A few days ago, I had the opportunity to speak with a TDC user who recently passed her MFT Clinical exam. Over the course of our conversation, I learned quite a bit about her path to licensure; it took longer than she hoped, as this was not the first time she took the exam. We discussed her experience using other test prep programs, how she felt following her first attempt at the exam, and the unique aspects of test anxiety that she encountered as she prepared to resit for her exam. The goal of this month’s test anxiety blog, born out of that conversation, is to provide guidance on how to manage the process of preparing to retest and offer some strategies and encouragement for those who find themselves in similar situations.
By the time you are eligible for your licensing exams, you’ve already achieved quite a bit that should make you feel proud and confident! You were accepted into a graduate school program, you successfully completed graduate school and obtained a master's degree, you finished many hours in practicum and learned not only the academic aspects of counseling, but also developed clinical skills by working directly with clients. These are incredible achievements. Unfortunately, they sometimes get lost in the narrative that develops for those who do not pass their exams on the first try. There is a tendency for all of these achievements to become discounted—in cognitive behavioral therapy terms, this is known as a cognitive distortion in which accomplishments are minimized and the result of one thing (in this case, the exam) is magnified. The effect of this cognitive distortion is powerful and can lead people to experience feelings of failure, defeat, and shame. These emotions are a normal response to a difficult experience, so be gentle with yourself and give yourself permission to experience them, but do not allow them to linger for too long or undermine your future efforts.
So what are some ways to deal with this? First, it’s important to take a break. Take the time to understand how this experience is impacting you, and before you begin to prepare for re-examination, begin to work through the negative thoughts and feelings that could interfere with your ability to move forward with confidence.
Following are a few suggestions that could help you through this process:
1. Debrief with a coach: TDC coaches are here to support you, help you identify and understand the obstacles that hindered your success, and assist you in developing a plan to move forward and PASS. Reach out to your coach and schedule a phone call if you haven't already debriefed. Prior to this conversation, write down concerns you had during the exam: did you struggle with the wording of questions, particular subject areas, or maybe time management? Having this information will be useful when you begin to study again.
2. Utilize automatic thought records: In addition to the cognitive distortion of magnification/minimization noted above, there are likely other distortions causing you to feel down or anxious about the exam process and your prospects of becoming licensed. Utilizing automatic thought records will allow you to identify unhealthy thoughts as they arise and develop a more balanced perspective. Here is a template you can use along with a list of cognitive distortions.
3. Write a letter to a friend: Imagine a friend did not pass their exam and write a letter of support to this person. Oftentimes, we are more compassionate and understanding toward others than we are toward ourselves. What words of comfort would you offer to this friend? How would you frame their experience? What words of wisdom or encouragement would you provide?
4. Reach out to your support network: Identify friends and/or family members who will be supportive and encouraging, and talk with them about your feelings. Give yourself permission to be vulnerable with them and lean on them to receive the love and care you need.
5. Receive psychotherapy: It is possible this experience has had a profound effect on your psyche and triggered emotions that make it necessary to receive professional support. If you are finding you are unable to process this on your own and your regular coping skills are insufficient, individual therapy could be appropriate.
6. Consider applying for accommodations: If you have, or suspect you have, a physical or mental health disability that is affecting test-taking abilities, consider applying for accommodations. If you have Generalized Anxiety, consider applying for extra time. If you have ADHD, consider applying for extra time and/or a private room. There are many reasons people apply for and receive accommodations-they exist for a reason, so be sure to advocate for yourself if appropriate..
If you take the time to work through the difficult thoughts and feelings and can approach your studies with renewed confidence, it will naturally make the process of re-examination far easier.
When you are ready to begin your studies, use the information you gathered from your exam to inform your studies (a helpful reframe is to view the exam you took as just another mock exam). Develop a clear study plan with an emphasis on addressing the obstacles you identified during this “mock.” For instance, if you struggled with a particular subject area, take the time to really understand the subject—not just memorize information, but engage with it in a new way and reach out for support if you continue to grapple with this topic. If time management was an issue, identify the root cause and contact your coach to develop new strategies that will allow you to move more efficiently through the questions and answers.
It will also be important to integrate self-care and anxiety management into your plan. Let’s talk a bit about what this could look like. Self-care can take a variety of forms; it could include working out, reading a good book, meditating, spending time with friends, and the list goes on. Determine what self-care looks like for you and make a conscious effort to add it into your schedule. This is truly an integral part of your exam prep, so you should always feel good about taking the time to engage in activities that nourish your body and mind. The effects of self-care on your ability to learn and prepare for the exam cannot be overstated.
Finally, take the time to integrate anxiety management techniques every step of the way. Each time you sit down to study, take a few minutes to do a grounding exercise. You can use guided meditation, develop a mantra that makes you feel empowered, or engage in basic deep breathing and counting your breath. We’ve added several blogs in recent months that provide guided meditations that you may find useful.
In addition, pause throughout your studies and again practice relaxing yourself. If you can build this practice up during your studies, you will be able to access it more easily on exam day.
If, over the course of your studies you find anxiety is overwhelming you, remember you are not alone. We are here to help you and promise to be with you until you PASS WITH CONFIDENCE!