Avoiding a testing apocalypse

They come walking in, shoulders hunched, brows furrowed, and telltale rings of fatigue under the eyes. One by one, clutching various vials full of caffeine and liquid energy they shuffle to the desks and settle in. Some chat nervously, others focus intently, clinging to the last few moments available for review. Is this the Zombie Apocalypse?  Nope, just your average testing day in nursing school.

Whether it is a standardized test or clinical benchmark, I think one thing that is common among different schools of medicine is the feeling of angst for testing. Rightly so. Ours is a profession where there is little room for error. In order to become the competent professionals we dream of, the essential documentation that we possess the necessary skills is gained through the passing of tests. Hanging in that balance between passing and failing are the dreams of the future. For me, that is what makes testing so hard.

In my own quest to survive testing and lessen the anxiety that often steals answers from the tip of my tongue, I have come up with a few strategies that may be useful to reduce test anxiety.

1.         Sleep. I know that it seems almost counter intuitive to waste valuable study time catching zzz’s but sleep is just as essential to doing well and retaining knowledge as good studying.

2.         Breathe. Okay, so the autonomic nervous system handles that one for us, right? Not really. It isn’t unusual to breathe shallow or hold our breath during times of stress. Taking a deep cleansing breath and consciously releasing that tension not only lessens the pressure but provides essential oxygen that our over taxed brains require.

3.         Study early. I know, I know. Case studies, ten chapters of reading, a write up of yesterdays clinical, and your status updates on Facebook are calling. Study early. It’s been shown that taking in small bits of information over a longer course of time is a more effective way to remember things than last minute marathon cram sessions. Hey, time management is the mantra of nursing anyway, right? We might as well start practicing now.

4.         Eat. Essential nutrition is as vital for the brain and body to function as sleep. Nervous stomachs and stressed out brains often don’t find the idea of food appealing. Eating something small like a piece of fruit or yogurt is better than nothing. One of my favorites is Triscuits and cheese or a banana with black tea for early morning tests. Don’t get me wrong, I’m never one to turn down chocolate, popcorn, and the quintessential comfort foods. I have just found that sticking to the healthy stuff for test day usually goes further than the Dove chocolates that so conveniently pack in my purse.

5.         Celebrate. Laugh, cry, dance down the street doing the chicken dance (yup, I’ve seen it done).  Nursing school is tough. Even outside of the test days there is a lot to manage during the term. Take time to savor the joyful moments and be proud of the accomplishments you’ve made so far. The joyful moments, for me, provide the motivation to forge ahead and continue, even against what sometimes feels like insurmountable odds. Oh, and I’m not kidding about the chicken dance, either. Try it sometime and see if you don’t just laugh yourself silly.

As long as we are in school, testing will be an inevitable part of life. At the end of our study, the

ever looming NCLEX stands to greet us at the gate to our future career. I have never been a fan of tests. The very word makes my palms sweat and my mind race. In an effort to avoid the fate of test day zombiehood, I created a strategy for myself to confront testing directly. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still shuffling through the door with caffeine in hand. I just feel less like a zombie and better prepared the test ahead.

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