FE Exam Anxiety. It’s very real for a lot of student trying to pass their FE exam. Worse, it’s something we often feel hopeless about after falling into that same anxiety loop time after time resulting in poor exam day performance.
First of all,
Anxiety isn’t all bad. Some anxiety is good. It leads to increased motivation and helps us concentrate on the task at hand.
So, here’s your first reminder:
Accept your anxiety. What’s so awful about getting anxious? Isn’t this part of the human condition? Some people are more easily aroused than others. No one is ever free of anxiety. But you don’t have to catastrophize about your anxiety. It’s much wiser that we try to accept anxiety and use it to our advantage to generate actionable small steps by learning productive habits that make the best use of our anxiety.
Now let’s talk about the intrusive thoughts that lead to examination or testing anxiety. Research shows test-anxious individuals actively rehearse negative self-evaluations which compete for attention during the test situations. This leads to:
- lowered self-esteem
- feelings of inadequacy
- fear of negative consequences such as failure
- negative self-evaluation based on past experiences
- self-blame for perceived shortcomings
- social evaluations by comparing ourselves to others
Ultimately, these thoughts may come out in the form of “Am I doing good enough?” “I can’t make it!” “I’m no good.”, “I must succeed!”, “I must pass this exam!”, “If I fail on this exam, then I am a failure.”, “I should have been able to do it! I’m stupid.” “What will they think if I fail? “How can I face my co-workers?”
It’s these intrusive thoughts that intrude during the exam and interfere with a proper focus on the task at hand—solving FE Problems.
Negative future predictions naturally follow, such as “I’ll never make it,” “It will be awful”, “I don’t know how I’ll ever pass.”
Here’s the good news: Since these irrational, self-defeating thoughts and responses are learned habits, they can be unlearned. New self-enhancing thoughts, beliefs, and responses can be learned.
How to overcome test anxiety
- Anytime you go blank and hit a block, do your best to not give in to the impulse to give up. Instead, spend a moment relaxing by taking long, deep breaths, practicing shortened progressive-muscle relaxation techniques, and rehearsing positive statements to counter the catastrophic ones such as: “This is only an exam, it does not define me.”, “I would like to do well, but I will survive if I don’t.”, “Let me see what I can do instead of concentrating on what I can’t.”, “If I fail, I can always try again.” Try to keep your mind open and receptive, rather than rigid and closed.
- Unlearn fixed beliefs. When we make a statement like “I have always been anxious when taking tests; therefore, I will always be anxious.” This implies that we really believe that we can’t change. But we know that’s not true at all. You can control your behavior and responses. These can be changed. Even though it’s hard work to change ingrained habits, it’s still doable with a great deal of effort and practice. It takes a great deal of effort, and a great deal of practice. You can do the conscious, deliberate work.
- Practice using proactive statements. You can create and repeat your own reminder cards that contain appropriate statements such as: “I will try to do well,” “I would like to succeed,” “Failure is normal”, “I will give this exam my best, whatever happens from there is whatever happens.”, “I am human, therefore, I will make a lot of mistakes.” Repeat statements like these as often as possible.
- Stop caring so much about the outcome. To lessen test anxiety means to give up caring about the outcome. Test anxious students tend to have the irrational demand, “I must succeed!” But why must you succeed? Yes, it’s highly desirable to pass your FE exam and it’s good for your own self interest to do your best, but the “must” demand implies that if you don’t succeed, you have failed yourself. This is never true. No matter how many times you fail, you can simply work harder to prepare adequately for the next time around; or you can change your study goals based on your performance and abilities after learning from every valuable trial you had at this exam.
- Unlearn self-downing. We often say this: “I must pass this exam, If I fall short, I am an unworthy person.” Even worse is when we say: “If I fail on this task, then I am a failure.” This type of prediction can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The anxiety will continue to get worse. Is your self-worth measured in terms of a score on a test? A test will never measure your worth as a person. If you fail, you’re not a failure. If you fail, you are temporarily bothered and worried about having failed. You can do something about it.
- Practice mentally feeling and visualizing exam day. After challenging our inappropriate and irrational thoughts, we can now try to deliberately learn to change our feelings. You can try vividly putting yourself in the examination room by mimicking the testing conditions as much as possible. NOW experience your anxiety. Feel your pulse increasing, your blood pressure rising, and your heart racing. Listen to your thoughts. When the self-downing thoughts arise, say STOP! Counter these negative thoughts with proactive, positive, and appropriate ones you’ve been practicing. Deliberately change your feelings to one of calm. Then look over the test. Imagine yourself remaining calm, present, and interested in solving the next practice problem. Hold that scene! Imagine answering the practice problem to the best of your ability. You do not permit intrusive thoughts to enter your head. You continue to feel calm and present. You finish the exam. You feel good.
- Always reward yourself and know your limits. It’s always a good idea to reward yourself for practicing these new thoughts, responses, and behaviors as you’re studying for your FE exam. Do this by taking a day off. Select your favorite activities by selecting activities that you enjoy, such as watching TV, playing records, eating your favorite dessert, reading your favorite book, chilling with a friend, etc., etc. But decide to only do these activities after you’ve practiced your anxiety reducing techniques. This takes discipline. Any form of serious change requires disciplined effort.