NREMT TEST ANXIETY
Next Unit: Advice for New Paramedic Students
29 minute read
NREMT Test Anxiety
"I have test anxiety."
"I just don't test well."
"I am just bad at taking tests."
These are all common things we hear a lot. There's this giant impenetrable DREAD and fear that accompany these phrases. It's as if they are saying definitive statements about themselves that can't be changed. To most people, saying "I have really bad test anxiety" is like saying "I have brown eyes." They believe it is part of them. They believe it cannot be changed. They believe it's just the way it is.
I have good news for you! It's not. Test taking is just a mental skill. A lot of times, people don't think of mental things as skills that need practice to get stronger, but it's no different than learning anything physical. You break it down into manageable parts, you analyze it, you come up with a plan, and you execute it. Sound too easy? Let's do it now. First... does this even apply to you?
Is test anxiety a problem for you?
See if this describes you:
When you are scheduling your test, it can be like selecting the date of your execution. You are AFRAID to fail. When you think about testing, your brain starts conjuring up all of these horrible associations. Your mind creates mental movies of all the negative consequences of failing. You think about having to tell people you failed. You think about the possibility that you may end up retaking it, and have already thought WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU FAIL EVERY TIME AND NEVER PASS IT?!!!!! You see the questions as tricky, wrong, or mean as if they are just written to confuse or reject you.
You go into a test PRAYING for an easy version and, as soon as you've seen 5 questions, YOU ARE SO CONVINCED that you're going to fail that you're already thinking about how you're going to explain it to people. You're afraid that this is going to show everyone how NOT SMART you are, and you're already coming up with good reasons why you didn't pass. During the rest of the test, you have almost resigned to failure, with only a slight hope that every question from here out will be super easy, OR ELSE YOU'LL SURELY FAIL! When they don't get easier, your mind gets frustrated and feels actual RIGHTEOUS INDIGNATION about the test, and all you can think about is getting it over with and hoping for a miracle. You start going through the questions faster, and when it ends, you're just glad that it's over so that your personal humiliation ends.
After you leave the building, your primary thought is absolute astonishment at the questions. You're just so glad to be out of there. This relief lasts only a few minutes, though, because now you get to DREAD the results coming out and your mind starts going through every single kind of reason or excuse, and how you're going to tell everyone. You decide to settle on "I'm just a bad test taker" or "Those questions were total crap!" That's your story now. You believe it. Part of your mind resolves to study harder, but even though you know that studying wasn't your problem, you decide to just do what you did before, and the same thing starts all over again.
If any of this applies to you, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is YOU HAVE TEST ANXIETY, and it's A SERIOUS PROBLEM you can no longer afford to ignore. The good news is that it's manageable if you start focusing on and developing the mental habits that will make you a better test taker, a more confident person, and a more capable EMT or Medic.
The Mental Medicine that Cures Test Anxiety
First, this isn't something you're going to be able to read once and "get." Don't email me saying "I read it and it didn't work." I'm not asking you to read it. Taking a blood pressure pill once won't solve your chronic hypertension. I want you to take this medicine every chance you get. When you use our practice tests, I want you to TAKE THIS MEDICINE. When you're scheduling your test, I want you to TAKE THIS MEDICINE. On the truck, when you're afraid of getting a call outside your comfort level, I want you to TAKE THIS MEDICINE. Practice using it until it becomes part of you. It's not enough to just pass. This is a pressure job and no matter what happens on the test, you're going to be in even scarier situations when there are lives on the line. This is not a guide on 'getting through' this test. This is a blueprint for how YOU ARE GOING TO BECOME A HERO. Take it seriously.
The test is not a threat. Your fear is a threat.
We are biologically programmed to look out for any danger or threat to ourselves and defend against it. If you view the NREMT exam as a potential threat to you, your brain will start trying to protect you from it. It will make the thing bigger than it is, and make you see it as an evil, mean-spirited monster that is trying to show you how little you really know, how unprepared you are, and how unworthy you are to pass it.
