How to bounce back from a failed licensure exam

Kristie Overstreet Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, LPC, CST

You worse nightmare came true. You didn’t pass your exam. All of the hard work and late nights of studying didn’t pay off. You feel disappointed and embarrassed. Allow yourself to experience any feeling you need to afterward. Now it’s time to pick up the pieces and make a new plan.

You can bounce back from a failed licensure exam. You are learning from the experience and have the opportunity to try again. Here are a few tips to put yourself back together and prepare for the next exam.

You have every right to your feelings

Frustration, disappointment, and sadness are a few feelings that you may experience when you fail the exam. Permit yourself to have these feelings for a certain period. However, don’t get stuck in this negative place.

Decide if you want to try again

Ask yourself if you’re going to retake the exam. It’s likely you will say yes because you are invested in your career path. Next, commit that you will let the past be the past and move forward with your study plans.

Reflect on the past exam

Identify any areas that were difficult. Were there subjects or theories you couldn’t recall? Reflecting back can help you pinpoint areas to focus on when you are preparing to retake the exam.

Create a new study plan

You need to create a new study plan that is different from the last one. You can implement the information and material you already have but consider getting additional help. A better idea is to pick a study plan that is tailored to the way you learn best. Whether you are a kinesthetic, auditory, or visual learner make sure that your study program is a good fit.

Hire a coach or program that will support you

Bring in extra help this time from a coach and a proven study program that will give you additional support. You need someone who will guide you and help navigate changes to the way you learn. Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.

Keep your head up

Even though you may feel like a failure when you think about not passing your exam, you are not. You allowed yourself time to consider this right after the exam and that time has passed. You are moving forward and onward. Find ways to stay motivated and work on improving your self-talk.

You are not the only one who has to retake the licensure exam. Many people have to re-take their exam. You have been given another opportunity to share your knowledge so be sure to change your study plan to a proven method that works. The Taylor Study Method has empowered over 4,000 doctoral candidates to pass the EPPP test by providing the content, platform and structure needed to learn and recall the relevant information. You have invested many years and money into your career path so ask for help in preparing a second time. Stay positive and stick to the new study plan for the results you want to achieve.

EPPP & Test Anxiety

Impact on Test Performance

Think about how stressed you are before an exam.

Now, think about how stressed you might before an exam like the EPPP (read E-triple-p).

Since I’m sure you’re already a little worked up over a past test that was particularly stressful, or one that is coming up that is putting some extra pressure on you, I want to remind you that you’re ok. You’re going to be fine! That’s right—I’m going to go ahead and make that bold presumption. I know it’s stressful and hard to believe that you’re going to survive but take a little faith that you will.

The future clinician in me wants me to remind you that if at any time you feel that your anxiety about testing, something else, or just generally feels as though it is impairing your life—please see a mental health professional. Although it could be typical anxiety, it could be something that breaks the threshold into clinical disfunction.

To give a little face to the beast, it is important to examine test-taking anxiety and the impact that it can have on our overall test scores, especially the EPPP. Test Anxiety (TA) is extremely common among students, one study noting that 20% of respondents endorsed some form of test-taking anxiety, whether non-clinical or clinical [1]. With such a high number, you might think that there would be a wealth of information on how to handle it. Unfortunately, it’s quite the contrary.

Signs and Symptoms of Test Anxiety

Anxiety can manifest in a few different ways, and it is important to note that it will present differently for each person.  Physically, anxiety, including Test Anxiety, can present as a rapid heart rate, profuse sweating [3], psychomotor agitation (think: bouncing your leg or fiddling with a pencil), or other “nervous habits” such as biting nails [4].

Anxiety tends to present in a rather unfortunate way behaviorally. For example, avoidance behaviors are very common in anxiety issues. These behaviors could include procrastination or avoiding test preparation [3].  Think about it this way: have you ever been so nervous about an exam or an assignment that you just avoided doing it altogether rather than face the stress? Even though we intellectually know that putting off the stressful event won’t truly alleviate the stress, it is so much easier to postpone than to address the issue at hand [2]. We will talk more about how to avoid and address these issues in the “ways to cope” section of this blog.

