

I am sure you have heard it… there is a lot of talk about licensing exams… specifically there is a lot of negative talk about licensing exams. Why all the profanity, stress, and anxiety? Here are just a few of the reasons why exams are anxiety provoking, and some lessons we can learn from that anxiety:  

  1. Exams are the gatekeeper. They are meant to keep people who are untrained, or who have poor judgment out of the profession. Lesson: Once you pass this exam, you don’t have to go through this ever again!
  2. Exams are meant to be a cumulative measure of knowledge. That means that they are trying to distill all of your clinical experience into a few hours of time. Lesson: Exams are meant to be difficult and require you to exercise clinical judgment in a non-clinical setting. Making that switch is hard! What is the easiest way to study for a cumulative test? Cumulatively! Start early integrating material into your supervision time.
  3. Exams are stressful. For many, any kind of test brings up fears, insecurities, and just plain ol’ text anxiety. When an exam is on a topic near and dear to us it is bound to bring up more anxiety. Lesson: Be sure to integrate anxiety management into your preparation time- even if you don’t think you need it. Consider an appointment with someone who specializes in working with anxiety reduction in a test environment.
  4. Horror stories are everywhere. Hearing from colleagues or friends of friends who have been unsuccessful is heart wrenching and brings up our own stuff. In addition, the horror stories are often accompanied by “I don’t know why I failed” which brings up a sense of confusion for others, who feel like there is no way to study and be successful. Lesson: Be sure to seek out at least 5 success story to outweigh every horror story. Look for what you can learn from every story and pay attention to the things you can do differently based on your unique needs and style.
  5. Exams are imperfect. Exams are not perfect vehicles with which to determine someone’s clinical worth. They are the best we can do at the present time. However, there are problems, and will always be imperfections. It is easy to get stuck on this imperfection when so much is riding on the outcome. Lesson: Pay attention to the pass rates. You will hear that you “can’t” pass exams. In California, that is a widely spread rumor. In fact, over 70% of first time test takers pass the licensing exams. You CAN be successful.
  6. The licensure process is long. You didn’t go through a 10 week training course and then sit for licensing exams… you went to graduate school, got thousands of hours of supervised training and experience. You are ready to have some kind of validation for the time you have put in! For many, the fear of failing and waiting another six months is unacceptable and they place incredible pressure on themselves to be successful. Lesson: Focusing on the “what ifs” and your fears does not help you prepare for this exam. Focus on what you want to happen and the steps you need to take. Let the fear overtake you, and it will keep you from being able to study effectively and efficiently.
  7. Internships are unique. Everyone has been through a unique preparation process. Some are more prepared for the material that will be on the exams than others. Lesson: Give yourself time to identify and fill gaps in your knowledge based on your unique internship experience. Having gaps in knowledge is normal and does not make a bad therapist. However, identifying and filling those gaps will make you a better therapist.
  8. People are unique. You will hear one person say that they studied for 3 weeks and passed both exams on the first try. Another person will study for 6 months using a ton of study materials and failed their exam. It is hard to discern what the most successful study program is, because people are different, and have different needs in the study process! Lesson: Understand that your study plan make look quite different from others and that you have unique needs. Look to others for ideas for how and what to study, but definitely do that through the lens of your study style and study needs.

Were you looking for a pat answer? A one size fits all approach to being successful to exams, on the first try, with less stress? No article, study guide, or study program can truly be all of that for you. Why? Because this is an individual process! Understand that connecting in with your own unique path, and integrating that with tried and true methods will help you be successful. Like with all of the work that you do, you will need to assess the problem, develop goals, and implement a plan to help you reach those goals through specific interventions.

Are you unsure what to do and where to start? Talk to a mentor or guide who can really help you develop a plan that will help you be successful! If you don’t already have a mentor in your area, work in finding one today.

Are you scared of overstepping boundaries with a mentor? Do you have trouble asking for others to help you meet your needs? You might need a coach to help you practice those assertiveness skills. If you are paying someone, you are much more likely to ask for what you need, and you won’t feel guilty for trying to get your needs met!

Or, consider joining the free online study group. We'd love to be part of your support network! Join the list, and get an invite to the private study group!