The test is NOT a threat to you. The test is NOT an enemy. The certification test is just a simple multiple-choice quiz, devised by people with your best interests at heart, that tests how well you know the basics. It's going to be tricky because the job is tricky. When it's tricky, it just tests your ability to see through the distractors and navigate the overthinking to make the right call more often than not. It's not a perfect test, but not all calls go perfectly either. Just throw yourself into the fire and spend all your time and effort mastering the fundamentals of this craft. The TEST is NOT your enemy!
What is the enemy then? You guessed it... the anxiety. Your own mind's ability to make something bigger than it is. So start to change your mindset. When you start to feel any anxiety, realize that it is the anxiety that will kill you, not the test. So, focus on it. Realize that it's going to test you before, during, and after the test. EXPECT IT to come, and when you feel it, you defend against it.
How to defend against the onset of anxiety
Expect Anxiety to come. When it does come, defeat it by realizing that ALL THAT MATTERS is the present question. Anything else you're thinking about is just going to drain your energy and this question, or this patient needs your help. You're a healer, and this question is injured. Fix it and move on to the next.
Your job isn't to protect your ego on the truck or the exam. Your job is to solve puzzles. Each question on that test is just a puzzle. It's not testing you. It isn't a person. It doesn't have any desire to harm you. It's just a problem that wants to be fixed. Your first question is going to look like a big, scary paragraph with lots of technical words and ambivalent answers. Expect it. It's GOING TO HAPPEN. When you see it, just go "Yep! There it is." As soon as you notice it, you defend with the following statement:
"I am going to look at this ONE question. I'm not thinking about the test. I'm not thinking about if I'm doing well, or poorly, how many questions there are, or what will happen later. I'm only thinking about this 1 question in front of me, and I AM GOING TO ANSWER THIS ONE QUESTION AS CORRECTLY AS I CAN."
Forget every question that could come next, how much time there is left, whether it will cut off at 70 or 150 questions, and what will happen if you fail or if you pass. Anytime you are thinking of these things, you are to bring your attention back to that statement and just attack that one single question in front of you.
The 5 Steps of Attacking Questions:
1. Read the last line of the paragraph first, so that you get a good idea of what the question is asking. Most people miss a question because they read the paragraph and assume what the questioner wants to test them on. Fix this by reading the exact question first.
2. Read all 4 of the answers next, so that you know the potential answers to that question.
3. Read the entire paragraph or scenario with the question in mind to help eliminate wrong answers.
4. Determine what is MOST LIKELY the answer that solves the puzzle. If there are two good answers, choose the one that most-simply solves the problem.
5. Send your answer and make peace with that question. It was a puzzle, and you did your best to solve that puzzle. Never think about that question again. Move on to the next one. Start over as if it were a brand new test. You will get some right and you will get some wrong, but the ONE QUESTION in front of you might be the difference maker. That ONE QUESTION requires all of your attention. ATTACK IT!!!
Test Day Pep Talk
Understand that school is the hard part. Clinical rounds are the hard part. Packing all of this information in your head is the hard part. Practicing the fundamentals over and over. Testing yourself constantly to have a good awareness of your strengths and weaknesses is the hard part. Thwarting the fear that you're unworthy of being an EMT or Medic is the hard part. The actual test is just a chance to show off how well you did the hard parts. When you think about passing the test, think about it as your touchdown celebration. Don't be on defense during your exam. Go on offense.
You worked hard for this. You put in hours upon hours and sacrificed your time and sanity for this. Nothing will hold you back, not even your own mind. You're going to go into that test, know exactly what you're going to see, choose the most correct answer you can find, go to the next one without any worry, and approach it like it's the first question of the test. You're going to do this again and again until there are no more questions to conquer.
You are the hero of this story. Slay your dragon. Defeat your anxiety. Become better than you are. Excellence is not optional. We can help.