In addition, anxiety can also present behaviorally similarly to aggression [6]. Again, think about your own life. Have you ever been so stressed out or nervous that you just “snap” at someone? Even if you know that whatever set you off wasn’t that big of a deal—it just seemed like it at the time [6]. Research suggests that the thing that sets you off when you’re under a lot of stress is just the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the poor barista that made the mistake got the brunt of your built-up stress and anxiety [6].

Depression is also another major presentation of anxiety [6]. Rather being able to maintain a constant state of stress, the reaction is to retreat within themselves into a state of depression [6]. It is our natural response—there’s some major danger presented to us (in this case, an exam), and the length of time that our “fight-or-flight” response has been activated simply cannot remain activated any longer. In an over-compensation by our body to preserve itself is to move in the complete opposite direction of the heightened state of arousal experienced during periods of high stress [6].

Overview of the EPPP

If you’ve never heard of the EPPP, you’re lucky. The EPPP is the licensure exam faced by most psychology graduate students. Along with the EPPP, you will also need to take another similar exam before licensure based on in which state you will be practicing. Therefore, you will need to be able to generalize these strategies and this infomration to more than just one major standardized exam standing between you and your license.

To better face the monster, let’s get a deeper understanding of the EPPP itself. This exam is geared for doctoral level psychology students is governed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) [8]. At the time that this blog is being written the EPPP is a one-part exam that is to be taken over 4 ½ hours [7]. However, this will likely be a two-part exam by the year 2020 [8]. This exam includes 225 questions [7], of which only 175 are scored [9]. When the director of the ASPPB was asked about the test, she described it as “essentially everything you learned in graduate school” [10]. Just a little bit intimidating, right?

If you would like to read more on the EPPP, check out our blog post on the EPPP and licensure requirements for professional psychology.

Test Anxiety on Overall Outcomes

I know it already seems stressful enough, but let’s dive into the actual, research-based negative outcomes associated with test-anxiety. One 1990 article written by Zollar and Ben-chain note that in our age our lives seem to be determined by our overall test performance [11]. I.e., if we do poorly on an exam, it reflects directly on us and on our overall self-definition [11]. Not only do they impact our own self-definition, they can impact the way that others’ view us. In such a competitive society, we need some easy way to compartmentalize and rank people [12]. Fortunately or unfortunately, standardized exams seem to be the best solution at this time. Knowing that our exam performance could impact the way that employers or other graduate programs view us, there is an added level of stress.

One study found a significant relationship between a student’s level of test anxiety on major exams and their overall performance [12]. By using Spielberger’s Test Anxiety Inventory, Rana and Mahmood were able to demonstrate that students that experienced high levels of a cognitive factor of test anxiety (worry) did significantly worse on these exams [12]. They were able to use these findings to conclude that many students’ overall low performance or underachieving on certain exams could be attributed to unchecked high levels of Test Anxiety [12].

Of course, there is a good level of stress, sometimes referred to as eustress [13]. However, the stress that this blog is talking about is much more detrimental. Eustress refers to that positive level of stress that motivates you to get things done and to get them done well. For example, you might be a little worried about doing well in a particular class, so you ensure that you do all of the assignments and study a little extra for the exams. The stress that has been shown to be associated with negative outcomes is taking that level of stress to the extreme, distress [13], and in this case, Test Anxiety [1].

Ways to Cope with Test Anxiety

Thankfully, treatment for TA has been shown to be quite effective [3]. Rather than just be doomed to wander the halls of your higher-education institution, there are some treatments offered by professionals and some interventions that you can do by yourself. First, of course, if you feel like you are suffering from TA, please seek professional help. Many college campuses offer free or low-cost mental health care. Feel free to speak with the professional about what you might be going through. They offer a judgement-free space to air your issues, and they may even have resources for your classes that could help you cope better with the test anxiety.

