My alarm goes off and I am ready to start my day. I studied for weeks and did a review the night before for my upcoming exam. I am confident that I am going to score well. Maybe even score a 100%. Ha! And then the moment arrives. I sit in my seat — assigned OR chosen (usually in the corner of the last row if chosen) — and pull out my laptop. I open the Examplify software to download my exam. The professor displays the password on the screen. All of a sudden, I feel my heart begin to race. I’m talking serious palpitations. I ask myself a question about what I just studied. Oh no! I can’t remember! I yell inside in my head. I minimize the Examplify screen and rush back to my notes or Quizlet flashcards for a quick one minute review. The professor says, “You may begin.” I go back to Examplify, enter the password, and read the first question. My stomach begins to ache and bubble when I feel like I don’t understand a word in the question stem. “What in the world are they trying to ask me here?!?!” I take a quick look around to see if other students look as puzzled as I do. Instead, I see a classmate lift up their computer to flash the green screen to the professor to signal that they have completed their exam. They are now free to leave. I think to myself, “How in the world did they finish so fast? Oh my goodness! I better start remembering this information quick!” I flag the question with hopes of returning to it once I get done with all of the other questions. I click “next” and hope that I will be able to answer this question with just a glance. I then look at the timer on my screen. The clock is ticking and I now have less than 5 minutes to complete this exam before time runs out. I feel a cool feeling in the back of my throat that runs down to my chest when I realize that I have 10 unanswered questions remaining out of 15. One by one, my classmates leave the room because they are already done. The panic now sets in. The rapid breathing begins and the heart racing speeds up some more. I feel a tingling heat in the palms of my hands spreading to my armpits. Can I just pause this clock for one damn minute?! I know that I KNOW this material. This test is just not cooperating with me!! Grrrr! I rush to choose whatever the first answer is that comes to my mind after reading the question. The clock winds down and the test automatically submits itself. I lower my computer screen because I am too scared to see my score. I take a little peak and there it goes. You just scored a 50% on this test, Doc! All of that class participation, reading, tutoring, and prepping got washed down the drain because you panicked. Bravo! SMH
I leave the classroom feeling like a complete failure. A student comes outside to call us back in for the exam review. The professor reads the question out loud and I suddenly know the answer. The screen scrolls down to reveal the correct choice and I am right. This goes on for the next question, next one, and the next one. All of a sudden my memory returns. I can explain why Choice A is correct and B through E are wrong. Where was this confidence and knowledge when I really needed it? Frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment, and shame kicks in. I tell myself, “I need help.”
I head over to my academic advisor who suggests that I see a psychiatrist. I struggle with the suggestion. A psychiatrist? Does this mean I am crazy? Is that what you are telling me? I can’t wrap my head around the thought of possibly being labeled “mentally ill” or “mentally challenged” or whatever the label might be. However, the anxiety is affecting me physically. I must find a way to combat it.
I make my appointment with a psychiatrist. During this 1 hour visit, I am officially diagnosed with test anxiety. The psychiatrist tells me that there is a medication that can be prescribed for my symptoms. It is a beta-blocker called Propranolol. It will pretty much “slow me down” before exams. It will slow my heart rate and lower my blood pressure. Wonderful! But there are just a few minor roadblocks with this. First of all, I dread taking medication. I can’t stand the taste. I can barely swallow a pill to save my life. Second, I have low blood-pressure with borderline bradycardia. A beta-blocker is the last thing I need for my body. Finally, I am told that it will take a few weeks for the medication to kick in. In other words, it will be a while before I begin to see results.
There has to be another way to overcome this test anxiety. I am a person who does NOT like to make excuses for myself. I believe that where there is a will, there is a way. I know that acknowledging the issue is one step towards the right path of overcoming this. I understand that me being a perfectionist, overachiever, and competitor all play a role in this anxiety, too. I am surprised that I even made it this far in my path to becoming physician with this issue. While I can be very harsh on myself, I will give myself a pat on the back for making it to this point. The steps that I will be taking before resorting to any medication include breathing exercises, positive affirmations before entering the exam room, mental mapping for quicker recall during the exams, and beginning the exam when I am settled down and ready (not right after the professor says “begin”). I will keep you all posted on the progress and outcome.