In Mel Brooks’ classic film “High Anxiety,” which spoofs several of Alfred Hitchcock’s thrillers, protagonist Dr. Richard H. Thorndyke (portrayed by Brooks) becomes the director of the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous. Unfortunately, Thorndyke soon realizes that he himself suffers from a condition of unstable nervousness. Hijinks ensue.
Of course, there isn’t really a Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous, but if there were, it would have undoubtedly admitted its share of certification candidates.
Credentialing exams are high-stress situations and typically bring on feelings of anxiety. This is not surprising, seeing as how they’re the culmination of months of preparation and effort, as well as hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars spent.
There’s nothing unusual about feeling a little tense before, during and even after a test. But when that tension becomes so great that it can hurt your performance, you have to take steps to change your outlook or else risk failure. Here are a few ways to keep anxiety levels low during all the stages of a certification exam.
This is the most important phase because it lays the groundwork for the others. Obviously, the best way to ensure you won’t be nervous when you start the test is to study copiously. (Exactly when, where and how you do that is a subject for another article.)
Also, make sure to eat something prior to the exam but don’t overdo it. You’re not going to be able to focus on an empty or full stomach. And stay away from any foods that might wind up wreaking havoc on your gastrointestinal tract a few hours after eating — an upset stomach is a surefire concentration-killer.
Additionally, foods that can bring on stress include soft drinks, candy, eggs, red meat, chips and other salty snacks and most fast food fare.
Lastly, you should consider some kind of meditation in the hours before the test. A meditative state produces a clearing of the mind.
I won’t go into chakras or anything like that here, but I will say that most forms of meditation boil down to sitting still, with your backbone straight, while breathing very slowly and rhythmically. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with this position, try to let go of your thoughts by staring at a blank wall or closing your eyes and counting your breaths.
With any luck, if you followed the steps laid out in the “Before” section, you’ll be sufficiently relaxed as you take the test. If you still feel a high level of anxiety after it starts, though, you’ve got to deal with it quickly.
First of all, don’t look at the other candidates working on their tests and especially don’t worry if they finish before you — you’ll complete the test in your own good time. Instead, take a moment to skim the test from start to finish. Also, keep an eye on the time you have but don’t dwell on it.
You also might have to coach yourself. To keep your spirits up, think about passing the exam. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, visualize the positive outcome and then work to make it happen.
If you have time after finishing the test, take a few moments to briefly review your answers, especially for questions you weren’t 100 percent sure of. This shouldn’t be an exercise in severe second-guessing. Rather, it is just an opportunity to make sure you weren’t confused on any points and correct any obvious errors.
Finally, once you have supplied your completed test to the administrator, let go of it your mind — at this point, there is nothing you can do to affect the outcome, so there’s no point in agonizing over whether you passed. Instead, focus on something else (work, hobbies, family, friends) until you are notified about the results.