Additionally, there are simple training techniques that you can take to improve your own Test Anxiety symptoms. For example, time management is a major step that you can take to better your anxiety. This isn’t to say that you don’t already have good time management skills, but sometimes our anxiety takes that away from us. When syllabus week rolls around, look at all the major exams that you will need to prepare for. Set yourself a schedule—actually budget specific time that you will be in the library or other study space plugging away at the material. If it might help you, have a gentle accountability buddy. This is someone who will gently remind you that you have some studying to do, or who could gently guilt you into making sure that your work gets done.

Developing some more pronounced study skills can also help. For example, rereading your notes the same day that they are written or even the next day can greatly improve your retention. Also, simply highlighting the information in your book can be helpful as well. By starting your studying early, it can actually help reduce the anxiety around studying! There is a myriad of different study skills that can help you improve your grade, so I don’t want you to limit your scope of study development just to this list. Please do your own research and see what works for you!

We can see that anxiety surrounding your studies can be detrimental to your overall performance. With some professional interventions or accommodations and some personal anxiety relief tactics, anxiety and TA is something that can be managed!

  1. American Test Anxieties Association. (2018). Retrieved from https://amtaa.org/
  2. Connon, H. A., Rash, J. A., Allen Gerwing, A. M., Bramble, B., Landine, J., & Gerwing, T. G. (2016). Post-Secondary Educators’ Perceptions of Students’ Test Anxiety. Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning7(1), 9.
  3. Test Anxiety & Academic Performance (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mheducation.ca/blog/test-anxiety-academic-performance/
  4. Kerr, W. J., Dalton, J. W., & Gliebe, P. A. (1937). Some physical phenomena associated with anxiety states and their relationship to hyperventilation. Annals of Internal Medicine.
  5. Sarason, I. G. (1984). Stress, anxiety, and cognitive interference: Reactions to tests. Journal of personality and social psychology46(4), 929.
  6. Barrett, P. M., Rapee, R. M., Dadds, M. M., & Ryan, S. M. (1996). Family enhancement of cognitive style in anxious and aggressive children. Journal of abnormal child psychology24(2), 187-203.
  7. Zhou, E. (2018). Are You Dreading the EPPP? Here’s How to Prepare for it. Retrieved from http://blog.time2track.com/are-you-dreading-the-eppp-heres-how-to-prepare-for-it
  8. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.ASPPB.net/
  9. Reasons why you need to stop studying 3 days before your test. (2018). Retrieved from https://blog.taylorstudymethod.com/category/eppp-study-video/
  10. Cynkar, A. (2007). The Path to EPPP Excellence. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2007/09/eppp.aspx
  11. Zoller, U., & Ben-Chain, D. (1990). Gender differences in examination type, test anxiety, and academic achievement in college science: a case study. Science education, 74(6), 597-608.
  12. Rana, R., & Mahmood, N. (2010). The relationship between test anxiety and academic achievement.
  13. Le Fevre, M., Matheny, J., & Kolt, G. S. (2003). Eustress, distress, and interpretation in occupational stress. Journal of managerial psychology18(7), 726-744.

Digital Distractions: Staying focused in an increasingly distracting world

I know I’m guilty. I see my phone light up or hear a buzz, and in an instant, I’m pulled out of whatever I am doing, no matter how deep into the task I may be. Distractions are all around us and avoiding them is next to impossible. After all, that phone buzz might be something trivial like an Instagram notification, or it could be an email from a professor with vital information about an assignment—I might as well check to be sure. And just like that, I’m lost in all the notifications and Buzzfeed quizzes that come my way. Without even knowing it, an entire hour can be wasted.

