Coping with Test Anxiety

Written by Frederick Jorio: unnamed

It’s the night before the big exam. Your mind is racing and your nerves are on the edge. Doubts start sinking in, “Am I really ready?” You tell yourself to relax but still the butterflies in your stomach persist. You go to sleep early to try and get a good night’s rest, but end up watching the hours pass by on your clock, not getting any sleep as the rays of sun start shining through your bedroom window.

You arrive at the CBT testing sight – those lonely impersonal CBT rooms. You’ve been searched, your finger scanned and then they hand you a book of unlined green paper and a couple of graphite pencils. They sit you down at your desk. You carefully read the instructions while you attempt to contain your nerves. You take a couple of deep breaths, you’ve reached the moment of truth. All the months of preparation you put in, the weeks of anticipation, and all your work evaluated, in this 3 to 4 hour test.

The exam begins, that ever present clock on the corner of the screen keeps ticking. Aware of the time constraint, You try working faster than normal but you end up fumbling with your calculator, and having to enter the figures all over again. In your haste you start making silly mistakes you never normally make, you know how to solve a given problem but somehow your answer doesn’t match any of the choices. You backtrack and figure what you did wrong but you end up wasting precious time. After a while you settle down and you start to compose yourself gathering a little momentum but you’re way behind schedule. The next thing you know, there are 5 minutes left and you have still have 8 unanswered questions. Time runs out, your heartbeat races.

You’re confronted with an extended survey about your testing experience, as if you haven’t answered enough questions already! You politely fill out the questionnaire, trying to delay the inevitable while wondering if by some miracle some of those 8 guesses you made, actually defy the laws of probability you been studying so long, and deliver the actuarial success which comes in the form of a goal achieving, career affirming, confidence boosting congratulations message. You click your mouse to determine your fate. You look up at the screen to see your results.

“A preliminary analysis of your test shows that you were unsuccessful in achieving a passing score…etc.”

Your head sinks down low while you’re signing out. You start your slow walk down the street, shoulders drooping in defeat, wondering where you went wrong. The test didn’t seem any harder than the practice tests you routinely passed.You start reliving the exam to figure out where you went wrong. Suddenly, solutions to some of those tricky problems start coming to you. “Oh that’s what I needed to do!”,” What a silly mistake!”, “I could have solved that one”, “If only I had 15 more minutes!”, “Why couldn’t I get a good night sleep?”

Failing an exam is a blow to one’s self confidence. You’ve been telling your family and all your friends about this test for months, now you have to face them and admit defeat. If you’re working for a firm you have to show up to work and break the news to your fellow employees. I’m sure all of us feel a great deal of anxiety about these exams, some students handle the pressure better than others, and winning the battle of nerves can be the difference between passing and failing.

My own failures made me realize I needed to change my outlook on the exam process. I knew the root of my anxiety was fear of failure, a useless fear that only hindered my performance. I decided to not let a single test be a life defining moment knowing that I can take the test as many times as it takes to pass, so if at first you don’t succeed try and try again.

After failing one of my exams a couple of times it felt like I hit a brick wall, I decided I have come too far to give up. I knew part of my problem was nervousness because I was doing well on my Adapt Tests getting to their recommended earned level of 7. This time I wasn’t going to tell anyone when I was retaking the test, that way I wouldn’t have to tell anyone about my result unless it was positive. Keeping it a secret, eliminated some of that unnecessary pressure. Then I kept taking Adapt’s simulated exams just about everyday for 2 months. I wanted to be ready for every possible problem that might come up. I redid every problem I got wrong until they became second nature to me. After a while the tests became easier and easier, and my earned level rose to 10.

When test day came I still had a case of the nerves and like usual I didn’t get much sleep the night before. I was shaking when the test began, the first few problems were not going well and I couldn’t help thinking “here we go again”. A half hour into the exam I had a moment of clarity, I thought to myself, “So what if I fail, I’m going to try my best and if that’s not enough so be it.” Somehow the pressure of having to pass was lifted. I settled in and I started feeling the momentum change. All those practice tests had increased my speed and efficiency and I had plenty of time to go back and work out the questions that initially had me stumped and I approached them with renewed confidence. This time around I got that goal achieving, career affirming, confidence boosting congratulations message.

Most of us entering this field are high achieving disciplined students who have excelled in Mathematics throughout our lives, and as such, expect to pass. The truth is Actuarial exams require more than just memorizing formulas and learning how to apply them. The subtlety of the questions require a fluency in the subject as well as an ability to tackle problems quickly. A lot of really bright people fail, so don’t lose hope. Instead of putting unnecessary pressure on yourself try approaching the exam as a measurement of your progress. View your grade as a point of departure to where you need to go. Don’t lose sight of all you’ve learned thus far and hone in on those areas of weakness. Remember, when it comes to Actuarial exams there is no such thing as over preparation.