I know I’m not alone, as has been confirmed by several surveys [1, 2, 3]. One study found as many as 97% of students found themselves distracted by their phones or other forms of technology [2].

Even though there seem to be several detrimental aspects to technology, it is simply not feasible that we entirely do away with technology. We seem to be faced with a double-edged sword. On one hand, our entire culture is entirely enmeshed with technology, with the academic sector seeming to be some of the deepest involved [4]. Because our educational system is so deeply involved with technology to the point of dependence, doing away with technology is simply not a practical goal.  Since we as students and budding professionals are required to be electronically connected, how can we make sure that we are focused on the task at hand, rather than the latest tweet?

The first tip to ensure that you are staying on task is to keep your goals in mind [5]. A good way to do this is to lay out a “to-do” list and prioritize what needs to be done first [6]. This allows for a second, yet integrally intertwined, tip—focus on only a few most important goals, rather than an entire list [5]. This allows you to keep a visual reminder of your task in front of you, as a sort of prompt to stay on topic. Keeping the list close also allows you to write down things you might be worried you will forget if you don’t attend to them right away. You are then able to stay on task better as you won’t need to run off on the occasional rabbit trail until one task is entirely accomplished [5].

By keeping fewer and the most important goals in mind, you are actually allowing yourself better focus [5]. Studies have shown that human working memory, the part of your mind that holds the tasks at hand, can only hold a maximum of about 3-5 items, give or take two items [7]. Because our minds can only hold such a finite number of meaningful trains of thought or tasks, it is important to be judicious about these slots [7]. As mentioned before, this gives you more working memory to devote to the task at hand, rather than the infinite number of other things vying for our attention [7].

Even with meticulously prioritized to-do lists, the temptation of social media still calls out. No matter how intently you intend on focusing, you are still human—breaks are required. This leads into the next tip: set predetermined breaks for yourself [8]. Our friends in behavioral science have helped to demonstrate that when we have a reward set out for us, we are more likely to keep working hard for that reward [9]. Moreover, you might be less tempted by that Facebook notification if you know that you will get to check on it in the next 50 minutes [8].

Another benefit of the pre-planned study break is the ability to return to your work refreshed and ready to go [10].  However, one article notes that only social media or internet-based breaks may not be enough to allow you to return to your studies energized [8]. Instead, the authors suggest more physically engaging activities, such as taking a walk outside (not just a couple laps around the library), organizing the stuff piling up around you, taking a shower, or even just chatting with a friend about something unrelated [8]. All of these options allow you a short reprieve from the studying that lies ahead and allows you to escape the computer screen for a bit [8].

Even with a study break and the most organized list possible, I will find that my mind wanders onto other things. Controlling “internal distractions” is also necessary to make the most of your study time [5]. These internal distractions can be defined as any internal stimuli (like thoughts, memories, or even conflicts) that act as diversions or aberrations from the task at hand [10]. These internal distractions can be taken care of through a variety of ways. The list to leave any pressing thoughts that pop up, sometimes referred to as a “parking lot”, is one way that you may already be employing [11]. Perhaps in order to manage these internal distractions, you need to have something to drown out your own thoughts—like background noise or music (both Spotify and YouTube have excellent playlists of focusing music) [12].  Offering strategies on how to handle these internal stimuli is even more subjective than these other general focus tips. In order to find what will work the best for you in terms of controlling internal distractions [12], you may need to spend some time consciously getting to know yourself and your study habits first.

Sometimes outside of regulating ourselves, we still need an external supervisor. Thankfully, some application developers have us in mind [11]. There have been several (free!) apps and extensions developed to help people like me (and a good proportion of the population) study more effectively by removing the temptations of social media [11]. These applications and extensions typically work in similar ways; by disabling access to whatever websites that you need “taken away” so that you can work [11]. Macintosh users can try the app “SelfControl” [11], and people using Google Chrome can also install the extensions “StayFocusd” or “I-Am-Studying” [11].

The demands on students seem to be greater now than they have been before, simply because we are living in the age of information. The need to be connected is ubiquitous. However, the same method through which we access so much information can also serve as a massive distraction. Implementing these focusing strategies can help you take more advantage of all of the data at your disposal while better blocking out the digital distractions!

Now, that’s enough time perusing a blog—get back to studying!

Motivation vs. Expectation: How to reward yourself for going beyond the minimum?

Kristie Overstreet Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, LPC, CST

How is your self-discipline with work? Do you put off your therapy notes until minutes before they are due? Are you a procrastinator that uses pressure as motivation? Do you get frustrated with yourself because you are doing the minimal to get by?

Regardless of what inspires you or how you stay focused be sure that you are always reaching beyond the minimum of what is expected. There are many benefits to being motivated to accomplish your goals or tasks. Whether it’s the sense of accomplishment, marking off your to-do list, or the potential that your employer will recognize how hard you have worked.

Rewarding yourself for staying motivated and exceeding expectations is a great way to keep the cycle going. Here are a few tips that will help you along the way.

What does it mean to you?

Taking time to ask yourself how you benefit from exceeding expectations is one way to stay motivated. For example, volunteering to take on a new task at work will allow you the opportunity to show others how dedicated you are to your job. You are willing to take on extra work to help the team. Whether it’s planning the next treatment team meeting or organizing a team building activity you can make a difference.

What reward would matter most to you?

Everyone’s idea of a reward is different. One person may buy themselves something small, and others may reward themselves with something that isn’t physical. For example, if you had a goal and exceeded it, you may want to plan to take a day off from work so you can enjoy yourself. Having this to look forward to can help keep you motivated to continue to exceed your expectations of yourself.

What have you been able to accomplish so far?

The quickest way to boost your confidence and motivation is to look back at what you have been able to accomplish up until now. You need extra inspiration to go further. Making a list of what you are proud of accomplishing is a great start. It doesn’t matter how small or trivial it may seem, give yourself credit for it. Use this list as a refresher when your motivation begins to decrease.

You want to exceed your expectation because it will benefit you. It may feel at times like you are doing it only for your job or another person, but you will be the one to reap the benefits. Find what motivates you, especially on tough days and keep at it. Your hard work will pay off.

The power of self-talk in exam prep

Kristie Overstreet Ph.D., LPCC, LMHC, LPC, CST

You already know how powerful self-talk is because you encourage your clients to utilize this technique. If you haven’t used self-talk as a technique to help you prepare for your exam, then you are missing out on a great tool. Your ability to use affirmations to increase your confidence in your test-taking ability can be just as powerful as the knowledge you have for the exam. Here are a few tips on harnessing the power of self-talk.

Choose 1-2 affirmations that you can easily remember

Whether it’s your favorite quote or a motivational sentence choose a few that are easy to remember. Make this affirmation a part of your daily life by saying it out load several times a day.

Write down the affirmation as a visual reminder

Your brain is full of important exam material so utilize the power of written word by writing down your favorite affirmation. Place it on your computer screen, mirror, or on the dashboard of your car. Let this affirmation ground you and be a constant reminder that you will make it through your exam.

Schedule alerts in your phone

You have every other part of your life scheduled so why not include a daily reminder of your affirmation. This will help you develop the habit of remembering to practice positive self-talk.

Record your affirmations as an audio reminder

Everyone learns differently either through visual, auditory or hands-on experience. Try using the voice memo on your phone to record your favorite affirmations. This will help when you start to feel anxious, all you have to do is play the recording, and you have an instant reminder. Listening to this recording on your way to the exam will also keep it fresh in your memory.

Studying the relevant material is only half the battle of acing your exam. Don’t let your negative self-talk or lack of confidence keep you from doing your best. If self-talk is powerful for your clients, then it can be just as amazing for you. Remember to keep your head up, identify your affirmations, and start practicing them daily.